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emergent by design
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    Is Twitter A Complex Adaptive System?
    Project: Polytopia
    I've seen a bunch of posts bubble up over the past few days that are really sparking my curiousity about what is really going on with Twitter, so I need to do a little brain dump. Bear with me.

    Insight #1

    An article by Rosabeth Moss Kanter was just published today on the Harvard Business Review website, titled On Twitter and in the Workplace, It's Power to the Connectors. In it, she highlights the fact that there is an organizational trend moving away from the hierarchical networks of the 20th century, and towards complex, distributed, non-hierarchical structures of business organization and leadership.

    She also points out that success today is based on a person's ability to leverage power and influence within their social networks, to act as "connectors" between people and information, and in turn build social capital.

    She leaves the evaluation of the significance of Twitter open-ended, but she lays out a few characteristics of Twitter that I found most interesting:

    In the World According to Twitter, giving away access to information rewards the giver by building followers. The more followers, the more information comes to the giver to distribute, which in turn builds more followers. The process cannot be commanded or controlled; followers opt in and out as they choose. The results are transparent and purely quantitative; network size is all that matters. Networks of this sort are self-organizing and democratic but without any collective interaction.

    (just keep those points in mind, I'm going to come back to it)

    Insight #2

    Also published today over on Stowe Boyd's blog, /Message, was a post titled The Rise Of Networks, The End Of Process. He makes a case for the abandonment of worn out systems of industrial management thinking, and a move towards a social way of structuring work.

    He points out that the explosion of the social web is allowing us to connect with others in a previously impossible way, and the ability it's giving us to share information and ideas is actually reforming our learning process and the way we think:

    People are thronging on social sites like Facebook and Twitter because they are a straightforward way to stay connected with others, and this in turn shapes our worldview.

    This same sentiment was also hit upon by JR Johnson on mashable in the post Social Media can Change the World through Common Ground.

    He also points out that as we are awakening to the power of this interaction on the web, the most progressive companies and individuals are the ones actively creating new business models around this information, hybrids that combine existing frameworks with new social models.

    From a social viewpoint, the architecture of business seems all wrong.

    It's becoming clear that to constrict a person's capabilities into rigid, set roles that limit creativity and innovation just doesn't make sense. Diving talent into silos is an outdated paradigm. Rather, we should be encouraging the facilitation of diverse groups of people working together on common problems. I touched on the potential power of this in a previous post, "The Future of Collaboration Begins with Visualizing Human Capital."

    I think his points completely validate the need for a new approach to thinking in general, which is exactly what I'm outlining in my 'metathinking manifesto'.

    Insight #3

    Wim Rampen is also noticing a trend, with yesterday's post, Connecting the Dots, referencing Graham Hill's recent post, A Manifesto for Social Business, and Mitch Lieberman's post Social Just is..., both acknowledging the power of customer networks, looked at through the lens of Social Business. Hill laid out fifteen trends shaping the future of business, which clearly outline the fundamental shift underway:

    I would almost go as far to say that we are fast approaching a period of ‘Business Enlightenment', based not so much on the linear thinking that drove the Enlightenment in the 18th Century, as on networked, emergent thinking which is driving so much new thinking in the 21st.

    Everyone is catching on - Lieberman's post also references Esteban Kolsky's new 5 part series on the Roadmap to Social CRM, an in-depth series of blog posts that outlines how to develop a Social Business strategy.

    Insight #4

    Here's where things get interesting. From a learning standpoint, there is proof emerging that using Twitter builds intelligence. A study revealed these benefits:

    All of the study participants were new to Twitter and had not previously used it or any similar microblogging service.....In a relatively short period of time, the participants formed quite sophisticated peer networks.....Peer support became a key feature of this student network, with activity rising just prior to assessment deadlines or during revision for exams. Content analysis of the messages indicated clear evidence of the emergence of personal learning networks.....Twitter is also very attractive as a data collection tool for assessing and recording the student experience, with a wide range of free and increasingly sophisticated online analysis tools available.

    Synthesis

    At the surface level, one could look at this information and agree that yes, social networks, and specifically the real-time network of Twitter, enable people to communicate and collaborate on new levels. I think there's something deeper happening.

    I've been reading about complex adaptive systems lately, and many of its key properties seem strikingly similar to what's occurring on Twitter:

    • Emergence: Rather than being planned or controlled the agents in the system interact in apparently random ways. From all these interactions patterns emerge which informs the behaviour of the agents within the system and the behaviour of the system itself.

    • Co-evolution: All systems exist within their own environment and they are also part of that environment. Therefore, as their environment changes they need to change to ensure best fit.

    • Requisite Variety: The greater the variety within the system the stronger it is. In fact ambiguity and paradox abound in complex adaptive systems which use contradictions to create new possibilities to co-evolve with their environment.

