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Wednesday Web Resources: Cortera, Mind Maps, and IBM's Social-Media Research

cortera.jpgToday's edition of Wednesday Web Resources wanders about the Internet, finding mind-stimulating information to help your business succeed. These three companies' ideas touch every aspect of business operations, offering a new approach for vetting vendors, a creative way to envision your business, and new data on how to value your online social networks.

Cortera offers a new way to find information about potential customers or vendors--their growing database of crowdsourced information about companies. Marketing Vice President Alex Coté describes it as "Yelp meets credit bureau," where companies with small-business customers and vendors will be encouraged to weigh in if their payment habits change. Cortera databases this information and makes it available to its customers. As the concept grows, Cortera hopes the crowdsourced data will become more current and detailed than that offered by top competitor Dun & Bradstreet, which gets small-biz intelligence by asking major corporations to reveal how timely their suppliers pay. 

In the meanwhile, it might be an interesting place to check if you're suspicious about a vendor or customer that wants you to extend them a bit more time on their bill. Prices are low, with individual company reports starting at $3.

Cortera has created some interesting statistics from its data, launching a Small Business Index in September that tracks the credit viability of America's small businesses. The Nov. 10 edition noted that small business payments are currently over 38 percent slower than payments for big business, which have returned to pre-downturn levels. There's a whole statistics area on the site where you can see such fun facts as the 10 states with the highest rate of past-due accounts (topped by Nevada at 25.5 percent--ouch!), the most past-due industry sectors, and more. Provides an easy way to benchmark your situation with vendors against industry norms.

Speaking of statistics, IBM, MIT and NYU have teamed up to study how much online social-network connections are worth. Their conclusion: $948 per e-mail address. Bet you feel better about all that time you're spending on LinkedIn or Facebook, hmm? News of this working paper has been slowly filtering around--possibly because the paper has the somewhat stultifying title, "Value of Social Network--A Large-Scale Analysis on Network Structure Impact to Financial Revenue of Information Technology Consultants." But it draws interesting conclusions about which types of social networks are most effective--networks with too many managers in them, for instance, didn't perform well. 

The bottom line, writes IBM spokesman Ari Fishkind on the company's research site: "Don't be annoyed if you get copied on a lot of e-mail." Apparently, being in the loop is worth it. Thanks to Dr. Mark Drapeau of the blog Cheeky Fresh, whose entry "IBM Knows How To Monetize Your Friends" brought this one to my attention.

If you haven't gotten an e-mail about mind maps or used them yet,  you probably will soon. I feel like everyone I talk to lately mentions using this process of stimulating creativity by drawing a map showing the links between a core idea and all its possible branches. Created by U.K.-based human-intelligence expert Tony Buzan, mind maps are designed to let your ideas roam free, exploring possible connections and related concepts in a free-form way. For a great example, see Buzan's mind map of his own interests at the bottom of his bio page. 

If you're feeling stuck, get your team together and try a mind map on a goal or idea you have and see where it takes you. If you're baffled, Buzan teaches the concept and is co-author with his London School of Economics professor-brother, Barry Buzan, of The Mind Map Book.

Carol Tice, a freelance writer, is chief executive of TiceWrites Inc. in Bainbridge Island, Wash. She blogs about freelance writing at Make a Living Writing. Email her at carol@caroltice.com.

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