What is the role of the “commercial network”?

Posted on: December 13, 2011 by Rob Price

Did you watch the BBC programme this Sunday on Facebook? The quote I want to take from it was from Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP Group. Whilst commenting on the likely success of advertising in Facebook, he stated that it was a social (some would say THE social) network, not a commercial network. Interesting.

I keep Facebook largely separate from work. For work – my commercial network - I have LinkedIn. The thing is, brilliant that LinkedIn is, it still operates primarily at the individual level. However, last Thursday night, I was fortunate to be present at the (second) launch of something that could perhaps just realise that true “commercial network” vision.

www.techcitymap.com is a visual feast, currently combining vast amounts of manual research of which companies exist within the much heralded Tech City/ Silicon Roundabout area of East London, together with the real time relationships as described by twitter. It’s just the start. There are plans to put further layers of data into the network analysis, for example from LinkedIn (a Founding Partner in the map) and to introduce searches and collaboration and greater depth of functionality.

It’s fantastic. But so what? What does it become? What difference can it make? Charles Armstrong, CEO of Trampoline, once told me that on average, each company only really knew 5 to 6 others within the map. It’s not the case now. Any of us can go in and look at who does what? Who tweets what? Who influences who? And where do they conduct their business.

For example, it didn’t take us long to find four mobile tech companies on the map, to ring three and to meet two. All within a couple of days. It’s obvious the benefit that it can have. We can only ever know those we know when partnering in business. And now we can know so many more. Or invest in more. Or acquire more. Or destroy more.

My point is deliberately controversial. The social network has existed to extend the breadth of relationship, but arguably to diminish the strength of the core relationships. What is the role of the “commercial network”? And how is it perceived from each member. The agile, dynamic start-up is a very different beast from the global behemoth.

We must argue that it can argue as a catalyst to growth, as a way of realising value for those early investors, for those prepared to take the risk. And yet, how sustainable is the “commercial network? In truth, I’m not sure. www.techcitymap.com is just brilliant. Check it out and see for yourself. It is perhaps a geographically bounded social experiment. Is it a tool for measuring change, or is it a tool that drives that change?

I am proud to be involved, if only in a very small way. Proud to be an evangelist for something that - for those of us that are watching the evolution of the way in which we conduct business in a more connected, more mobile, more social, more chaotic style - has the potential to influence that change to a degree that we can possibly not yet foresee.

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About Rob Price
COO for Worldline UK&I and member of the Scientific Community
Rob is COO for Worldline UK&I, the European leader in the payment and transactional services industry. He was previously Head of Digital for Atos UK&I, is a member of the Atos Scientific Community and was a founder of the award winning CIO/CTO Atos blog, the predecessor to Ascent. He successfully melds inspiration and creativity with strategic direction and implementation, focusing on driving more efficient and effective exploitation of technology and services to drive positive business outcomes and better connect our clients with their end consumers. The insight gained through both operational delivery roles and strategic Digital evangelist roles ensures that he views the Digital Revolution from multiple perspectives. Find him on twitter @The_Digital_COO

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