Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The death of death

We like a good death.

Death of the 30-second spot, Death of newspapers, Death of interruptive advertising, Death of the website (url), Death of Mass Media… etc...

Perhaps we should start thinking, instead, about life – in all its evolutionary glory – to reveal what’s really going on as the network disrupts everything it touches.

Life; in the disaggregation that digitisation has wrought, in the explosion of distribution of content and services we witness.

Life; in widgets’ freedom to explore and evolve. An explosion of new fauna and flora while the hamstrung dinosaurs of ‘websites’ lumber around hoping their food will come to them.

Life; in the freedom of nodes to connect one to another, one-to-many, one to whichever they choose.

Life; in the way conversations evolve.

Life; in self-forming, non-directed, rapidly-evolving, fuzzy-edged communities of passion and purpose. Out of chaos emerges new beauty, massive energy.

Life; in how groups form and reform online in ways THAT WERE NOT POSSIBLE in the physical world of the atom. Life; in ways the one-dimensional view of the node in Reed’s Law must underestimate.

This is the Columbo Moment.

Walks towards door. Pauses. Turns. Raises hand and eyebrow.

“Er… just one other thing.”

“These conversations of ours. The ones creating all the value. They couldn’t happen before could they?”

Lieutenant, you have me. No, they can only happen in a digital world. The Power of the Network relies on something more than a series of tools returning us to our ‘normal’ social selves – the We Species that Alan Moore refers to. The very fact that these tools are digital, that they function on/with/through the web, makes a fundamental difference.

The Power of the Network goes beyond returning us to our communal ‘we species’ roots. It pours Miracle Grow on those roots, blitzes them with mutating isotopes and carries out multiple cross pollination while harvesting and experimenting on the results ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

Every time I move desk I get a new perspective on the business I work in. I have conversations with people who are now much more conveniently placed for me than they had been previously, new people. New nodes, more connections = greater value emerging (one extra node doubles the value of your network).

In the digital world I can be next to everyone, all at the same time. There is no restriction imposed by atoms. Self-forming groups of passion and interest, ever forming and reforming, ever evolving, swirling around the world with fuzzy, permeable edges… these could not exist when conversation relied on two or more people being in the same physical space at the same time.

The self-forming networks of trust evidenced by blogrolls is one great example. But they don’t quite hit the ‘in real time’ (synchronous communication) spot.

Twitter, offers our latest best illustration.

Here’s what it does:

1. Nodes can connect without the limitation of sharing the same physical space. It’s your global, everywhere-at-once hotdesk.

2. It enables real-time, drop-everything-to-join-in conversation.

3. The group involved in the conversation has permeable edges (anyone can follow anyone else – being led to relevant people through their own networks of trust, anyone can spot someone else they might like to follow, referred to by someone else they are already following etc etc). There are no structural limitations imposed by reliance on personal data ownership. They are fuzzy. Facebook’s are more sharply-defined, for example.

4. Since the groups have permeable edges they can (must) constantly form and reform, pursue new interests, break-up, reform around a new purpose etc. They are about flow rather than focus.

5. The distributed micro-blogging nature of Twitter means the conversation can start from any node in your current self-formed fuzzy-edged group. The conversation itself can evolve rapidly thanks to rapid iteration and amplification, creating more opportunities for value to emerge, drawing in and ejecting contributors as it evolves.

Conversation, the great intersection of ideas, is the driver of value of the network. Now it is enabled to evolve in complex adaptive ways, just as the economy does, just as the internet itself does.

New stuff will emerge.

The digital world is not about death. It is about evolving and amplifying ideas through groups who could never have come together before. It is about life. New, amazing forms of life.

The evolution has begun.

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?