WSJ.com - Six Degrees of Exploitation? "It's not what you know. It's who you know.
Turning that old maxim into a commercial concept, several new companies are developing software to help employers mine their employees' acquaintances for new business prospects. The programs scan workers' contacts from their computerized address books, instant-message buddy lists, electronic calendars and e-mail correspondence. They then make maps of all the relationships they finds among the employees and all their contacts.
The goal is to identify people within the company who have potentially useful contacts elsewhere and could make a personal introduction, say, linking a salesperson with a potential customer, an attorney with a prospective client or a fund-raiser with likely donors.
New York-based Visible Path, and Spoke Software Inc., of Palo Alto, Calif., are both rushing to get final versions of their so-called relationship-mining software out later this year. ZeroDegrees Inc., of Santa Monica, Calif., just unveiled a test version of software with a similar concept that can be used by individuals who want to share their contact lists with selected others.
Antony Brydon, president of Visible Path Inc. says programs like this wouldn't have worked well until recently, because people remembered the phone numbers of their closest friends and never wrote them down. Today, with cell phones and 10-digit dialing in many cities, almost everyone stores contacts in computers, he says, where software programs can easily mine them.
The software companies trace their origins to the academic field of social-network analysis, which merges psychology and statistics to create social maps that show how people are connected. They cite the sociological theory that no more than six degrees of separation exist between any two people in the world and say their maps help discover those often unknown links.
The business-oriented software programs are variants of the increasingly popular Web-based social networks such as Friendster.com, a dating service, and Ryze.com, which aims to help people network for business purposes. But those services build from the bottom up, with members submitting contacts to the network, rather than top-down with search-engines pulling contacts from their e-mail and other desktop sources."
(The "HailStorm" model didn't die; it just went quiet until a more receptive target audience evolves -- shouldn't be long now...)