"Thefacebook" – a model for cloud?

ATN-300InsightaaS: Earlier this month, the MIT Technology Review published a piece examining an academic paper written by professors from the University of Colorado Boulder and Stanford. The article, "Network Archaeologists Discover Two Types of Social Network Growth in Historical Facebook Data," looks at how Thefacebook.com spread through universities in 2004-2006. The key finding is that there were actually two discrete growth patterns. In the first phase, which occurred when Thefacebook spread to a new campus, "these networks grow by the addition of new members who form nodes in the network with a relatively small number of connections between them." Once the network spreads to a large proportion of the total available population, though, "the main form of growth involves people increasing their numbers of contacts among existing users. This has the effect of increasing the density of the network."

The article is interesting, and includes a link to the source paper "Assembling thefacebook: Using Heterogeneity to Understand Online Social Network Assembly" (Abigail Z. Jacobs et al,, 23 March 2015). What I personally found most fascinating, though, was the implication of an adoption pattern that starts with "an initial phase of sparse growth with many new vertices and comparatively few connections are added, and then followed by a densification phase, where new connections are mainly added between existing vertices." I think this may be important to understanding how cloud is likely to expand within enterprises, and to the important steps that management should take to ensure that core platform technologies are able to evolve with these usage patterns.

I realize that's a little opaque, so let me explain where I'm going with this. It's pretty clear that cloud starts either with IT adopting it as a platform technology (e.g., for storage) or with business users adopting it to address a specific business requirement (e.g, CRM). One form of adoption doesn't necessarily have a lot of impact on the other, and in fact, it's possible to imagine an initial adoption pattern where multiple cloud systems are acquired, but not meaningfully linked.

However, the real benefit for companies adopting cloud (as I argue in my book) comes when they orchestrate multiple cloud resources across processes or to automate departments or entire enterprises. This payback comes in the "densification" phase referenced above. And if this is 'the natural way of cloud' (as the research demonstrates that it is for social), what does it mean to IT and business management? I think that if we know that densification is a necessary later stage, we can assume that core systems and technologies - for example, open and manageable APIs, robust security systems, platform technologies (such as PaaS platforms or collaboration systems) that can expand with additional applications and users, are critical to a build once/expand as needed approach to automating cloud adoption over time.

I'm certainly open to counter arguments, but I thought the MIT article and the underlying research provided a glimpse beyond social and into the enterprise cloud! If you're interested in judging for yourself, here's a link to the MIT article, and here's one to the academic research from Jacobs et al.