    • Connectivity: The ways in which the agents in a system connect and relate to one another is critical to the survival of the system, because it is from these connections that the patterns are formed and the feedback disseminated. The relationships between the agents are generally more important than the agents themselves.

    • Simple Rules: Complex adaptive systems are not complicated. The emerging patterns may have a rich variety, but like a kaleidoscope the rules governing the function of the system are quite simple

    • Iteration: Small changes in the initial conditions of the system can have significant effects after they have passed through the emergence - feedback loop a few times (often referred to as the butterfly effect)

    • Self Organising: There is no hierarchy of command and control in a complex adaptive system. There is no planning or managing, but there is a constant re-organising to find the best fit with the environment.

    • Edge of Chaos: Complexity theory is not the same as chaos theory, which is derived from mathematics. But chaos does have a place in complexity theory in that systems exist on a spectrum ranging from equilibrium to chaos. A system in equilibrium does not have the internal dynamics to enable it to respond to its environment and will slowly (or quickly) die. A system in chaos ceases to function as a system. The most productive state to be in is at the edge of chaos where there is maximum variety and creativity, leading to new possibilities.

    • Nested Systems: Most systems are nested within other systems and many systems are systems of smaller systems.


    Complex adaptive systems are all around us. Most things we take for granted are complex adaptive systems, and the agents in every system exist and behave in total ignorance of the concept but that does not impede their contribution to the system. Complex Adaptive Systems are a model for thinking about the world around us not a model for predicting what will happen. I have found that in nearly all situations I can view what is happening in Complex Adaptive Systems terms and that this opens up a variety of new options which give me more choice and more freedom.


    Is this perhaps the framework that we've all been hitting upon without realizing it? Many people have been sensing there is something special about the way we're able to access and exchange information and ideas on Twitter, organize into Twibes and niche groups to tackle problems together, and develop strategies (like using lists and separate accounts) to filter out the content that matters most to us.

    Final question: Is Twitter not a social media platform, but an actual entity, an intelligence made up of all of us?

    ___

    further thoughts: If you have room for one more idea to provide another context, consider yesterday's post by Tim O'Reilly on The War For the Web. If we start to experience real, measurable collective benefits from our ability to leverage the intelligence of the real-time web, will it be exploited, or will we ensure a system that keep our information and knowledge flows open source?

    sources of the thoughtstream:

    I would also suggest taking a look through Pierre Levy's slideshare on Collective Intelligence & Cyberspace, which I found on Victor Godot's site.

    Insights from the Twittersphere

    @SmartStorming Innovation is really a game of connect-the-dots. Try combining two or more seemingly unrelated things in a new way that creates value.

    @spikenlilli Halpern: "How does one learn to see?" "Make associations between data points" - relational, generative, gestalt, anticipatory design #IPF09

    @Innovation360 Can innovation be systematized?http://is.gd/4VCpm

    @acarvin Hargadon: social media can unleash our latent creativity. #ncti2009

    @WebStudio13 RT @craignewmark - RT @AlecJRoss: “The more freely information flows, the stronger the society becomes.” via @ariannahuff


    People referenced in this post

    Rosabeth Kanter @RosabethKanter
    Stowe Boyd @stoweboyd
    mashable @mashable
    Wim Rampen @wimrampen
    Graham Hill @grahamhill
    Mitch Lieberman @mjayliebs
    Estaban Kolsky @ekolsky
    Tim O'Reilly @timoreilly
    Victor Godot @victorgodot

    This post made possible by:

    @SameerPatel - RT'd @stoweboyd's article
    @SocialNetDaily - RT'd @AnneDGallager @HarvardBiz @KellySpors to @RosabethKanter's article
    @Wildcat2030 - RT'd @UniofLeics @TheHistoryWoman @timeshighered to Twitter in academia study
    @emahlee - RT'd @anildash to @timoreilly's article
    @phaloo - tweeted @mashable article
    @ekolsky - tweeted Roadmap to Social CRM article

    note: I'm going to try as often as possible to reference posts in this way, because I think it's a good illustration of how thoughts and ideas are developing as a result of distributed knowledge, and it's easier for me to follow my own train of thought.

    I saw all of these posts within the last 48 hours in my twitterstream.... I don't know that I would have come up with this by reading RSS feeds or by using other news sites.

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    Comments:


    Nokadota     Tue, Nov 17, 2009  Permanent link
    This is such a brilliant concept and I definitely agree with the premise. I wouldn't have found out about half of the new things I know now, without Twitter quite honestly. In turn, other people are made aware of new things via *my* tweets.
    HelloAlexCL     Thu, Nov 19, 2009  Permanent link
    Cool! I just registered for a twitter account yesterday. Although Twitter always seemed so very different from other social networking sites, I never could quite put my finger on this overarching difference as the absence of collective interaction.

