On Monday, the Wall Street Journal ran an article called Six Degrees of Exploitation (8/4/03, Page B1). The article describes a new class of software designed to mine relationships across an organization. It cites as examples Visible Path and Spoke Software.

The lead paragraph reports that the “programs scan workers’ contacts from their computerized address books, instant-message buddy lists, electronic calendars and e-mail correspondence. They then make maps of all the relationships they finds [sic] among the employees and all their contacts.” The idea is that if a lawyer wants to pitch company XYZ, she can consult the software to find out who in the firm knows someone at XYZ.

Products in this category are based on “social network analysis,” the academic version of six degrees of separation. The software infers the strength of relationship from such data as whether a contact listing contains a cell phone number or IM buddy name. According to the article, the software provides various privacy safeguards. So the lawyer in search of the contact would not be able to access someone else’s contacts directly.

A couple of points of clarification are in order. First, this category of software is distinct from expertise location management software, which is designed to locate and manage expertise within an organization (Kamoon is one example).

And second, the features the WSJ article describes appear already to be available in some CRM systems. For example, one of the market leaders in law firm CRM, Interaction offers a Relationship Intelligence feature: “Relationship Intelligence is a firm-wide asset that reveals the unique and complex connections between people, companies, relationships, experience and expertise, empowering professionals to leverage who and what they know to uncover new revenue opportunities, differentiate themselves from the competition and enhance client service.”

And a final closing note: I read this article after my Tuesday posting (“Advertising Practices Applied to Law Firm Marketing”) concerning mining documents for information about clients. I am convinced that over the next decade, we will see more and more software that “mines” and analyzes operational computer systems and the data users store and create to understand more about clients, employees, and relationships.