Archive for May, 2012


Networked collaborations – ants, people and organizations

May 6, 2012

There are varying levels of networked collaboration with perhaps the most utopian example found in one of the most primitive of insects, the ant.   Benjamin Phelan discusses how the ants (and other insects) work so well together that their colony essentially creates an organism where each ant has a job to do to make the colony live – he describes it as each ant performs part of what becomes a superorganism (the parts of the colony join to make one “life form”).  Is this what mankind should be striving for?  Creating one harmonious world where every person does their part to ensure the greater good of the whole? Sounds wonderful, but certainly not attained through democracy!

A study of social network theory, and in particular how networks work within organizations, shows that organizations are not democratic environments.  Human organizations are run by leaders who are appointed (not voted in) and workers are expected to do as leaders say – kind of like the ant colonies.  As I look at this theory, though, I don’t think it holds true in reality.  Sure we don’t vote in the leaders of organizations, however, we choose where we work and in that way are choosing our own leaders.  We need to do what is deemed to be required by those leaders to be in the best interests of the whole, but we are able to vote with our feet if need be – it is still a choice (unfortunately for many the need for a pay cheque often outweights the need to make a statement).  Democracy doesn’t mean that everyone is free to make decisions, rather they have a voice and are free to make suggestions – in the end someone has to be responsible for the decision made – something like the queen ant’s role.  Even in open source environments, while everything is shared freely, the final product is chosen by someone to move forward with.  Linus Torvald makes decisions about what will be used and not used in the kernel all the time.  Democracy allows the informal relationships to bloom. Fortunately, for most people today, successful organizatons are becoming more adaptive and as such incorporating more horizontal structures, or you might say, becoming more democratic.  Horizontal structures are necessary for organizations to react to rapid changes and adapting is crucial to staying alive in our global market world. The employees voice is being sought and heard more often by organizations – however, the leaders still need to be there to make the hard decisions.

Benkler illustrates several examples of where people work together for the betterment of others on a volunteer basis.  While this seems like a utopian vision from a distance, when we look closer it is easy to see that decisions are still being made by one or two people.  Like the ant colony, there still needs to be someone running the show!

Theo Raadt is a local (Calgary) open source guru who has made huge contributions to the online world.  His personality is not one that people warm up to and he has been known to be a bit of a dictator, however, his open source contributions are great.  Like the ant colony, he allows the contributions of many, however, the final decision on what contributions are used is still his.


Survivor – a confession from a stressed MACT student

May 4, 2012

Okay, it is confession time.  Don’t judge me, but  last night I watched Survivor.  Survivor is one of my escapes, but this week I am going to feign that I was studying social networking and not really addicted to a mindless reality TV show. Please indulge me for a minute as I do a quick recap for those that may not watch (for those that do and have it sitting on their PVR – SPOILER ALERT). Last night, a Survivor participant named Kat won a reward challenge and chose to take the “leader” with her on the reward.  This leader had snubbed Kat the week before and had taken someone else higher up in her alliance on her reward.  (Bear with me as I will get to the Social Network link here soon.)  Kat has been identified as a follower and is not considered to be one of the top members of her alliance. In addition she is young and quite naive – always trying to get in with the “in” crowd – kind of like a puppy always leaping up for attention.  Anyway, here is where the social network theory comes in…In Chapter 6 Kadushin talks about how the more popular people in a small informal group will not likely choose a less popular person, however, a less popular person will likely choose the more popular person over another less popular person.  According to Kadushin, this is a form of social climbing.  Survivor portrayed this concept beautifully as Kat tried to climb the social ladder of her alliance.  For those that are interested, did it work for Kat?  Sadly, no.  She was actually voted off the island as other members of the group thought she was being selfish and had overlooked other people who deserved the reward more than the leader.  Okay, maybe not a full illustration of Kadushin’s informal social network explanation, but you get the idea and I get to feel less guilty about spending valuable time watching reality TV!


Networks are about more than community

May 3, 2012

Kadushin in his book Understanding Social Networks, states that networks are about community, not about getting things done.  I find this to be contradictory to the article Social Networks and Cooperation in Hunter – Gatherers, where it was discussed that social networks are formed in a Tanzanian tribe to facilitate cooperation – which is in turn used to get things done and facilitate survival.  I find this is the same in today’s world.  While I enjoy the community provided by my social networks, I also recognize that those groups often help me get things done – they are the people I call upon in times of need – they often help me survive whether it is personally or professionally and I in turn will do the same for them.  This is why those that survive the social network media world are those that reciprocate, are quick to help and ultimately cooperate with others.  Social media networks breed kindness to facilitate cooperation.


Network Segmentation Efficiencies

May 2, 2012

Kadushin in his book Understanding Social Networks talks about one of the major tasks of network theory and analysis being the need to separate  large networks into smaller segments where the smaller segments cannot overlap with one another and must exist on their own; this is referred to as Blockmodeling.  This theory was utlized in the development of the ARPANET.  For different reasons, the partitioning of data known as packet switching was developed independently in two different countries (the U.S and the U.K) at approximately the same time.  Basically the blockmodelling of small pieces of information would allow the transmission of information more efficiently between computers in the same way that partitioning large social networks results in a more efficent social network. As we look towards Web 3.0 and the need to compartmentalize information, social network theory will likely guide this process.


Is the internet an evolution or a revolution?

May 1, 2012

Kate’s statement that the internet is evolutionary caught my attention today in class. I will agree that the tool itself has revolutionized how we communicate, but I firmly believe it has come to be through an evolutionary process.  In COMM505 in the fall term, I was fortunate to work with Lenore and Diane on the first assignment and our topic was “Gutenberg’s Printing Press: Ideation to Transformation”.  As part of the research on this essay we contemplated whether new communication tools were revolutionary or evolutionary.  My perception would agree with Winston (1998) who argued that “what is hyperbolised as a revolutionary train of events can be seen as a far more evolutionary and less transforming process” (p. 1) In short I believe communication tools are evolutionary – one tool does not exist without the prior tools.  There is an evolution from ideation to supervening social necessity to prototype development to invention to transformative spinoffs.  The development of the Web wasn’t as quick as we perceive it to be, as it took from the 60’s to the late 90’s to really take off.  The iterations from Web 1.0 to 2.0 and soon 3.0 appear to me to be the transformative spinoffs in the evolution of this tool.


Winston, B. (1998). Media Technology and Society, A History: From The Telegraph To The Internet. London: Routledge.