    By eliminating collective interaction, Twitter allows for self-direction and self-motivation, which increase the engagement of every person. Thus, any emergent collective interaction will be richer and more dynamic, as each individual is much more involved than they'd be otherwise.

    I have a question. Why the "edge" of chaos? This implies that there is a tipping point between order and chaos, and the two are discrete. What about some kind of grey area? Please explain the choice of this term if possible.
    Venessa     Thu, Nov 19, 2009  Permanent link
    From what I've read so far on complex adaptive systems, it posits that innovation and emergent results happen right there on the edge of chaos. Right now I'm reading Adaptive Software Development, which is really fascinating. Here's a few snippets:

    Imposed order is programmed. Emergent order happens, not in some mysterious way, but as a result of intelligent interactions of agents striving for a better result. Emergent order results from patterns in our complex world - patterns we may not completely understand, but which we can certainly use. Most innovative software design is emergent. Complexity yields to concerted, nurtured, encouraged interaction of agents governed by simple rules. Complex rules, administered through limited interactions, yield adequate results only within simple, relatively stable, situations. Complex behavior works according to the basic equation,

    Complex Behavior = Simple Rules + Rich Relationships


    and this paragraph

    The term "the edge of chaos" was first used by Chris Langton, whose work also gave rise to the scientific field of Artificial Life. According to Langton (Waldrop92), maximum complexity is supported in this transition zone. Biological evolution in particular seems to demonstrate a proclivity for seeking the transition zone - maintaining enough control to keep from spinning off into chaos, yet enough spontaneity for creativity and enough innovation to enable it to adapt to changing environments. It is a difficult balance. In organizations, forces either push for stabilization or push for less order; they rarely stay in the middle. Understanding that the edge is there, understanding that it is where emergence happens, and understanding that people will be uncomfortable with it are all key to exploiting its benefits.


    Another book that I'm about to order is The Moment of Complexity: Emerging Network Culture. It was suggested at the Digital Labor conference last weekend by Paul Hartzog (@PaulBHartzog), the founder of panarchy.com (aka "many 2 many"), contributor on the P2P Foundation site, poli sci prof at U of M, and overall a very bright guy.

    As I learn more and can make more correlations, I'll flesh this out better.
    Mariana Soffer     Fri, Feb 26, 2010  Permanent link
    Let me tell you one idea I have that might be interesting for you regarding what can we do with twitter. I do research in NLP, and I also like reading regarding about the evolution of languages, how they evolve, become more or less complex, mix among each other, diversify, etc.
    I thought tweeter would be a great data repository for doing a research that will allow us to build a basic model to represent how language evolve. For example we can take the Richard Dawkings concept of memes, and make an analogy with the #markers in twitter, so we can kind of discover the rules that model the propagation or not of particular memes, which factors and how they do influence in that. This can be seen as analogous to the study Mendel did regarding the gene inheritance while study the progeny of the peas.
    It is also interesting trying to detect what makes this so called memes(#tags) change of meaning, cause the semantic value is not stable, evolves along the cultural and linguistic changes.
    I would like to know what do you think Vanessa about this research idea. Congratulations on your posts, they are great!
    Venessa     Sat, Feb 27, 2010  Permanent link
    that's an interesting idea. i've seen people track how certain tweets spread through various networks, but not the 'evolution of language.' what do you mean by that? what would that look like?
    Mariana Soffer     Sun, Feb 28, 2010  Permanent link
    Check for the page: Evolution of language exampleto understand better what kinds of things do I refer to. You can see the following picture as well:

    One of the to do is to modelize mathematically and graphically the ideas about how #tags evolved from their predecessors, I think of them as memes which are the ideas spread in the cultural phenomena, see Richard Dawkings. Along with their evolution in time and what provokes the behaviour each single one displays.
    Venessa     Sun, Feb 28, 2010  Permanent link
    that does sound interesting. have you read any work by Franco Moretti? he is focused on computational linguistics and visualizations. it might be useful for you.
    Mariana Soffer     Mon, Mar 1, 2010  Permanent link
    That was a great reference to me thank you very much, seeing and reading some of his work did trigger new ideas of things that could be done for visualizing NLP stuff. For example I liked http://janedark.com/2009/03/poetics_world_clouds.html as an example of how to visualize particular info from countries websites, and the idea behind that, and this kind of thing could be incorporated in my own visualization project plan.

    PS:It is great to be able to share this conversations with you, thanks.
    Venessa     Tue, Mar 2, 2010  Permanent link
    Mariana,

    I just came across this post from Nova Spivack (CEO of www.twine.com)

    i just glanced through it, but it sounds like it might be useful to you.

