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Wirearchy

Tracing the shift from "command and control" to "champion and channel."

Friday, January 31, 2003

One of the things I have been trying to articulate as I struggle to bring the concept of wirearchy into existence is the fact that virtually all regular human activities are, at a minimum, aided and abetted by software, if not controlled in some way by the design of the software. And we are surrounded by software and interconnectedness - I mean surrounded !

So far my guess is many people have believed that the effects of being surrounded, and of most activities being supported by software, are relatively benign.

However - there's a dark side !

We also live in a grouping of societies (around the world) where money is the medium of exchange, and usually represents our ability to control property of some sort. Money and control and power are closely related - they support, nourish and feed off one another. At the most crass level, that's what politics is about, what belief in one system or another is about - you could argue religion belongs in there, but that's also about power IMO.

So...given that we now live in an era where there's a new set of conditions and capabilities - interconnectedness and digital content - it's obvious that the battles about power and control are defining many aspects of the landscape.

Via Ming's Metalogue, here's John Perry Barlow on some of the deep structural mechanical aspects of whatever "wirearchy" will be - either proprietary control of content and distribution, or some form of open "democracy" in which the user has much more choice on an ongoing basis.

"I think that anybody who cares about the future of technology -- anybody who cares about the future, period -- ought to be awfully concerned about this. But people who work in technology have been agnostic on the subject so far. They need to recognize that they're going to be faced with a fairly stark choice, which is a gradual concentration around certain trusted platforms that cannot be broken out of and are filled with black boxes that you can't code around and can't see the inside of.

You have to get politically active and stop it from happening, because Congress has been bought by the content industry. The choice is being made at a very complex and subterranean political level. It's being done in standard settings, with the FCC, in amendments to obscure bills in Congress, in the closed door sessions to set the Digital Broadcast Standard. It has very significant long-term effects [for] the technical architecture of cyberspace, because what we're talking about embedding into everything is a control and surveillance mechanism for the purpose of observing copyright piracy, but [it] can be used for anything."


For the core issues pertaining to the music industry and the political aspects of control (A&R's role), see Clay Shirky's article "The Music Business and the Big Flip"

For my POV, see points 13, 14 and 15 of "The Unassailable Truth" on Wirearchy.com
posted by Jon  # 5:33 PM

Thursday, January 30, 2003


Eric Norlin, writing on the Uncharted Shores blog, has been at the center of the Digital Identity debate for a while.

A recent post:

The reshaping of all of technology around the organizing principle of
digital identity will radically affect the world in which we live. It
affects the underpinnings of democracy -- as suddenly the dangers of some
Orwellian surveillance society becomes imminently possible. It affects the
realm of the law -- as the liabilities associated with transactions begins
to shift. It affects intellectual property -- as the problems of copyright
and public domain become solvable. It affects personal privacy -- as the
individual faces a future wherein they could either control their personal
information, or find it owned almost solely by governments and big
businesses. It affects the operational and strategic aspects of business. In
short, it affects nearly aspect of the society in which we live.


Digital Identity holds forth the promise of a future wherein business,
government and social interaction are forever altered -- shifting the
majority of power to the individual. Similarly, it holds the perils of a
future wherein all anonymity has been sacrificed in the name of "security."
Digital Identity will alter the future of all citizens, just as the Internet
has. The only remaining question is how
.







posted by Jon  # 11:15 AM

And in the wake of Shrub's State of the Union address, Bob Herbert offers this point of view in a NY Times OP/Ed piece:

The Bush administration is changing the nation in fundamental ways. However one feels about a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, over the long term a bullying, go-it-alone foreign policy wedded to a military doctrine of pre-emption is a recipe for destabilization and paranoia around the world.

......

As the most powerful nation on earth, and the world's only superpower, the United States has a particular obligation to use its might wisely abroad and to distribute its benefits fairly at home.

That is not an easy mission for a hard-right-wing administration, which is why the Bush administration puts such a premium on the rhetoric of compassion.

Behind the veil of rhetoric is a Darwinian political philosophy that, if clearly understood, would repel the majority of Americans.






posted by Jon  # 5:12 AM

Amongst many other things, here's something I clearly don't understand:

As Dubya's shoulders hunch forward, his lips sharpen and his eyes narrow and he tells the American people that Saddam is mean, a killer and a clear danger to all us, lying about possessing WMD,

isn't the best way to greatly increase the chances that Saddam will use said weapons to convince him that an attack is certain ?

