Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Power Law Distribution ... What?

I'm at the half-way point of Clay Shirky's book, Here Comes Everybody. Several people have mentioned it over the last couple of months and I'm glad I picked it up. It's helped me understand what I've been observing over the last few months.

Big Idea Number One: Many-to-Many
As the number of people I connect with online grows, the dynamic changes. Mr. Shirky explains that each addition to my network grows cross connections faster than I realized. It's just like those "how many handshake" puzzler questions {and answer if you want it}. It's a many-to-many proposition. As much as I wanted to follow the blogs of everyone I follow in Twitter, I can't. It's become impossible. That's where my Google Reader friends shared items come in. Let me know if you want to share with me. I only have seven reciprocating within Google Reader right now.

Big Idea Number Two: Fame Happens
I happened upon Twitter back in July, but it took until mid October before I started communicating with others with the @ directed responses. In the book, he mentions that once you have an "audience" of 1,000 or more there is an imbalance in the number of messages that come in to you that you can respond to.

I have a little over 300 followers/ following. There are a core group of people that I talk to on a regular basis and collaborate with. I don't feel the need to limit the number of people I will accept into my protected account, but the dynamics have changed. I don't feel like I "know" everyone any more. I'm also amazed at some of the people I've conversed with as a relatively unknown person in the big Internet world. That said, some of my most recent connections have resulted in two terrific projects for my classes in math and computers.

Big Idea Number Three: Predictable Imbalances
Depending upon which venue I visit (blogs, nings, Twitter) there are names that come up more often than others in each arena. This represents something called the Power Law Distribution. In short, the top contributor to a medium/project/whatever will outproduce the second from top contributor in a major way. There can be no real such things a average, median, or mode.

I shouldn't feel like I don't contribute a lot, because I can't compare myself to others. There will always be people who blog more, comment more, and so on. I pretty much knew that already, but it stands out for me.

Big Idea Number Four: Make Big Things Happen
As Dennis Richards is showing, we can make big things happen by combining with other like minded individuals. Just as the Wikipedia has grown and become successful, we can all grow and become successful in a large objective if many people step up to the plate and do what they can. I'm really glad that I signed on with Dennis and the other individuals.

Big Idea Number Five: What is the "Tragedy of the Commons" Anyway?
It's been mentioned at least two or three times already in the book: "situations wherein individuals have an incentive to damage the collective good".

Have I felt overwhelmed at times by messages of "new this, new that, new the other thing" on Twitter. Sure. I guess the collective good is whatever people are willing to put up with. I get on Twitter, by my guess, about fifteen minutes a day. I no longer go back pages into the timeline. I will follow a conversation back to an individual, but there are so many posted this, bookmarked that messages that I can't filter them at all.

I don't feel that it is damaging my vision of the collective good, though. I still find something relevant to me almost every time I check in.

Back to the Book
I'm looking forward to sharing the new things I learn in the second half of the book. Thanks to anyone in my network who has mentioned this book. I'm finding it a worthy read.


  1. Keep reading. I found this to be a very insightful book...and I just finished last week.

  2. Britt:
    Thanks for the note. I am finding it very interesting. I'm looking forward to continuing through to the end. Are there any similar books that you have read that were of equal value to you? I'm always looking for new reading material.

  3. Sounds interesting I may check it out. I tried to follow you on Twitter and it said your updates are protected? Can I be a follower?

  4. It's a good book, so far well worth the read. My id is protected on Twitter, but you can absolutely follow me. I'll be on the lookout for your id.