Monday, December 22, 2008

Whither Knowledge Sharing?

There was a news article recently carried in most Indian newspapers ... front page news ... about possible industrial espionage. Nothing concrete, mind you, but there are ample apprehensions for this ... and this brings up a few questions. Actually, more than a few.

One of the stories can be read here ... Indian infotech sector is main focus of Chinese spying ... Interesting reading. What i am writing about here, though, is not the instance of possible spying, but rather the implications this kind of incident can have on the psyche of people and organizations, and the possible impact on activities like knowledge sharing. After all, its all about knowledge, isnt it?

Lets take this at two levels ... restricting access to specific content to specific people, and, more importantly, to the realm of social computing.

Lets take an example ... if there are employees in a firm who are spying on the content in the firm, and passing it on to competitors, then the question this brings up is, to what extent is the whole idea of knowledge sharing valid? Maybe i am being a bit too cynical here, but look at it from the perspective of the company whose computers have been hacked into, and who lost a large deal. If there were employees of theirs who were responsible for leaking information, then the question is, would they like to have content shared across the larger canvas of the organization, or would not the temptation to restrict content to a need-to-know basis? And if the organization moves to that kind of scenario, then the challenge this brings up is how this can be integrated with the larger knowledge-sharing, dont-reinvent-the-wheel philosophy?

At the other level, an organization which enables its employees to blog about the work they are doing, and their experiences, there is always a possibility of someone, somewhere inadvertantly writing something which is sensitive in nature, and could lead to some issues. Would the organization want to keep looking over its shoulder?

Question is, how can we address these concerns? One important thing here is that there must be a clear distinction between what can be shared on a public platform, and what cannot be. There must be very clear definitions of these, which must define very clearly what content must be made available on a need-to-know basis, and what can be readily shared. On the other hand, there must be clear guidelines about information (i am not talking experiences, lessons learnt, or knowledge in the larger sense of the term ...) which should be kept away from social computing platforms, and information which can be shared on these platforms. Agreed, most organizations have corporate blogging policies in place, for example, but more often than not these tend to be too vague, with not even any examples about what is acceptable, and what is not.

There could be those who argue against the adoption of social computing given these kinds of things can happen, but this would, i think, be too drastic a thought process, because this negates the benefits that an organization can find from deploying social computing platforms. But, the fact remains that a tool ... any tool ... is as good as the user who is using it.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Some Kind Of Logic ...

In this world, there is logic, and then ... well, let me write about some things i was watching on the net, to complete this! On a group on facebook, i came across links to recording of a show discussing the recent Mumbai attacks, and the larger canvas of India-Pakistan relations. This was a program aired on Kal-Tak! Talk about being one step behind ... nevertheless, i must say Javed Chaudhary seems to have conducted this discussion quite well. And this is saying a lot ... given the current state of tension in India-Pakistan relations in the backdrop of the Mumbai terror attacks, and the kind of public anger there seems to be out there for each other in the public mind (one just has to read some of the comments to these videos, or on facebook, or on any other platform). I must commend Mr. Chaudhary for conducting this extremely well, except for one question which he raised, and which i am pointing to.

This has been uploaded on youtube in three parts ... click here for part 3. You will also find parts 1 and 2 here. Because i am not privileged enough to discuss "defence analysis", i must here speak purely out of common sense ... something which, at times, seemed to be in short supply, at least from one of the two participants.

I would just like to put in a few points here ...

1. Javed Chaudhary says the Jamat-ud-Daawa is a welfare trust. Might be ... or then, might not be. When he says that no investigation has been done into the background of these trusts, how can he make a claim that they are purely welfare trusts, and have no linkage to any terrorist organizations?

There ... thats the only question i have of Mr. Chaudhary. Now, to Mr. Hamid ...

1. Mr. Hamid says that India is suffering from an inferiority complex vis vis Pakistan, given that "Pakistani" Muslims have ruled over India for a 1000 years. How then does Mr. Hamid explain the fact that since Independance, why is it that India has always been considered the more matured, and more powerful country in this part of the world? To the extent that this part of the world is the Indian sub-continent!

