Discovering national elites via punched cards; on the value of LinkedIn and structured data for propaganda efforts

via archivist Jeff Ubois, this account of using needle sorting cards for human intelligence gathering:

Alfred De Grazia, with Floyd Hunter and Paul Deutschmann, wrote a training manual in 1954 for the State Dept., “DISCOVERING NATIONAL ELITES A Manual of Methods for Discovering the Leadership of a Society and Its Vulnerabilities to Propaganda” that includes an approach to social network analysis for “propaganda-target analysis” based on punch cards. It’s now been declassified:

The rest of De Grazia’s site is out there (though one might have said the same thing in 1954 if presented with a scheme for punch card analysis of social networks.)


If you look closely at this personnel record, it’s eerily reminscent of the data structure of a LinkedIn record. Note that LinkedIn just sold off a 5% slice for $53 million, giving them a nominal valuation of $1 billion; with 23 million membership records, that’s about $40 per punchcard.

Kevin Kelly (re)discovered these cards recently and has a nice set with photos in his piece One Dead Media, noticing that nothing of this description was anything he could find anywhere:

But prescient as it was, and as cool as these cards were, I searched the Net today for any sign of InDecks and was surprised to find no sellers on eBay, no fan sites, no collector sites, no historical web pages, and no evidence that anyone is still using them. They are gone. Blasted out by the first computers. Bruce Sterling lists them in his Dead Media file, a catalog of defunct media devices and platforms. They seem to be verifiably extinct.

Believing that nothing really goes extinct, I challenge you to reinvent these in some useful, usable way.

1 thought on “Discovering national elites via punched cards; on the value of LinkedIn and structured data for propaganda efforts

  1. Marlon Deason

    I was struck by the ingenuity of the edge-notched card sorting system when I saw it on KK’s blog. I followed the link here.
    I’m throwing out two future uses for this extinct technology. The system could be added to baseball cards or other sports cards to allow collectors to sort the deck by team, ranking and other statistics.
    Slightly more fun would be a collectable card game that uses the edge-notch to code strengths and weaknesses on to an assortments of monsters or hero. Opponents would take turns taking “blind stabs” at each others decks to eliminate their opponents cards.


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