O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference - March 3-6, 2006 - San Diego, CA
Conference Coverage


How a Small Island Held the Key to Better Collaborative Filtering

Charles Armstrong, Founder/CEO, Trampoline Systems Ltd

Date: Wednesday, March 08
Time: 4:20pm - 5:05pm
Location: Elizabeth Ballroom A

What can an island of eighty people in the Atlantic teach us about corporate IT? Plenty, it turns out. Ethnographer Charles Armstrong spent one year living on the island of St. Agnes, observing patterns of information flow inside the community. The study brought to light structural problems with conventional systems and led to the development of a new "socio-mimetic" network model.

The island community is notably more efficient than a typical corporate information system when it comes to distributing information to relevant places. A news item brought to the island by one person would become known to the ten people who are interested within hours, whilst the seventy people who aren't interested would probably never hear a thing. This feat is accomplished without any formal or even conscious processes. The employees of a typical corporation have the same native instincts and intelligence. So why does everyone in the corporation end up being plagued by emails of no earthly relevance whilst reports from one research team bypass another team working on an intersecting problem? What's happening to disrupt our natural ability to get information where it's needed?

This session presents a non-specialist analysis of the collaborative filtering processes observed on St. Agnes, the problem it reveals in conventional information systems, and how these insights led to the development of a new network model. Finally the session tells the story of how these insights were turned into a successful start-up (UK-based Trampoline Systems), investment, and a patent.


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