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Business, Featured - Written by on Friday, August 13, 2010 15:45 - 0 Comments

Naumi Haque
A view of self through a digital mirror

Given the proliferation of digital information about ourselves and our online interactions (and the prospect of more to follow), I find it fascinating when companies put out tools that help reflect our digital personas and social graphs so that we may better understand them. I’ve written on Wikinomics before about SONAR from Trampoline Systems and MIT Personas. Recently I came across Digital Mirror from Cataphora—a company I’ve been following for some time and wrote a case study about last year. Cataphora began as a digital sleuthing company that did e-discovery in a legal, governance, risk management, and compliance context to reduce liability. In many cases, they would discover information from subpoenaed databases for trial purposes. They were digital spies.

Now, Cataphora is in the business of modeling “informal networks” within the enterprise for HR and operational efficiencies, as well as to monitor compliance with internal policies and external regulations. By analyzing the relationship between e-mail data, documents that are shared, calendar information, call logs, and people, Cataphora can assess employee productivity, uncover shadow networks, and map collaborative behavior. Digital Mirror offers some of these capabilities to the public for free by analyzing your archived data from Microsoft Outlook.

I ran Digital Mirror on my own Outlook data and came up with some pretty interesting results. A caveat I would add is that you need to have a lot of archived data for this to work well—several outputs such as “Blow-Off Scorecard,” “Buck-Passing,” “Temperature Gauge,” and “Loud Talking” didn’t work for me due to lack of sufficient data. Some of the other interesting outputs that did work are shown below:

Who have you spent quality time with?

Who have you talked with, about what, and when?

Who has been stressed out, and about what?

The goal of Digital Mirror in its current incarnation is to illuminate relationships, topics of interest, tensions, and hidden processes in the workplace. I think over time, digital reflections and analytics such as these will become increasingly important and, in many cases, baked into our both our personal computing as well as corporate processes.

As more data (beyond simply data from Outlook) is incorporated, I can imagine much richer, higher-definition mirrors. Aspects of our rich digital selves that are open for analysis include things like education; employment, and resumes; health records and government documents; search history; profiles on social networks; comments and posts on forums and blogs; and location information from cell phone signals and GPS-enabled devices. They could include aspects that we actively update like registrations for groups, associations, and publications, or aspects that we are not aware of like un-tagged photos of us on other people’s Facebook or Flickr profiles and images from closed-loop IP-enabled surveillance cameras.

Today most of this information is disassociated, residing in many different databases and in many different organizations. More often than not, the information is not under the control of the individual. In the future, we can envision a composite digital picture of the individual that will augment and accompany each human from cradle to grave. As the world becomes more instrumented, multiple machines—some under our control and others not—will be slicing our data and making observations about our activities billions of times each minute, in parallel.

Beyond optimizing processes and sparking what is likely to be heated debate about privacy and data ownership, digital reflections will also help people understand how they are perceived by others. With this knowledge in hand, we can go forth in the online (and offline) world making conscious decisions about how we want to represent ourselves in different contexts. Most people don’t step out into the real world in the morning without—at least briefly—consulting a mirror. Why should the online world be any different?

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