Tuesday, November 17, 2009

An easy guide to Social Networks

Social Networks, now there's an interesting term, which you could be forgiven for believing is reasonably new.

Its rotation alone in the media would lead us to believe it is the "cure all", just as Marxism's proletariat uprising would cure society. Of course its much more complex than that.

More than a hundred years ago, academics started to probe this thing with more rigour.

German George Simmel could have advised today's fashionistas e.g. Posh Spice and P Diddy how they would wear Prada, but inevitably at some point tire to set up their own individualistic line.

Fashion is about becoming part of a social network, and then ultimately abandoning the group to lead a new one.

Much like most things in the arts, sciences and free love, it was the 60s when the frenzy to rival today's Social Networks took off - albeit behind university and corporate walls.

But you could argue social networks are as old society and politics. You only need to pop inside a museum to see that from the paintings of the Aborigines and words of Socrates or Hobbes.

Social Network Thinker
Thomas Hobbes' ideas, like many emerging thinkers of the 17th century feed straight into Social Networks.

Europe needed a way of settling disputes without drawing swords and Hobbes' perception of the Intelligent Commonwealth - was a social network of the highest order, er, ruled by a sovereign.

But one of the important point in Hobbes was the notion that we the people should give up private self-interests to get along.

And relinquishing private self interests today (privacy), in which the sovereign has been replaced by technology has never been so acutely discussed.

We are selfish, and protective; you wouldn't give your house away, you rarely, if any offer strangers a lift in your car. We're generous and giving, we react to disaster reliefs. We've always been networked.

When our ideals come together, when we're given a route to pursue first a self-interest which then correspondingly coincides with others ideas, the social network gets interesting. Note self interest doesn't have to be selfish.

Social Network theorists discovered it was better to have a wider pool of loosely connected people, than a smaller tighter group of friends to make a difference - something President Obama showed in his campaign.

So long as we can keep reinventing technology to meet our dreams: "Oh look an app to show how I can teleport my thoughts", a network, with no surface recourse to financial gain will subscribe. Uncontested bartering is the ongoing currency.

But we also know from history how cyclical the politics of networks are and already as I'll discuss some other time, we're beginning to witness fissures in these leviathans.

The above is an extract from a talk David is giving to a fortune 100 company