2. Mr. Hamid says that if India had the guts, India would have overrun Pakistan in 1947 only. To begin with, it must be said thatthe equating of non-violence and peaceful coexistence to cowardice is something which can happen only in a fanatical mind. Of course, the fact that Pakistan had more than its required share of blessings of the British Empire helped their cause, but having said that, if it was a question of guts, why is it that the ultimate Pakistan was a whittled down version of what was originally envisaged? Why did, for example, Assam, or Hyderabad, or Junagadh accede to India, or for that matter, why is it that Calcutta eluded them?

3. Mr. Hamid says that "Khalistan aur Sikh inse alag hone ko taiyyaar baithe hain" ... that Sikhs are ready to secede from India. Maybe Mr. Hamid might want to realize that we are in a millenium which is more than a decade removed from the era of militancy in Punjab. Suffice it to say that this reminded me, sort of, of Rip Van Winkle.

4. Naxalites in Tamil Nadu? wow ... if Mr. Hamid has met any, its interesting that none in the Indian media have. or, for that matter, how come Tamil Nadu has not reported Naxalite violence? Even in Orissa, and in Andhra Pradesh, Naxalites are a marginal presence, but Mr. Hamid is convinced that they hold centrestage in all parts of India, from Naxalbari to Tamil Nadu! Not many people in Naxalbari would agree with that, i guess!

5. There has been lot of speculation that the terrorists spoke Marathi. But does Mr. Hamid believe that it is impossible for someone from Pakistan to learn Marathi? One blog, in fact, mentions that a number of Jews come from Maharashtra, and hence speak fluent Marathi, and then goes on to suggest that these Marathi Jews have been recruited in large numbers by Mossad, and hence the Israeli hand behind the Mumbai terror attacks. This is the same genre of creative-writing which also claims that the Americans did 9/11 to themselves. Maybe someday they might actually go on to claim that the PLO is a creation of the Mossad?

6. Mr. hameed goes on to talk about agents being caught in FATA carrying Indian ID cards ... quick question ... why would an undercover agent be carrying ID cards? On the one hand the claim seems to be that R&AW is capable of fomenting all the trouble Pakistan is facing today, from FATA to Balochistan, to Karachi, and on the other hand, the same R&AW is incapable of hiding its complicity in these activities? Come on ... it has to be one way or the other.

7. Mukti Bahini ke gunde or dehshatgard ... the goons and terrorists of Mukti Bahini ... well ... how come nobody apart from Pakistan believe that they were terrorists?

8. Mr. Hameed goes on to say that India doesnt have either the guts, or the power to hit out at Pakistan. Interestingly, in the same breath he goes on to blame India for breaking up Pakistan. So, is it the former, or the latter?

9. Mr. Hameed goes on to say that when India can send the Army across international border, Kashmir is not even an international border. There are two implications that follow from here ... especially when the talk is about "agar hum is karz ko aaj chukaayen" ... if we repay the debt of 1971 today ... first, if India just wanted a reason to break Pakistan into two parts, as Capt. Verma implies, probably this could have been done from any time from 1947, buit it didnt happen, and second, if, as Mr. Hameed implies, any country can cross and change the Line of Control, and that the day is not far, the fact remains that any country also includes India. On the question of sending Muhajideens ... on the one hand, Mr. Hameed says it was the India Army which crossed the international border, on the other hand, he says that "agar hum Fauj ya Muhajideen bhejen to royaa na karen aap ..." ... "if we send the Army or Muhajideen then you shouldnt be crying" ... where do Muhajideen come into the equation, Mr. Hameed failed to mention. And if the Muhajideen are non-state actors, then where does the question of "hum bhejen", or " if we (Pakistan) send" ... where does the question of Pakistan sending Muhajideen come into the picture? Or, is this a tacit acceptance of the fact that the Muhajideen are not necessarily non-state players? And that, at one level, the term Muhajideen, according to Mr. Hameed's statement, is analogous to Army?

10. Mr. Hameed believes that it wont take them any time to reduce India to the size ofSri Lanka, if they want. And, he wants the world to believe that they dont want it ... he himself, in the same breath, said that the day when Pakistan will repay the debt of 1971 is not far. This means they believe they have to repay the debt of 1971 ... now, either they are already trying to repay the debt (which means they havent been successful for more than three decades), or they are not repaying the debt ... which would obviously be because they are unable to ... after all, what other reason could be there for not repaying, when the urge seems to be there.

