Friday, October 17, 2008

Using social media tools for competitive intelligence

The last few years have seen a rise in all sorts of web 2.0 social media tools, so much so that the choices are becoming rapidly bewildering. They range from old stalwarts such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Ning to new kids on the block such as Twitter and FriendFeed.

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBaseTwitter is a microblogging platform that allows you to follow and be followed by others, while communicating in short sentences of 140 characters or less. Currently, I'm following just over 900 people, a mix of life scientists, pharma and biotech people, tech geeks, cancer survivors, news feeds and friends.

This ecletic mix gives a rich diversity of information, sometimes it is seemingly impossible to keep up but by running the RSS feed of my stream into Google Reader, I can use it to find information with a few keywords more easily. Many of those I'm following share their blog feeds via shortened urls, which means that the tweet can be searched for important information on various cancer topics, for example.

Twitter also has an incorporated search function (formerly Summize), thus allowing the user to search the whole Twitterverse for useful nuggets of information. The other day, I needed some information on a pharma company and found some initial starting ideas for the project on Twitter search, which were later verified via other sources. Sometimes knowing where to look for the needles in the haystack is the hardest part.

Friendfeed is probably one of my favourite sites. This online web tool essentially acts as an aggregator for all the other feeds such as Twitter, Flickr,, blog RSS, Delicious, StumbleUpon, Digg etc, while at the same time allowing conversation to take place around the imported information. People also add news and opinions through the Friendfeed bookmarklet.

The real power of FriendFeed isn't just the conversation though (Twitter is a bit of an echo chamber in that respect), but in the rooms, where like minded folks can chat about topics of interest. One of my favourites is the Life Scientists room, which numbers quite a few bioinformaticians and other related topics. We all learn and share from each other, blog posts and bookmarks can be added and debated or questions posed to the collegiate group. All this rich information adds more than isolated comments on individual blogs alone.

Does it have practical uses? You betcha! A client recently needed some information on a diagnostic and I vaguely remembered I had seen a Delicious bookmark floating in my subconscious somewhere, but couldn't remember for the life of me who posted it. A few keystrokes later and I found it easily in Friendfeed; much faster than mindless Googling through pages and pages of irrelevant information!

All of these tools are a great way to keep up with the sheer pace of change and information that goes on in today's pharma and biotechnology world. While you won't remember or monitor every last pixel that passes you by, using aggregators such as FriendFeed and Google Reader do at least allow you to track and find things easily when you need them.


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