As we become both individuals and members of a group on the network, we become more tribal. Social graph is often discussed in terms of the linkages between the members of a set. But there’s a quality to the links that doesn’t seem to come through in the conversation. We argue that the word “friend” doesn’t properly signify in the context of social network websites because it merely describes a raw physical link of data sets. We need to take the thoughts further. When networks become social, it’s not the fact of a connection that makes the society, it’s the quality and intention of individual acts. How do the members of the group treat each other?
Anyone who has followed the formation of groups on the network from BBS and ListServs to NewsGroups to IRC and Chat Rooms, knows that primitive impulses surface regularly and threaten the structure of the tribe. The designation “anonymous coward” was created to encourage members to claim and assert their identity within the group, and to signal that no value or reputation accrued to the speech of the anonymous. Godwin’s Law is evidence that a conversation in a frictionless environment veers into common patterns of primative gesture.
Identity, privacy and society have a different meaning within a tribe. We’re used to thinking of identity on an individual basis, but identity claims have to be validated by our society. Some day our tribes will have developed to the point where identity theft will be a crime against the tribe, rather than just the individual. The idea of privacy will have to take tribal membership into account.
We have a lot to learn from the power dynamics and organizational structures among members of tribes in non-western countries around the world. The word “tribe” itself is filled with a thousand stories and histories; some very dark, others powerfully progressive. The new gathering of tribes will be an extension of our ongoing experiments with decentralized democracy.