Human Routers and the Value of Networks

Jon Udell writes about the value of overlapping scopes in networks of people, and the particular value of individuals who are able to bridge scopes.

If I am seeking or sharing information, why do I need to be able to address a group of 3 (my team), or 300 (my company), or 300,000 (my company’s customers), or 300 million (the Usenet)? At each level I encounter a group that is larger and more diffuse. Moving up the ladder I trade off tight affinity with the concerns of my department, or my company, for access to larger hive-minds. But there doesn’t really have to be a tradeoff, because these realms aren’t mutually exclusive. You can, and often should, operate at many levels. [Practical Internet Groupware]

This suggests another layer in Ross Mayfield’s network valuation.
The value of a network isn’t just in its size, and the number of potential groups.
The value of a network is also in the connections among the different groups.
I wonder if there are optimal values?
* Too tightly coupled, and there is groupthink, with little diversity and innovation.
* Too loosely coupled, and it is more difficult or impossible for the group to behave in an emergent fashion –to reach agreement, to co-ordinate action, to swarm around a big idea,
The cool thing is, with networked media like weblogs and wikis, it should be possible to experiment and measure.

3 thoughts on “Human Routers and the Value of Networks”

  1. Or perhaps an optimal *range*? Or a range of higher probability of effective coordinated action?
    I get edgy when people ascribe particular importance to a distinct threshhold (sometimes to the point of anthropomorphizing the quantity: “the 150 plateau inhibited further community growth”) — not because I doubt that size matters, but because focusing intently on a determined figure risks distracting us from the actual goings-on in the group.
    I’m not accusing you yourself. Indeed, I raise the question here because I expect that here, one can explore the richer questions of group size and effectiveness, task, communication medium, and so on.

  2. I am not sure this suggests another layer, as Jon’s customers and usenet represent groups that are published towards.
    Building upon your points:
    If Too Tightly Coupled: Network growth and Inflow of new ideas is restricted.
    If Too Loosely Coupled: The group fragments
    AKMA makes a good point, but I have to stand by the need to find generalized differences to focus richer questions. These are ranges and not absolutes for how groups will or should form. A group of 300 dissapates potential energy because not everyone can know everyone…but if a group is a static 150 it lacks inflow of new ideas.
    What’s also interesting is that as soon as limits are revealed people seek to surpass them.

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