11. Mr. Hameed says that if they want they will do a hundred more Kargils ... two things emerge from there ... first, this seems to be a tacit admission that Pakistan did do Kargil, and second, that people like Mr. Hameed dont seem to have learnt their lessons from the Kargil drubbing. In the same breath, Mr. Hamid goes on to say that a LOC can be changed anytime one wants to ... while this is true in terms of international politics, this possibility is open to all countries which have access to a line of control ... that India has every bit of possibility to change the LOC as Pakistan might want to ... just that India has no inclination to use military force ... while, as Mr. Hamid himself admits that they have already done a Kargil ... a futile exercise in trying to change the LOC.

12. Mr. Hameed believes that India runs to America and Israel because we dont have the power to hit out at Pakistan ... this doesnt seem to go well with known facts ... that during the cold-war era, NAM notwithstanding, India did lean towards the USSR, while Pakistan was the American ally in the Indian sub-continent ... and also the fact that India, for a long time, did not have diplomatic ties with Israel.

Finally, i would agree with Capt. Verma ... that somewhere, Pakistan must introspect. That its a little difficult to believe that the entire international community is in the wrong, and that either India wields so much clout at the UN that at India's insistence, some organizations have been banned, or that the international community is so gullible that they dont really need proof to do this? Also, if the international community wants to disintegrate the ISI, why would they want to do that? Why is it that the international community doesnt want to disintegrate the R&AW, or Mossad, for that matter? Taking this one step further, i would say that both Pakistan and India must look at ways to live together in peace, and not in this atmosphere of mutual hatred ... for this is the only sure way to mutual destruction.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Social Computing In Organizations ... Interesting Study

There is an interesting paper by HP's Social Computing Lab about ... Long Tail in Office Conversations. This paper actually validates a lot of the thoughts that have been emerging from a number of thinkers in the social computing space, but even so, i would think this is a must-read for anyone interested in the subject.

Having said this, let me first tell the route by which i reached this paper, and this will be an indicator of the role serendipity plays in knowledge discovery ... I have set a google alert for social computing. This gives me a daily mail about some of the things happening around social computing. Today, one of the entries in this alert was this blog by Puneet Gupta (which i had some difficulty understanding, and probably more so agreeing with) and here, Puneet has written about this paper.

Coming now to the paper itself ... there are a few points which stand out here. Though, what this research does also is to validate some of the thinking which quite a few of us have been writing about. Some of the things which i wanted to write about ...

While these tools significantly lower the barriers to producing content, employees may perceive there to be little incentive to invest their own time in providing this content for public consumption.

As i have written before, what people are looking for is value from their interactions. The question is, how this value is derived by participants in this space. One of the means, of course, is recognition. As a number of folks have written, recognition is the equity of those who are contributing their thoughts and expertise to a knowledge platform.

The “long tail” of expertise and interests in large, distributed organizations offers potential opportunities for broad and diversified access to knowledge.

This is an interesting point ... that, as organizations are trying to deliver more value to customers, they necessarily need to enter domains which are niches of sorts, and as such, organizations find that the requirement for knowledge on highly diverse topics grows as this happens. As i have written before, this is one of the challenges which faces KM. If the topic is a niche, where are the people who can contribute, and impart knowledge on these niches (and the ones who are there, are too overloaded with work, to really bother about doing this). This then means that the organization must invest to some extent to create knowledge, maybe even from external sources, in these niches.

Encouraging adoption of social media within organizations requires overcoming these two challenges: motivating people to contribute information, and helping people to locate relevant information.

This is the key ... adoption. Adoption, as i keep telling anyone i talk to, is the key to the success of any KM initiative. And the issue that the paper is talking about is simply a demand and supply issue. First, how do we get people in the knowledge marketplace to "supply" knowledge, and even if are able to do this, how do we convince people to come this marketplace to "consume" knowledge ... in other words ... generate "demand". Which is why, i like to look at the KM role as a sales role ... selling the idea of "selling" to people who have knowledge, and selling the idea of "buying" to people who need it. Although, more and more, i find, the issue is to get people to contribute, rather than to locate ... with search, and (as i have written before, and so has Nirmala) communities.

What i found particularly important about this paper is the way it summarizes the strategies people use when they are looking for knowledge:

  • Novelty
  • Popularity
  • People
  • Topic
This is sort of the thing i was debating with Nirmala and Anjali.

Though what i found most interesting in the paper was the observation that ...

commenting patterns tend more to intra-group discussion.