Talk about creating a no-win situation !



posted by Jon  # 5:06 AM

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

At Britt Blaser's blog:

"There's a lot of despair among so-called progressive liberals, who seem to have been blind-sided by the power grab the conservatives spent 20 years engineering, accomplished with blow-job politics and anointment of the runner-up by the high priests of our judiciary.

The over-arching conservative agenda, as Doc's friend George Lakoff teaches us, is Patriarchy—a strong parent model for society. Patriarchy is the sponsor of fundamentalism, which makes a lot of us rightfully crazy and which directly sponsors blowing people up as needed.

The controlling liberal agenda is what Lakoff calls the nurturant-parent model, but I think of it as node-parity—every node in a system has equal value, must be respected and nourished, and the links among the nodes are more important than the brilliance or dysfunction of any single node, or all of them. This makes the patriarchists crazy.

I suggest we don't have time for a single leader because the culture lacks the traditional handles such a leader might pull, so no "charismat" is likely to appear.

...


Collectively, the new tools of power are called the Internet. But we who seem to most believe in it are still not using it as we might. I'm convinced it's because the real uses of the Internet are not yet clear to us.
We'd like some short cuts to universal rationality, but there are none. If we believe in the network, use the network. If not, we should go to work for a political party
."

Nicely said


posted by Jon  # 10:31 AM

Monday, January 27, 2003


From an interview with the author of "The Internet Society" (The Economist, January 27, 2003)

A discussion with David Manasian, Legal Affairs Editor, The Economist

Software that can analyze huge chunks of data will become more powerful, the cost of storing is going to decline, the points at which interactions are recorded are going to multiply tremendously. What are we going to use all this data for? It's going to bring truly wonderful things, make society much more efficient, increase productivity, increase convenience in lots of ways. It's also going to create a lot of dilemmas related to privacy, the reach of government, how we govern ourselves, how we pursue our own private lives.”

Wirearchy, anyone?




posted by Jon  # 1:28 PM


The Economist has just published a Survey titled "The Internet Society". It suggests rather directly that, notwithstanding the lull of the last couple of years, and the clenched-jaw wrestling offered by the RIAA, Eldred vs. Ashcroft, the blatant attempts to manage Digital Identity for us and so on, the "long, strange trip" is far from over.

A snippet from the survey (emphasis added):

"But whatever happens, the power of computing and communications looks set to continue to grow, and its price to fall, at a steady rate for the next few decades. That will make it possible, at least in rich countries, to record most human interactions, wherever and whenever they take place, and to store and analyse this ocean of data at low cost.

For the sake of argument, this survey will assume that we are heading towards a networked society of ubiquitous, mobile communications capable of constant monitoring. Whether this arrives in 20, 30 or 40 years does not really matter. The point is that the destination seems not merely possible, but probable, so it is not too soon to ask: what do we want this technology to do?
"

John Perry Barlow - It's just the top of the second inning !




posted by Jon  # 1:23 PM

Friday, January 24, 2003


As interconnectedness continues to spread and penetrate into our daily life's activities, the ways to effect control are becoming more important - to the powers that be and to all the rest of us. That battle is shaping up in the arena of Digital Identity.

There are folks that know lots about this, and they are making it their lives' focus to inform us and play a role in shaping what will become manifest.

Eric Norlin provides us with important points of view here and here

David Weinberger jousts with Eric here


posted by Jon  # 12:18 PM

Tuesday, January 21, 2003


Is this a sign of things to come? Will the kids of today (Homo Zappiens ?) no longer need "organization skills" in the ways we learned life should be organized ?

From Flemming Funch, at Ming's Metalogue:

"The thing is that the world we live in is no longer hierarchical. Any piece of information fits into a bunch of different structures in different ways, depending on what I'm trying to do. If I go and drop the item in a file in a folder in a filing cabinet, in the place that seems logical at the time, chances are I won't find it next time I'm looking for it. So, yes, maybe there is no good way of easily storing it multi-dimensionally. Maybe the best is to store some concise information about the information (which is called metadata), such as date, person, relations to projects, interests, etc. and then leave it up to an efficient search engine to find things by those keys later on."




posted by Jon  # 7:44 AM

Thursday, January 16, 2003

f rA m e 6 - N e t : S p i r i t

As I write this in England on 3 October 01, we are not sure what the future holds, but unless there is some inconceivably drastic change it seems inevitable that the internet will continue to function so long as there is a source of electric power to drive it. But even if the net itself were destroyed, what pathways might it leave behind? How has it changed us, even in the short time since we all began to share its infinite space? Could there even evolve a post-internet internet? And what would it be like? Now that we are wired, who can unwire us?

