Interpreting the networks

The social media hubbub over facts and checking, voices and editors, freedom and control, the public and the private gain, is a hubbub over network principles.

Economically, socially, technologically, politically, artistically, educationally, and in many other ways that overlap and interrelate, the explosive social media emergence of the past decade has been transformative. The speed with which this happened and its global scale have been unprecedented in all the listed ways.

Outside of certain market trades, niche publications and entrepreneurial segments, there hasn’t been much of a discussion at the mainstream level on the meanings and results of it, the qualities that shape the different outcomes, or outcomes that shape certain qualities, the nature of the different platforms at their root, and the defining principles.

What is now starting as a hubbub may lead to needed progress in a more formalized and structured understanding. That is the opportunity. Below are some excerpts from a longer post that went up on a different medium a while ago, which starts to play around with some such matters. The full thing is here.

Interpreting the networks

Distribution and hierarchy

  • In a networked information economy Power Law distributions emerge. This can be seen in the category dominance of leaders, followed by a long tail of smaller competitors behind (“winner-take-most” phenomenon), and it is sometimes also seen within the networks themselves as certain nodes and clusters gain in presence. Sometimes the loudest or most popular voices in the social web control discussion, certain apps in the app store rise up in the ranks, the top search results attract the most attention… these examples are all from the distributed multi-directional network types. The edited one-directional networks, like broadcast operations, are much more obviously hierarchical.
  • The tendency of networks towards hierarchy, by design or evolution, is a quality that in important ways resembles product distinctions previously described. In the extreme case, where a network’s flow is purely one-directional, this runs the disruption risks and profit pressures of a service offering, at the expense of much more valuable community. In a highly commoditized and competitive environment, networks seek to resist such outcomes.
  • Historically, the longest lasting networks in commerce have been multi-directional and distributed, where the operator’s purpose is to optimize the quality of distribution. Looking back past the current examples of digital search and marketplaces and others, examples include telecommunications systems that survived (but for regulatory intervention) since their first emergence and financial exchanges (that may have gotten into trouble from the concentrations that occurred). On the other hand, publishers of all forms (video, audio, print) have had rougher going.
  • This distinction of distributed versus hierarchical, and various points of nuance between the extremes, is shaping value formation within the network category in its current digitized form. Netflix, despite its global growth and dominant position, must compete with Hulu and HBO on the basis of its unique content. The competition is expensive, and the value of these properties, even the best of them, is nowhere near the value of the decentralized Big 5. There is no cord cutting, not really, only new digital cords.