Linked: The New Science of Networks, Review of Chapters 7 -10

It is my belief that the human species has always, intuitively, recognized the “network” and its place within it. From the earliest glimpses into modern man we have been organized along hubs, nodes and links. The strongest hunter-provider, was the hub, the nodes were the members of the tribe, the link was the need to survive. Not much has changed.

While humanity may not have recognized networks in a formal way, it has come-to-light that indeed, everything is interconnected and studying how that self-organizing phenomena may be the key to understanding the our world in ways that we could have never imagined.

As discussed in Albert-Laszlo Barbasi’s book, Linked: The New Science of Networks; we are only just now applying the understanding of how networks function and how they are at the core of ever meaningful interaction.

Developing a clear language with which to discuss it is imperative and the book starts bringing some of those terms and meanings to the forefront: The scale-free model, The fitness model, the winner take all model.  “The scale free model reflects our awakening to the reality that networks are dynamic systems that change constantly through the addition of new nodes and links,” writes Barbasi.

“The fitness model,” continues Barbasi, “allows us to describe networks as competitive systems in which nodes fight fiercely for links.”

That is the point of this class, that if we can get our networks in shape and understand how they work, how to feed them and how to keep them healthy we can create great opportunities to succeed in getting our information into the places we intend them to go.

Barabasi uses Google as an example of “the fit, not necessarily the first” getting richer, but still remaining a scaled network because despite its growth it remains connected to the whole instead off isolating itself.

The scale free network is in direct opposition to the “winner-take-all” network illustrated by Microsoft Windows which still is the OS of choice for more than 85% of computers on the market. The problem is that a network like Microsoft is dominant and eventually ends up imploding on itself because of a lack of connection to connected nodes.

That’s because nodes grow into hubs, hubs have strength, a hubs fitness scale determines if they will overtake other hubs. Hubs, nodes and links all have other hubs, nodes and links attached, following closely behind, poised to become a hub as well if the conditions are right, but also helping the original hub remain a hub.

I found particularly interesting the comparison of natural and man made networks, how failures and corrections are far more effective if a network approach is conceived.

One example that was used to illustrate the power of “hubs” and the disaster of not understanding the impact was the story of the infamous Patient Zero in the AIDS epidemic Gaetan Dugas who definitely left his mark on my network as my brother died of AIDS related illness.

The discussion of network economy gave great insight into viral marketing and the recipe for success; free service, low learning path, and rapid reach through consumer marketing. “Recognizing that passing a critical threshold is the prerequisite for the spread of fads and viruses was probably the most important conceptual advance in understanding spreading and diffusion. Alas, one caveat must be met if you are to succeed. People must want what your marketing or it stops the flow.

In all, for my money “Linked” is a great read and perhaps the most important book I’ve read in this program so far. I believe anyone would benefit from the explanations of networks and how they apply to every aspect of our lives.

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