reeds law

Explaining Reed's Law

When I drop Reed's Law into conversations peoples eyes tend to glaze over. People don't seem to emotionally connect to math equations or respond well to phrases like 'social network theory' or more likely they have a very hard time understanding something they can't visualize even if they hear the words and read the proof.

So let's try a narrative instead....

uberzacker: think of it like this
uberzacker: you have 500 people in an auditorium
uberzacker: all listening to a speaker
uberzacker: they are given a task - like, solve the oil energy crisis
friend: heh
uberzacker: only problem is they can only speak to one person at a time
uberzacker: like
uberzacker: in the standard sense
friend: I see.
uberzacker: the speaker takes questions at a mike
uberzacker: and holds a discussion with an audience
uberzacker: ok
uberzacker: you might learn a bit
uberzacker: but you won't get very far in solving the energy crisis
uberzacker: now
uberzacker: imagine everyone in that auditorium can instantly find and create a working group of cohorts
uberzacker: where they can team up and independantly solve different facets of the problem
uberzacker: one group for urban planners
uberzacker: another for economic buffs
friend: damn.
uberzacker: another for building a website for the movement
uberzacker: etc.
uberzacker: and each group can coordinate with each other effectively towards their common goal
uberzacker: now, how much more effective is the second group?
uberzacker: exponentially more effective
uberzacker: thats what the internet does, except on a global scale

Is the Blogosphere untapping the power of Reed's Law?

I've spent a a good deal of time over the last couple of years puzzling over a couple things:

  1. What makes the blogging medium so powerful? You have 8,000,000,000+ webpages out there on the net .31% (25,000,000) of which are blogs, but the blogs seem to carry so much weight. Why?
  2. How can we see and directly measure the effects of Reed's Law? It's one thing to understand that by harnessing group forming within your network you can potentially un-tap exponentially more power from your network, but i've seen scant studied and provable evidence of this dynamic playing out.

What if the reason the blogging medium is so powerful is because it is the best working example of a distributed group forming network our world has ever seen and has therefore tapped into the previously unrealized power that Reed's Law portends?

Consider this:

  1. A group is created within the readership of every blog.
  2. The blogs (groups) are highly networked. This is key

How are blogs highly networked?

Well, people generally start blogging with the self interest of building an audience of readers. One of the most effective ways to build an audience is to get linked from a highly trafficked blog such as BoingBoing.net. The way you get linked is to post something interested that the editor of boingboing thinks is of enough value to their community to repost. In fact, BoingBoing has built it's audience by steadily providing a feed of interesting information scoured from accross the net. At this point they have to barely lift a finger - interesting content comes flying in to their submission box faster than they can filter it.

So in other words it is in the bloggers self interest to share information with boingboing and it is in boingboings self interest to promote information from the blogger (if it's good enough of course). Now if we think of BoingBoing and it's audience as a group, and we think of the blogger and their audience as another separate (smaller pithier) group then what we are describing is really information traversal from group to group. In other words the social dynamics of blogging make the blogosphere very conducive to inter-group information traversals. The yearning of the independent author for an audience and the information aggregation role BoingBoing plays, and similiar relationships across the blogosphere, enable the blogosphere as a whole to interact in a highly networked fashion. This dynamic shows up in many ways. Go look at how many blogs the biggest bloggers subscribe to w/ their aggregators (i think Scoble is up to 1,000). Look at typical features of a blog (trackback, blogrolls, etc). See how much content that is published to a blog is actually relayed from other sources. The blogosphere is undeniably densely networked. I believe it is by far the best example we have of a distributed group forming network, and in this way I think it is the first real peek we are getting into what happens when Reeds' law is unleashed and the effective value of a social network yields exponential returns.

After all publishing to the web is nothing new. People have been publishing to groups for decades (usenet, mailinglists, etc). Forums have been put to use and have had millions and millions of users and contributors before blogger.com launched. So why is blogging having the impact it is? I believe the answer is that those other 7,975,000,000 sites on the internet were published by individuals who had much less impetus to connect their group of readers with the audiences of other groups across the net and thus lost out on the power of Reeds' law.

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