Clay Shirky's essay, File-sharing goes local covers a really interesting progression. Firstly, "The RIAA is now attacking these networks using a strategy that could be called Crush the Connectors. A number of recent books on networks, such as Gladwell's The Tipping Point, Barabasi's Linked, and Watts' Six Degrees, have noted that large, loosely connected networks derive their effectiveness from a small number of highly connected nodes, a pattern called a Small World network. As a result, random attacks, even massive ones, typically leave the network only modestly damaged. The flipside is that attacks that specifically target the most connected nodes are disproportionately effective." Then Shirky highlights the reaction to this attack: from a global sharing system (Napster), decentralisation is introduced (Gnutella is client, server and router) but this has the effect of defining a subjective space: for performance reasons a search horizon is introduced. Next this horizon calcifies into a social membrane (the system adds a firewall to each application which requires an invitation to get through) and the fabric organises into social cells, each with its own filesharing ability.

  1. It's a shame we can't build something online that really does subvert distance so completely that there's no search horizon, no social cells.
  2. But I guess distance is always acquired from somewhere, like knowledge. I'm still never going to be able to download music I like if I don't know what it's called, or I don't know that I like it.
  3. Social cells, semi-permeable membrances? An optimal size for internal environments? Sound familiar? Organisational cells within a sea of free market activity. Factory-like cells exposing interfaces to the outside world. The limit of the kinesthetic sense and the boundary step change of sensory data. What lessons are there? How should the inside of the social cell be organised; how should information migrate across the boundaries; what interfaces should be exposed?

Tom Coates remembered Microsoft's music-sharing-for-groups app Three Degrees the other day: Get into a group with your friends, share music by dragging it into a shared playlist (with shared controls); an icon (that appears the same on everyone's desktop) acts as a well to chuck around photos, and (what's more) winks -- little animations that go to everyone in the group simultaneously and just say "hi!". This is the way to go, certainly. Define a space that breaks up the global domain; within a local group get rid of space entirely and disallow direct person-to-person communication (unless the group has visibility of that connection). That's like rooms (real world rooms), like pub tables, like the way the world works. (Too much to say!)