Communication Structures

In The Tipping Point, Malcom Gladwell describes a way to find the “connectors” (key influencers) of a group. He lists the most popular surnames from the phone book and asks each group member to count how many people he or she knows with those names (page 39 if you own the book and want to go back and review). The results create a steep curve where some individuals know far more people than the average. “They are Connectors.”
A study of email communication at HP labs reveals a more accurate approach to finding these same people (context specific in this case). As the study notes, previous methods of determining an informal communication structure were very time and resource consuming. Computerized communication (such as email), by its nature, can be easily quantified and tracked. In addition to the email log analysis method presented in the study, there have been several online attempts to define informal relationships between individuals. My favorite is TouchGraph (only relevant here when comparing personal web pages). Also check out BlogStreet.
Of course, if one were to attempt to apply this knowledge to say, marketing, I think it might be useful, but determining influence with respect to consumption habits is much more complicated than determining general popularity.