Monday, July 07, 2008

Social Media as a Fractal

I have been thinking about this social media phenomena, as it matures and crosses the chasm from the early-adopter / tech geek crowd to mainstream. The idea that I am wrestling with is that the primary behaviors being exhibited thus far are just the top layer of a much more deep and complex evolution currently underway.

I have written before about Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff's social technolgraphics ladder. Many others are trying to define frameworks to explain what we are seeing. However, my theory is that these frameworks are too simple to explain what is happening, especially as such behaviors expand into the mainstream. And, in order to meet the needs of the ever-expanding social media user base requires a more complex model. And yet, such complex models already exist - in nature.

My thesis is that, as these tools proliferate and organization forms on its own, social media mimics more existing biological structures (i.e. fractals) than such simple structures as a ladder or even a pyramid. Just with biology, such self-organizing structures allow the sum to be better / smarter / stronger than the parts. This framework association is not limited to a particular part or behavior of social media. It reflects the entire social media landscape currently emerging.

This premise is supported by the success thus far of recent API's, such as Facebook and (dare I say) Twitter. Build the core infrastructure of your idea, and then offer integration points for others to permeate from your original idea, making the sum much more valuable than the part.

Wikipedia's strength also supports this idea. The sum of thousands of wonks / writers / editers / and even readers has self-organized in a manner that the sum of all the artciles created is much more valuable than the individual writings.

Obama is another loose example, as he attempts to cede control to his supporters, allowing them to self-organize.

So, as entrepreneurs, investors, corporate decision-makers, political strategists etc., evaluate opportunities within this space, ask this one fundamental question: "Does it enable the sum to be more valuable than the parts."

I am not the first to discuss this (for others, go here or here), nor do I claim to have a strong understanding of bio-structures. I just sense a connection here...

1 comment:

Quired said...

I just was having a conversation with an associate where he had watched a Nova special discussing fractals. We both came to the same conclusion that fractals could apply to social media connections.

I am co-founder of Quired.com an online media community where we wish to push the envelope on discovery methodologies.

There are patterns inherent in nature (or ourselves) that I believe exist in how we become interested in an idea, service, product or event.

Or more importantly, the pattern in how people are inspired to share information with one another.

The structure of a community itself is more than likely based off of a fractal so how does one tap into this dynamic to help create efficiencies in the discovery process.

If businesses were able to tap into our needs more effectively then advertising would not be considered intrusive but welcomed.

If a book spoke to who I was at the moment as far as what I was experiencing, what I felt like and what I was interested then I would be more inclined to read it. But how would I know it related to my current experience if I never read it. How could I connect with this book other than simple search tools.

There are patterns in what I am interested in (which is my perception) and what might interest me (which is what already exists in one form or another).

The science is in how to connect the two.

Just like Tesla discovered there were existing conditions in the atmosphere which allowed the ability to transmit electricity to carry audio, there might be existing conditions which might facilitate the discovery process.

It is more behavioral than tech but there are patterns everywhere to harness.

Social media is merely in its infancy in this regard and we hope to be a part of the discovery process whether it be through semantics, search, recommendations or browsing.