Updated: 02/04/2003; 9:42:24 AM.
What is the power and nature of networks? How do they give the creative their power back?

Monday, March 31, 2003

A New Renaissance? Back to the Future

I think that we can usefully take a much deeper look at our Hunter Gatherer past. I have a sense than if we care to look we will find the ideas that may lead to a new Renaissance. Was not the last Renaissance a time when a few people saw past the page to the meaning of the ancient texts? Monks had been copying them for a thousand years but no one could "see" what they said so long as they were prisoners of the Medieval Mindset. The essence of the last Renaissance was that the great ideas of the Ancient world were re-contextualized for the modern world. The early actors did not seek to recreate the ancient world but to apply its thinking to the problems of their time. The result the birth of the modern world. What about our time?

Now our modern world is failing as a thought system. I wonder if we in the blogosphere have been climbing a ladder of revelation about social networks that in fact will take us back to the wisdom of our 4 million years of hunter gatherer tribal structures? These, surely are where we are hardwired to be most comfortable? I am not suggesting that we immediately don skins etc but I am suggesting that a more rigorous study of our hunter gatherer past will tell us how to live in the post industrial society.

My sense is that we, like our medieval forefathers are trapped in a way of thinking that has become the problem. We are prisoners of the Cartesian and Industrial Mindset. But as some of us work our way through how blogging reconnects us using the Magic numbers of social connections, the deep laws of tribal behaviour become revealed and their meaning burst upon us. We are experiencing the power and the value of these groupings - not as a design but as an experience.

I think that Daniel Pink's ideas about a Free Agent Nation also talk to a new way of participating in the economy where many of us seek to make a livelihood and no more. Many of us work at home and have no break from family. Many of us are building work relationships through blogging. I am experiencing this myself and I witness that you are experiencing this too. Here my needs are few and my work hours are also few. I find it hard to discriminate between work and play and between friends and collegues. My family is inside my work

Back to the Future? I think so. This is why the article that follows is so helpful.

Original Affluence. Marshall Sahlins is the author of Stone-Age Economics, which is an interesting read, in part about gift economies and how pre-historic economic systems weren't as miserable as they're commonly believed to be. Here is something from the article The Original Affluent Society:

"There are two possible courses to affluence. Wants may be "easily satisfied" either by producing much or desiring little The familiar conception, the Galbraithean way- based on the concept of market economies- states that man's wants are great, not to say infinite, whereas his means are limited, although they can be improved. Thus, the gap between means and ends can be narrowed by industrial productivity, at least to the point that "urgent goods" become plentiful. But there is also a Zen road to affluence, which states that human material wants are finite and few, and technical means unchanging but on the whole adequate. Adopting the Zen strategy, a people can enjoy an unparalleled material plenty - with a low standard of living. That, I think, describes the hunters. And it helps explain some of their more curious economic behaviour: their "prodigality" for example- the inclination to consume at once all stocks on hand, as if they had it made. Free from market obsessions of scarcity, hunters' economic propensities may be more consistently predicated on abundance than our own."
Sahlins explains how typical hunter-gatherers work 3-5 hours per day on acquiring food, and they have plenty of time for leisure. For that matter, they have a schedule that most civilized people would be sort of envious about. The more 'civilized' we become, the harder we tend to work, and the less time we have for leisure. He also makes some interesting distinctions between primitive living and poverty. In hunter-gatherer cultures starvation would be pretty much unthinkable.
"The world's most primitive people have few possessions. but they are not poor. Poverty is not a certain small amount of goods, nor is it just a relation between means and ends; above all it is a relation between people. Poverty is a social status. As such it is the invention of civilisation. It has grown with civilisation, at once as an invidious distinction between classes and more importantly as a tributary relation that can render agrarian peasants more susceptible to natural catastrophes than any winter camp of Alaskan Eskimo."
I'm not sure what we can learn here, other than that it is possible to successfully live very simply and modestly. There must be some kind of point that applies also to a technological civilization. A just-in-time kind of thinking. We could very well arrange our world so that nobody ever has to starve and so we only work a few hours per day. From what I hear, only 2-3 percent of our work relates to actual production, and from my own observation, the majority of human work is inefficient or unnecessary, just arranged to keep people busy. So, why can't we have a an efficient and productive, but leisurely and relaxed, high tech society, where it would be unthinkable that basic needs wouldn't be filled? [Ming the Mechanic]
1:11:52 PM    comment []

Ross's ongoing series on Socal Networks is unfolding for me like  a Dickens Novel - Ross there is a book in here - I tend to repost as I don't want to lose the gem on my Aggreagtor and to be able to go back at my leisure to read his work more completely. Thank you Ross

Social Networking Models.