    A Physics of Ideas: Measuring The Physical Properties of Memes
    Mariana Soffer     Tue, Mar 2, 2010  Permanent link
    It is funny, because I became friend's of his father first, Mayer Spivak trough our blogs mainly and ended up having very interesting virtual conversations, he is an amazingly guy. Then Mayer introduced me to Nova in order for us to brainstorm some ideas about streams, social networks, languages and so on, so I have exchanged several ideas with them and others with Nova alone. I feel lucky to be connected to him cause I admire his work and the way he things.
    Thanks a lot vanessa, you are very helpful.
    By the way do you have an email so we can be in touch trough other media? mine is marianasoffer@gmail.com you can contact me there.
    Thanks a lot.
    Venessa     Wed, Mar 3, 2010  Permanent link
    ok, i emailed you. also, if you're on twitter, you can find me @venessamiemis
    alok subbarao     Wed, Mar 17, 2010  Permanent link
    Just wanted to add to the "Why the Edge of Chaos?" question. Peak and Frame, the authors of the book our professor assigned us on Complex Systems (Chaos Under Control), have this to say:

    Kauffman observed that the edge of chaos gives the highest mean fitness for members of the community; it is there that the community adapts most easily to changes and builds the best models of the environment. Too far within the ordered regime and the species are frozen into local fitness states, most of which surely are poor. Too far into the chaotic regime and every change affects the fitness of all he other too much: no one has any time to adjust to recent changes before others occur.



    Also, Mariana, your work sounds awesome! I'm not sure if you've heard of the pivot program, but it could be an excellent way for you to collect a lot of metadata on (at least your own) twitter/internet usage.
    See here:http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/gary_flake_is_pivot_a_turning_point_for_web_exploration.html
    Mariana Soffer     Fri, Mar 19, 2010  Permanent link
    You are so nice, thanks for the great compliment.
    Thanks a lot nocturnal for pointing to another great ted talk and I must confess I did not know about that, I see you clearly got what I was referring to, and colaborated greatelly with estimulating my thoughts.
    CoCreatr     Tue, Nov 30, 2010  Permanent link
    Inspired by this post and fired up by a skype text chat with Venessa (a great con-textual listener), I added a post.

    What if Emotion is emergent by design?

    Depending on the resonance out there, it might find its way on to spacecollective as well.

    Like this:

    Repeated reflecting of enlightenment, however dim, between two semi-conscious mental mirrors can cause what to emerge? A focused bundle of directed mental energy, to probe, to illuminate, to point out. Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation again. Essentially a resonance phenomenon. This how it feels when bright minds engage in live energetic conversation.
    nethunt     Mon, Jun 13, 2011  Permanent link
    Insightful post and thread! I'm just a newbie here, but SpaceCollective seems like home to me already :)

    In near future, 5-10 years or so, there might be some minor obstacles before for example *all* the organizations could blow their current models to restructure (that's the point, actually) their existence. I'm making my PhD about netcrowds e.g. 'self-organized' collective intelligence on thee Net, in the field of sociology. My background comes from Max Weber and others who have studied collective actions, collective behaviour and collectiveness as a social form.

    But collective intellicence - or intelligent adaptative (human) system - is definitely cross-science from computer models to lingvistics and from communication or signal theory to neural networks and social network analysis as we have seen in this post and thread.

    At first, one question: Is Twitter getting to adaptive system because it has (yet) no conceptualizing cues and aids (only hashtags), like channels (IRC, ex-Jaiku. www forums) or groups or 'pages' (Facebook) which gather people more or less centrally?

    Twitter is like huge bar or cafe, where you can hear millions of opinions, facts, hints and so and easily participate to them and share them.

    In conceptual level, one *could* think that this Twitter-kind of noise, buzz, data and information is more likely to create more, new and faster 'synapses', contacts and communication between people than tradional ways to arrange communication and social ties (like Facebook).

    In my own research, Facebook has started to collapse internally. The Friend-model - compared to Follow-model of Twitter - slows new contacts and people in Facebook have started to closen and limit their daily or active communication spheres.

    Sometimes Facebook's own blogs offers great stuff, like this Maintained Relationships on Facebook by Facebook Data Team

    It shows quite clearly that Facebook is not very innovative or adaptative in the context of this thread :) People have quite small social circle regardless how many hundreda of "Friends" they have. If you check that link, do not forget to read the all the comments of FB users - they are self-explainable LOL
    CoCreatr     Tue, Jun 14, 2011  Permanent link
    Welcome back home, nethunt.

    Musing again over this post and the insightful comments, I feel it is not Twitter that is the complex adaptive system, but the people connecting and interacting, supported by whatever tools and media available.
     
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