The power to connect is where the spirit of the net resides. Every node, every cable, every hub, every packet, is permeated with fragments of the animus of this planet. The internet is indeed alive. It is alive with all of us.

posted by Chris Corrigan  # 12:44 PM

Friday, January 10, 2003


Breaking news - using e-mail to bypass and/or undercut hierarchy !

I've just been watching CNN (cringe, cringe...), and they've just reported that:

The Pentagon is using e-mail, with phony return addresses, to send messages to the Iraqi military leadership urging them to "Give Up". This must mean that the Pentagon doesn't think Saddam will bow to the pressure to depart for exile, and so the next best thing will be to try to collapse his sources of support.

A quick reply from JOHO

"If they're going to do this, "Give Up" is the best they can do??? We should get some spam-marketers involved since they're the ones who know how to manipulate behavior!"

posted by Jon  # 5:13 PM

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

Here's some good news, IMO. I created a definition of "wirearchy" about a year-and-a-half ago - it goes like this:

"A dynamic two-way flow of power and authority, based on knowledge, trust, and credibility, enabled by interconnected people and technology"

It seems that two blog-land heavyweights (Dan Gillmor, Dave Winer) agree. From Dan's blog post of January 8, 2003, titled "Read-Write Web":

Dave Winer's First (DaveNet) Essay of the Year is about many things, but it may boil down best to what he says in the first section:

" The Web uniquely wants to be used by everyone, not just for the purposes of big companies and their profits and paranoia. This is a foundation that I think we agree on."

It's a fine summary of how what he calls the "Two Way Web" is evolving. I think of it as the multi-directional Web, but the idea is the same. And the bottom line is that it's coming along brilliantly due to the tools he and other programmers and engineers have been developing in recent months and years.
I believe this is the year when the pieces will truly come together. We are seeing the rebirth of what Tim Berners-Lee envisioned when he created the Web in the first place.

The enemies of this vision are going to fight all the way."




posted by Jon  # 6:04 PM

From a stimulating article in strategy+business on Network Theory. The article suggests that understanding the "laws" and dynamics of networks will be of enormous importance as the world (and its economies) grow more and more interconnected. Well, yeah.

"Reputation marks the spot where technology and cooperation converge," Rheingold writes. "The most long-lasting social effects of technology always go beyond the quantitative efficiency of doing old things more quickly or more cheaply. The most profoundly transformative potential of connecting human social proclivities to the efficiency of information technologies is the chance to do new things together, the potential for cooperating on scales and in ways never before possible."


And yet, when novel "networks of scale," as Rheingold describes them, actually emerge, Barabási and Buchanan insist they will be shaped by the algorithmic imperatives of small-world theory and power laws. People can't break these laws of networks any more than they can violate Newton's laws of motion.


However, mathematical laws can be slavishly obeyed or cleverly exploited. Indeed, as Newton himself once remarked, "To master nature, one must obey her." Scientific laws can empower even where they seem limiting. Entrepreneurs and innovators will figure out how to master networks while obeying their (apparent) laws.



posted by Jon  # 1:55 PM

Saturday, January 04, 2003

While I've been playing with the concepts and practice of social networks for a while, I've just discovered Ross Matfield's interest in this emerging area.

From his blog, where he's tracking a SNA project regarding the connections that have developed in a network of blogging communities:Social Network Feedback II

More feedback on the mapping project:

Adina Levin on weblog clustering: The reason I get all all excited about weblog clustering is that the "winner-takes-most" aspect of the log scale graph is NOT what is most interesting about weblog networks... The weblog network is a mesh of communities with overlapping and shifting memberships; each subcommunity has its connectors and popular voices.When we focus on identifying the "most central node" of the network, we turn a world with multiple centers into a hierarchy.



posted by Jon  # 5:15 PM
Trawling through a blog archive, found reports on last year's TED conference (Richard Saul Wurman). This one, on Nicholas Negroponte's presentation, reinforces for me the clarity of the adage "First, we shape our structures - then, our structures shape us".

Why do "we" continue funding the education process as we do, when there's so much evidence it could and should be different? Is it because it's such a large employer, and a big line item in state and provincial budgets? Is it more accurately an instrument of state socialization (questionable as to how well it's working, n'est-ce-pas?).

Here's Negroponte on education (thanks to JOHO archive):

Nicholas Negroponte wrapped up the sessions by predicting that in 1-2 years, we will see the development of a "viral telecommunications network" based on 802.11 wirelessness, a single installation serving an entire neighborhood. This will go beyond merely enabling multiple connections to the Internet, Negroponte predicts, resulting in a peer-to-peer network that parallels the current Internet topography. Further, he suggests that establishing wireless networks in areas of strife will enable children to reach past their parents' stupidity.

