Small World Theory: 6 Degrees of Micro-Communities
Just a short thought experiment: picture, if you will, the kind of network graph you’d draw to represent traditional broadcast and print media. Initially a very small set of one to many one-way relationships. All downstream, very little upstream– perhaps the letters to the editor section. Desktop publishing changed the look of that graph, as did the personal video camera, lighting up more broadcast nodes on the network, but distribution remained a challenge.
Blogs, Podcasting, YouTube and RSS changed the shape of the picture even more substantially. Distribution moved to the common platform of the web and the economics supporting a publishing node changed radically. More publishers light up on the network, but more importantly the means for two-way traffic is established as publishers talk to each other. Two-way traffic expands to a many-to-many relationships and micro-communities begin to form. All of this built on the back of HTTP.
Now think about who has real time broadcasting capability and draw a mental picture of that network graph. Think of the shape of the network, it seems to me the traditional model still dominates. Facebook, MySpace, Dogster, LinkedIn and others concentrated and increased the speed of communication transactions within communities– but they don’t generally achieve real time continuous message flow. Twitter, and more recently, Identi.ca have achieved message flow liquidity and have established themselves as primary markets. As the XMPP protocol starts capturing the imagination and islands of Laconica instances begin appearing, more real time nodes light up on the network. It’s early days and there aren’t a lot of dots to connect.
Whether or not those dots will be allowed to be connected is currently in question. Our ability to track those XMPP streams is even more fragile still. There’s a real time web emerging and we’ve yet to imagine how it will manifest. It’s something we’ll have to talk to each other about.
The power of real time micro-communities is broader than common wisdom would suggest. Each broadcaster in a real time micro-community is connected and messages to a different circle. We misunderstand the nature and power of micro-communities if we focus on the number of connections in a particular circle. Each circle is embedded in a network of circles, but the network of circles occupies a small world. And you already know this: the whole world is connected through six degrees of separation.