Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Maintaining a network as it segments

Okay, so I'm way beyond where I can back up what I say with proof or mathematical models, but I was musing on the paper I talked about yesterday (That link seems not to work anymore- any ideas?). If a network tends to diverge into different camps given the right circumstances, and if those circumstances exist in most human networks (we can certainly see evidence of divergence all over the place), there could be strategies for balancing this effect to maintain a single community.

Here is one idea - In a network that has split into two camps, an actor could be added to create new connections. In the picture, the new actor and its links are blue and purple, respectively. In the social activism world, this translates to individuals who decide it will be their role to identify the cleavages within a community and work to bridge those cleavages. New avenues for transmitting ideas, concerns and strategies could open up. On the other hand, 'cleavages' between networks exist for a number of reasons. There could be geographic ones, the bridging of which requires only someone willing to do the legwork getting between the groups. There could also be ideological cleavages which would be harder to bridge. The job of the 'bridger' would be to negotiate some kind of common rules for interaction, or to even translate the information flowing from one network into something palatable for the other network (opportunities for sticky situations abound there!)

This second drawing depicts a hub and spoke/tree network. The new actor here connects spokes. This actor becomes kind of an alternative hub. In any hub and spoke network, the more spokes rely on the hub, the more fragile the network is. Just imagine trying to find something on the internet if Google shut down. So the actor reduces the whole network's dependence on the central hub.

Finally, for both of these models, the actor's final goal is not to just increase connection to itself, but to enable the nodes to which it connects to connect to each other. The network's dependence on the new actor will diminish, and the new actor's final success will be its own obsolescence. A victory brings the end of the victor's usefulness.

Wouldn't it be fun if we could test what happens in a network adding these kinds of activist nodes? You mean that wasn't your plan for the weekend already?

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