Another wave of online communities is underway. The first wave, beginning with the Well, took advantage of the social adoption of email to build community upon Usenet, bulletin boards and forums.  A basis of trust in email-style interfaces and conventions enabled pooled discussion.  This wave takes advantage of the social adoption of the web to build community upon web-native tools.  Because the web is more diverse environment so too are the tools.  The physical and logical infrastructure of the web has reached a maturity while usage has surpassed a tipping point where it is ingrained in most people's lives.  As people have become participants on the web, they are building a new social infrastructure, connection by connection.

Social Networking Models

Network Type



Explicit Declarative Ryze
Physical In-person Meetup
Conversational Communication LiveJournal; Weblogs
Private Referral Friendster

© 2003 Ross Mayfield

The above table provides a framework for understanding how Social Networking Models differ by how personal connections are made.  When a community is served by Social Software, its design places limits on how relationships are formed, especially in how strangers make initial connections. 
This is in contrast to how connections are made in physical environments, where inter-personal communication and interaction has no boundaries except social convention and the rule of law.  If you want to get on a soap box to attract connections you can in many places.  And in the physical world there are social norms that make different methods for making connections more appropriate.  If you want a job at Google you could bring your soap box to their parking lot, but a personal referral to Eric Schmidt might be more effective. 
Social Software design fosters specific social norms by regulating possible behavior.  Regulation is a good thing.  A stem cell can grow into any cell in the human body not by hard coded instructions of what to become, but regulators telling it what not to become.  Simple rules in complex adaptive systems, like social networks, yield complex results.  And as Clay Shirky said, Social Software encodes political bargains that are required because of natural social tension.
An Explicit Network fosters connections by declared identities, interests and ties -- such as with Ryze.  An initial connection is made by introducing yourself to someone on the basis of who they say they are and who they say they know.  The entire network is explicit, all identities and ties are open for browsing and even serve as methods for navigation. 
A Physical Network fosters connections by in-person meetings -- such as with Meetup.  An initial connection is made by people introducing themselves the old-fashioned way, the Social Software facilitates coordination and drives people with similar interests to be in the same time and place.
A Conversational Network fosters connections by communication -- such as with LiveJournal and Weblogs.  An initial connection is made by introducing yourself on the basis of communication.  Its a fascinating dance.  Initially you read someone else's weblog, gaining a gradual understanding of the person behind the weblog.  Perhaps you participate on their weblog through comments or post and link from your own.  They may choose (and choice is what make it a Spam-free medium) to read yours and eventually will cross-post building a circle of trust.  It may be some time until a more personal connection is made through email, in-person, or otherwise, but when it occurs a strange sense of familiarity engenders relationship forming. 
A Private Network fosters connections by referrals -- such as with Friendster.  An initial connection is made through a referral backed by existing social ties.  You want to meet Jane who knows your friend Ellen, so you ask Jane to introduce you.  On Friendster you can't see or navigate through the entire network, only four degrees of separation from you, and with each person you can see how they connect to you in a web of trust.
One model I didn't include here is Virtual Networks, which fosters connections through avatars, such as with EverQuest.  Largely because they are not web-native (yet) and the patterns of connection are still being defined and another wave of worlds like Sims Online are being created.
Trust ascends through these different models.  You are more likely to trust someone introduced through a referral than someone you know through conversation than someone you meet in person for the first time than someone who declares their background and interests.  However, speed descends through these models.  You can quickly navigate and introduce yourself through an Explicit Network, especially compared to working your way through a Private Network.
The differences of these Social Network Models will trend to blur, but each example possesses a unique and dominant connection method.  Ryze facilitates physical meetings (in fact that's how the community began).  Weblogs and LiveJournal do not emphasize identity like Ryze, but share their own differences.  Weblogs are decentralized while LiveJournal is centralized and does emphasize ties, which explains the denser clustering of relationships.  Friendster increasingly provides mechanisms for making identity explicit.  But each model has a unique and dominant property for social networking.  Pointing out these distinctions isn't a call for Social Software builders to emulate each other.  People don't just join one community, they join many, and they appreciate diversity and choice. 
One of the criticism of new Social Networking startups that their success is based upon the large base of unemployed people with time on their hands.  It is ironic that during the bubble companies subsidized our networking by flying us to events and the like at a time when we didn't value connections.  During the downturn connections mattered to companies and the unemployed more than ever.  This did bring some people online to connect with one another that otherwise wouldn't have.  But the outcome of this cycle is more people socially engaged on the web as participants.  The major threat to each of these models is bad regulation that produces negative externalities (read: Spam).  Provided this issue is addressed these communities will be a part of our lives for a long time.
[Ross Mayfield's Weblog]
7:26:29 AM    comment []

© Copyright 2003 Robert Paterson.
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