What this implies is that more and more, people are using these platforms for more effective interactions within a particular group or team (not necessarily organizational, but could be based on any parameter, i guess ... maybe function, department, or even technology?). This also implies that more often than not, the usage of tools like blogs tend to revolve more and more around a community rather than a general read it all kind of scenario (one wouldnt expect it to be the latter, anyway, but this just validates that). The question this brings up ... what implications does this have for the organization? The way i see it, one important thing this brings up is that the key to generating adoption of these tools, and enhancing the level of collaboration groups or communities, which share a common parameter, either in terms of their objective, or interest. This could generate far more adoption than doing a be all things to all people approach. Any thoughts about this? All thoughts welcome ...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Don't Go Overboard ...

I havent written my opinion about the terror attack on Mumbai. I dont think i could have written anything even remotely erudite compared to what folks far more intelligent and well-informed than me have written. Yes, i have shared the agony of the attacks ... yes, i have shared the general mood of anger, yes i have been upset with the media coverage ... yes i have blamed the media for going overboard because of its elitist leanings ... yes i have blamed the media for giving far more importance to this than to the local train blasts, or the blasts at Sarojini Nagar, because of the profile of the people killed ... and a number of other things.

And yet, i would like to say this ... dont go overboard. Dont go overboard projecting the romance of The Taj Mahal Hotel, or Cafe Leopold ... Dont go overboard, claiming Mumbai is the only international city we have. Dont go overboard trying to brand the recent legislature elections as the semi-finals ... after all, state and national elections are contested on different issues, and even if that sounds utopian, nothing can be the semi-final without huge states like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu (see here) having had their say. Dont go overboard ...

Of course, the Jamat-ud-Dawa should be banned ... we have been able to get the UN to ban it. But please let this lead to something. We all remember the time when the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba was banned. Has that helped? Not really. This actually reminds me of a Tom and Jerry episode ... the balloon coming out of one cavity ... you try to push it back in, it comes out of another cavity. Also, i believe, lets not blame Pakistan. Lets face it ... if someone is coming to hit you, it is your foolishness if you let him, and then blame him. It is up to us to protect ourselves. But, the question is, are we serious?

A lot of us have blamed politicans. A lot of us have said enough is enough. Maybe we should stand in front of the mirror and say that? Let me explain what i mean ... how many of us actually think about what the other person may go through when we do something? Lets take an example ... you will see on the roads in any city, people who will cut you off, who will drive rash, on the wrong side of the road, etc. etc. ... for their own convenience (driving on the wrong side of the road is an awesome way to beat having to drive a longer distance and take a u-turn). By doing this, are we ever thinking of what other drivers on the road may go through?

Now, one could argue that theres no relation between driving and national security. But i am not even talking about that. I am talking about the attitude of people. As individuals, how many of us actually care about others? How many of us actually are concerned whether the other person lives or dies? Yes, there are folks who are, but then ... Lets ask a hypothetical question ... would we have reacted the same way if, for instance, these attacks were the work of, say, the Irish, or Spanish terrorists? If yes, then we would have evolved as a society, and as a nation. If no, then this outcry is not arising from serious concern.

Coming to the point of Pakistan ... lets understand one thing ... Pakistan was formed on an anti-India platform. Now, if a nation is formed on such a premise, then wouldnt it be folly to actually expect anything drastically different? Pakistan is in a state of denial, they say ... maybe they are a state of denial ... starting 1948?

Coming to the whole idea of Muslim bashing ... Yasin Merchant wrote a wonderful piece in the TOI yesterday ... but i am looking at something more basic ... When Pakistan was created, the idea was that of "Islam in danger". On this platform was mooted the idea of creation of Pakistan, comprising the Muslim-majority areas of the sub-continent. However, there is a fallacy here. In these areas, like in Punjab, or Bengal, the platform of "Islam in danger" didnt cut much ice, because the Muslim population wielded enormous political power within the existing system, while in the areas where the Muslims were in a minority, and the platform could actually have cut some ice, those areas were excluded from Pakistan. So let us understand one thing ... this is a political, and only a political issue ... this cannot be a religious issue. As Shah Rukh Khan said in an interview ... there is the Islam of Allah, and there is the Islam of the Mullahs.

