I was quite affected by this line in an interview with John Seely Brown:
Blogs are powerful when there’s a set of blogs working independently that end up helping you triangulate on the same point. You have different points of view that end up linking to the same mega-idea. If you have three independent rumors that all say the same thing, then that rumor may turn out to have a certain kind of significance. What’s interesting is whether we should read blogs in the same way as we read a newspaper.
Notice, also, that blogs can suddenly reach a critical mass that then forces something out into the open, into public consciousness. You might think of it as an analogy to the subconscious vs. the conscious.
That line triggerd a resorting in my head about the role of link is, what function it performs. I’ve been uncomfortable about the popular model where are currency in a reputation market.
Certianly there is market where valuation is based on counting links. Google, Technorati, etc. etc. have made that perfectly clear. In these markets A linking to B raises B’s valuation, at least for a while. Measuring the value of a site in this manner has the advantage of being easy and the disadvantage that links are a very noisy proxy for value.
Site valuation markets become reputation because we tend to confuse a site with it’s author. Much as the link is a poor by convient tool for site valuation the site is a poor but convient tool for pinning a reputation to it’s author.
My discomfort with model of links as reputation currency has a third leg. Network graphs like these always have power-law nature. Winners in such populations are often the result of processes that have little to do with quality.
So, in the back of my head I’ve been uncomfortable with the model of link as reputaion currency. John’s triggered a different model to condense in my head.
Ideas are attempting to emerge from the soil. Authors are kicking the dirt trying to set them free. The link’s role is as a spade. It doesn’t serve the site, or the author, or the status economy. It serves the desperate struggle of the ideas to escape.
One reason for the confusion about this is the culture’s fetish for assuming that ideas are owned objects. That the if I dig up an idea I get to lay claim to it. That model presumes that ideas are like rare mushrooms hidden in dangerous dark forests. That the search for each of them is a solitary persuit demanding great self sacrific and risk. In this myth discovery is work of heros who leave hearth, home, and family to seek out these treasures. Surely there are such ideas, but there are other kinds.
There are lots of ideas that emerge from the work of collective efforts. Wherever a crowd gathers such ideas will emerge. So if a problem becomes well identified and a crowd gathers to start wailing away at it, over time they will likely pick away at it until a solution emerges. That’s on the demand side – where a problem appears – but it also happens on the supply side when a new tool emerges. So when Moore’s Law and his friends create new opportunities a crowd gathers to seek the solutions that enables.
Such strong-demand/strong-supply situations are often well tackled collectively. In such sitatutions the link between websites acting as way to signal to the crowd the existance of new information, possible new ideas, possible new approaches, possible new problems. New stuff if brought together just might help useful ideas to emerge.
Google was built almost entirely on the noticing that some folks were creating pages of links about a particular topic. If Joe creates a page of links about topic X then he’s revealing that he’s working on X. He is in effect saying “Join me! Bring your tools! Bring your problems! Together maybe we can dig up some ideas!”
In the first part of the cartoon there is something additional missing: if a given A links coherently lots of Bs, A’s reputation actually increases, i.e. A is printing currency, and becoming a bank (specialized on Bs area). So, any behavior that looks at links as currency has to take into account that it is not at all a zero sum game, i.e., that link money is not scarce, again.
Or, the way I’m beginning to see links is like in a gift culture: when I link you, I’m showing I am a good attention broker, and thus, becoming healthier. It is the “derivatives market” again.
And, like in any exchange market, when lots of traders point in the same direction, market movements do occur. Obviously there is a continuum: nobody is ia “pure” content producer (except maybe poets or coders), and most of the people add some bit of content to the mixture, even when it is pure “re-mix”/linking (at the very least, the Point of View/aggregation, which is an essential component in art).
Confusing? Maybe we should paraphrase the ancient Chinese saying: When the wise man links the moon, the idiot looks at the moon. 😉