Friday, August 31, 2007

Reed’s Law and how multiple identities make the long tail just that little bit longer…

Reed’s Law or Group Forming Network Theory as Dr David P Reed* originally and rather modestly called it, is the mathematical explanation for the power of the network.

As with all great ideas it’s breathtakingly simple, easy to understand and enormously enlightening.

This paper sets out to explain what Reed’s Law describes and includes more recent understandings of the collaborative power of networks which I hope helps make sense of and gives context to the exponential.

It also suggests that the multiple complex identities we are adopting in multiple communities are not necessarily a ‘Bad Thing’. My contention is that the different modes of thought these actively encourage are to be welcomed when viewed in the context of unleashing the power of self-forming collaborative communities of interest and purpose.

(If you'd like a full copy of this 11-page paper please click here to download) You don't need to register, it won't cost you a penny. But please do take the time to tell me what you think of it.

If you'd prefer a copy with all the commas in the right places (scribd seems to remove them all), email me and I'll send it as a word doc.

email david(dot)cushman(at)emap(dot)com with 'Reed's Law Paper' in the subject line.

1 comment:

  1. Hi David,

    I really enjoyed our chat this morning (Thu Nov 1) and hope we get a chance to continue the discussion of social networking and communication.

    Did you notice the buzz today about Google’s OpenSocial APIs - echoes back to our discussion around centralised profiling.

    As promised I've jotted down a few words covering the two main points I raised (see below). You might also be interested in the following references that I believe link in to this topic:-

    First “the dark side” J
    The Mythical Man Month, Fred Brooks (good Wikipedia Entry)

    Assigning more programmers to a project running behind schedule will make it even later, due to the time required for the new programmers to learn about the project, as well as the increased communication overhead. When N people have to communicate among themselves (without a hierarchy), as N increases, their output M decreases and can even become negative (i.e. the total work remaining at the end of a day is greater than the total work that had been remaining at the beginning of that day, such as when many bugs are created).

    · Group Intercommunication Formula: n(n − 1) / 2

    · Example: 50 developers -> 50(50 − 1) / 2 = 1225 channels of communication

    Knowledge through networking
    George Siemens theory of connectivism, whereby learning emerges from the creation of networks (ties and connections), recognition of models and sets of knowledge. More…

    Value of the network

    The whole paper centres on various ways of calculating value, however there is no discussion of what is meant by value. To whom is the network valuable? In what way is it valuable?

    During our exploratory discussion I believe we identified something important – that is that one view of the value of a social network is the increased potential to 'connect' to others who have different skills and experiences which have shaped their world view. This is true even if their interests are nominally the same. The communication that takes place in such a network therefore gives rise to an increase in serendipitous insights brought about by the differing perspectives brought to bear on any given topic.

    Multiple Identities

    I believe your introduction of multiple [digital] identities as an influence on the value contribution to the network is an important original idea. As I said during our discussion, however, I don't believe it is a straightforward multiplier, i.e. One person/node with five digital identities/persona does not equate to 5 x 1 identity nodes. I believe this follows from your own writings – the identity of an individual is a function of their participation in a particular social setting/network, other identities being subsumed into the underlying core identity. This leads me to the belief that a more sophisticated valuation would be required.

    Best Regards,


The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?