He connected this with our culture's odd idea that at the age of 5 children should stop learning by playing and start learning by facing forward and being taught. Give kids a connected computer and they will teach themselves and others by exploring the Internet. Pointing to his experience building schools in rural Cambodia, he said: "People say it's not sufficient to give kids computers and connectivity. You know what? It is."

Damn good stuff."





posted by Jon  # 10:09 AM

Friday, January 03, 2003

An integrated "nervous system" for managing (note - NOT leading, although the name would suggest otherwise!) an organization can be found at Leadership.com. It's built by Trilogy, a leading software development firm.

When I first came across this, I recognized an operational version of a "design" I suggested to a large telecom corporation about 6 years ago, in a white paper I was commissioned to undertake. The corporation asked me "how might we use our TQM process to go from being good to great?". I suggested building an interactive "nervous system", using the TQM criteria (e.g., leadership. operational excellence. customer focus, etc. - the usual stuff) as the criteria for feedback from employees and customers - aggregated into ongoing dynamic "soundings".

These days, I would be more circumspect - mainly because I think such a capability would be used to control and maintain power, as opposed to maximizing both human and organizational potential in service to both societal and economic good (see www.thesupporteconomy for an intro to "the next episode of capitalism").

In the new Post 911 dominator era we all find ourselves living in, this capability now bothers me more than it helps me feel optimistic.

This capability will either be used to develop a more open and trust-based corporate culture, or it will evolve into a clear example of corporate fascism emphasizing the daemonic side of high performance (ref. C. Jung).

However, it, and other apps of similar scope and capability, seem inevitable.
posted by Jon  # 9:43 PM

Found on Scarlet Jewels

"It’s important to realize that the I-Net Revolution disrupts and erodes the power elite top-down hierarchies that still dominate our mainstream social, political and economic institutions. The Net is a horizontal diffusion and redistribution of power, often to the benefit of weaker and smaller actors in direct challenge to elite power trips. It crosses borders, redraws the boundaries of offices and responsibilities, and generally compels closed systems (power elite monopolies) to open up.

"In short, the Internet is like David taking a shot to the 3rd eye of the power elite Goliath (and Congress lackeys) who value scarcity through monopoly controls within mainstream media, medical, management and marketing institutions that have been bought off by the perks of prestige, profit and power-to-control above all. This Goliath feels extremely threatened by the freedom and opportunity on the Net that "levels the playing field" and challenges the old money-is-power rules that have usurped, co-opted or otherwise subverted our individual and collective sovereignty in order to keep self-governing accountability FROM the people rather than “of, by and for the people”.."

Well ??


posted by Jon  # 9:27 PM
Karen Stephenson's Quantum Theory of Trust

A core competency for people working within wirearchical structure:



Much has been written about the value of trust. Such social scientists as Francis Fukuyama, Mark Granovetter, and Robert Putnam have made strong cases that high-trust societies have an enormous competitive advantage over legalistic societies, in which suspicion of people is a cultural value, because the transaction costs go down. In high-trust organizations, transaction costs are similarly lower. For example, if people in two different departments or regions (say, marketing and sales, or Asia and Europe) feel enough trust to speak candidly together about their impressions of the market, the quality of work processes, and ways to improve the work, then they have many more opportunities to innovate and think together. The cost of new projects goes down accordingly. Whether high trust applies to a country or a company, the outcome is the same: More value is created when expensive, unwieldy oversight is reduced.

Professor Stephenson’s concept, which she calls the “quantum theory of trust,” explains not just how to recognize the collective cognitive capability of organizations, but how to cultivate and increase it. At age 50, Professor Stephenson is the most visible member (particularly in business circles) of a small but growing academic field called social network analysis. Originally derived from the complex math used to explain subatomic physics, it is being used to understand and manage the ineffable forces of human interaction within an organization’s walls — particularly those forces that can’t be captured in formal structures, such as pay scales and reporting relationships, but that implicitly govern the fate of every enterprise.

“The organization chart basically shows you the formal rules. But the ropes of the organization, how it actually works, is the human network,” says futurist Thornton May, one of Professor Stephenson’s former colleagues at the John E. Anderson Graduate School of Management at the University of California at Los Angeles, where she taught for most of the 1990s. “Karen, more than anyone else, knows how to make it visible.”

posted by Chris Corrigan  # 4:51 PM

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