Staying on the topic of Pakistan ... while this might sound like toeing the Pakistan line, the fact is, and analysts have been saying this, a weak Pakistan is not in our best interests, whether we like it or not. Pushing the government too far will only give more power to the "fundos" as they are called, and probably bring the Taliban closer to our borders, and i dont think any of us would believe that that would be a nice thing. The idea needs to be to eliminate them, and we must think surgically in that direction.

Of Measurements ... Again

A lot of people have written a lot about the value of measurements. Most of us know the dictum that whatever cant be measured cant be managed. And this interesting post by Moria Levy about Measurement also starts with this dictum. But thats where she moves away from what a lot of folks are saying.

A lot has been written about the utility, or futility of measurements especially when it comes to intangibles. This is because of the basic definition of something intangible, which is defined by the dictionary as ...

existing only in connection with something else, as the goodwill of a business.

Now, if something exists only in connection with something else, how do we measure it? And, is it really important to measure it? Maybe it isnt.

The the example of knowledge ... Moria has forcefully described how and why measurement may not be the best thing to have happened to humanity since ... (fill in with whatever you like!). Apart from the usual issue that most measurements we do today are about where we have been, rather than where we are headed, an important thing to point is that in most scenarios, its not possible to identify cause and effect relationships between things. Its easy if we can keep all other variables constant, but thats easier said than done. As i have written before, KM is possibly one of the initiatives being run in the organization, and as such, its really difficult to identify cause and effect relationships which can define what led to which operational improvement. Like the swimmer's dilemma i have written about earlier (although in the context of training, but its equally applicable here).

Another aspect to this definition is that if intangibles exist only in connection with something else, the only way to measure these is by measuring those something elses, which is why, i have been talking about the whole idea of proxy measures, which means that we cannot, and maybe should not, have a universal definition for measurement of KM, but rather, derive these definitions based on the context in which they are applicable.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Wiki Meets Social Networking ...

An interesting page i came across ... MySpace - WikiPatterns ... looks like a social networking meets wiki kind of concept. Though, i am not yet clear how or why we should look at this kind of meeting place. Rather, i would look at it the other way round ... that the central point for any kind of platform need to be the people ... the wiki is incidental. Well, not exactly incidental, but then, not the central point either, which is what seems to come out of here, unless i am missing something.

Having said this, this seems to have value when looking at the entire idea of social computing within the organization. Here, the point of importance from the organizational KM initiative perspective would be the wiki, because this is what can bring together the thoughts of people from diverse perspectives. However, this doesnt take anything away from the power of the social network, and hence, the way to look at this might be to look at the person centric social networking as the centrepiece driving the other pieces of the social computing strategy. This is something a lot of organizations seem to have missed out on, as i just said. I dont know why this is, but this is something which we need to look into, because what is happening because of this, is that the social computing initiatives of organizations are largely missing the point.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Social Enterprise Software ...

Bill Ives has written a post which is a comment on a post about social enterprise software being an oxymoron. Quite interesting reading, both of them. Though, i dont much agree with the original oxymoron question.

To begin with, i am not quite sure which ones are the oxymoron ... social+enterprise, or enterprise+software, or social+software. The only thing that comes remotely close is social+enterprise. Which is where i quite agree with Fred Wilson ...

And most enterprises don't want their employees to be active members of a community that it can't control, monitor, and moderate. So the software that tends to be adopted by the enterprise is usually hobbled by the needs of the enterprise and cannot get that magical lift that an unbounded community provides.

No, i dont agree with that entirely, but to some extent. First of all, i agree that enterprises dont want their employees to be members of communities which they cant monitor or control. Having said this, if we are looking at the e 2.0 scenario, and looking at it only within the firewall, then i must say that all communities can be monitored and controlled by the organization ... whether that is a nice thing or not.

Coming to the second part of this, the software which gets adopted within organizations is hobbled by the needs of the enterprise ... but isnt this meant to be? Agreed, having an unbounded sense of community within the organization would be really nice ... but, having said that, i dont think there are many organizations that have been able to achieve that, with or without social software. So, this is probably not so much a function of the nature of social software, or the approach of organizations towards it, but rather, a function of the kins of problems that social software is trying to solve.

As Bill says ...

These tools are developed for businesses to solve business problems. Businesses are run and operated by people, for the most part for now, and these tools look at the social context of information.

The key point here being the social context of information. Or, put differently, the human aspect of information. And this is what social software can bring into the organization ... the human aspect of business, after having tried to totally remove this aspect in the form of human-independant business processes, and looking at an organization as a collection of business processes. This view of business has not helped ... no way to explain how the same business process, being run by two different people operates so different. The fact that business processes are, in the end, run by people, and these people need to connect with each other, in order to create more value through business processes is something which can be brought into the organization by social software.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

KM ... Nothing New

A very encouraging post by Dave Snowden ... titled We just forgot it for a while ... encouraging because this affirms something i have been thinking about for some time now. I wrote about it, too ... and i quite agree with Mr. Srinivasan that KM, with the new aspects of technology, and the entire gamut of tools which are at our disposal, has changed the scope of knowledge interactions.

Something that i have been thinking about ... the basic nature of human interactions doesnt change. Sure, it changes in terms of its form, but not really in terms of substance. What really changes is the mechanics of these interactions, and this change is facilitated by the changes in technology which are coming in. And, to that extent, i agree with Dave, that social computing has simpy changed the scope for human interactions, by enabling people to interact with each other across barriers and boundaries. Before the advent of modern management as we know it today, there was conversation. And today, we are again emphasizing conversation as the mainstay of knowledge interactions. Somewhere in between, the focus shifted to documentation as a means of abstracting meaning from personal knowledge and making it more generically relevant.

Lets not get carried away, though. We need to understand that both documentation, as a form of content which can deliver generic content to an audience with widely varied contexts, as well as the conversation, which today accompanies this document, both make up an integral part of the "conversation" in the context of today's technology-enabled business scenario. While it can be argued that blogs and wikis, for example, also represent documents, i dont quite like to look at it this way. This is because these are tools, and tools, as such, re dependant on their usage by someone. So, its dependant on the user to decide whether to use these as tools for creating documents, or conversation. The difference being the reference to the context, with the conversation being highly context-rich.


Talk about serendipity ... ya, i have been using this word more often ever since i figured out what it means ... over at linkedin, a friend had joined a group, and i came to know about this from my homepage, and went and joined the group. The day after joining, someone posted an interesting link about the SAP vs Oracle wars. Shows something of the role communities can play in the free flow of knowledge, whether within or outside the organization.

But no, i am not writing about this. This post is about this article about the Oracle vs. SAP smackdown ... the gorillas of the enterprise apps market. Of course, knowing that i worked for quite some time (major part of my career) at Oracle, you can guess who i am rooting for. But, having said that, this is ot about who i am rooting for, but rather, what is being written by analysts. And it seems to be good news for Oracle over SAP. They are positioned much better off with respect to their vision in the enterprise apps space. Interesting ... for a long time (read at least the last couple of years), people have been trying to figure out what Oracle was thinking, acquiring over some of the enterprise apps heavyweights. In fact, at one point, folks has lost track of how many products Oracle had taken over. And i am talking about Oracle guys here.

But, it looks like they had a picture in mind, about where they see the apps headed. And, a good reason to take over PeopleSoft, Siebel, and a whole host of others ... Now, i am not clued into the details of this vision, but from what i read, there seems to be a coherent strategy in place, and its been in place even when people were wondering what Oracle was thinking.

Having said this, what is more important, when it comes to Oracle, is execution. This has not necessarily been their strong point. A lot of customers still have memories of what was called the "red bell of death", when you would see a red bell, and your browser would shut down. Things were better with R 12, but Oracle needs to make sure they can get large parts of Fusion right first up. Along with, of course, the migration path, but that is something which they would have already thought of, and been able to manage.

What are worth reading are also the comments from some of the readers. More so because they are a mixed bag. In fact, one comment reminded me about something which, i believe, was said of IBM:

Nobody lost his job for buying IBM.

Seems like a similar thought process running in favour of SAP?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Power ... Aggregator

My friend Mark pointed me to an interesting site ... you might need to check out Power ... interesting because this is doing something which was a requirement with a lot of people. To begin with, a lot of people have presence in multiple social networks. More often than not, you would have the same set of friends in your network on most of these networking sites, but then you might not.

Which is where power comes in. Instead of having to login to multiple social networking sites, you can actually point your multiple social networks to a single place, and actually connect with multiple social networks at a single place. This is quite neat, saving a lot of work, am sure. Of course, they still need to do a lot to bring this to a place where it can be more widely accepted, but what i liked most is the way you get the original facebook look and feel in the UI here.