Tuesdays with a farmer -- Networks and Hierarchies



Farmer: It was just a funky idea. In the Early 2000s, one daring chap from a small country posted on the Web, “If anybody can host me for free, I will come there”.  Believe it or not. He actually went across the world without paying a single penny. People thought that it would be great to have somebody from a small country where he was from. Somebody paid for the airfare. Somebody said, “I would pay for the bus ride ,say, from Zurich to Luxembourg”. He went across the whole world for free.
Thus came the whole idea of Couch surfing. If you come to think about this, it tells us many things about many things, the way things are happening in the networked world. One is the whole concept of peer evaluating you, where you don’t have authority. There is not a hierarchy in terms of somebody who is a boss supervising over you. Your peer looks at whether you have credit rating and your peer only uses that credit check to further the relationship. It’s a network based security credit feature. In a hierarchy, verifications are always done by someone higher than you. In this case, higher the level you remain, the more trust worthy you are.

 How do you build more trust-worthiness? You are known more to more parts of the network. You have given more value to the network and helped in obtaining more value. Suddenly you find that rating somebody is not another task.  Its just doing what you are doing on the network, which enables security to be taken care of. Otherwise, these are staff functions that add on costs.  Because, if you want to verify anything, it’s an add-on cost. But the way the networked world is designed in some way, verification is not something separate from actually doing the activity that the networked world set out for. It suddenly becomes a very low cost activity and thus it gets easier.  If you see the hierarchy that exists, it’s a trust based hierarchy, based on value. Somebody becomes the ambassador. You go up the hierarchy only by giving up more value. It’s not a hierarchy in the real sense. We just acknowledge that you have been valuable to the network. It’s a node still, but the node is somebody who is very valuable to the entire network.

In the hierarchical world, it doesn’t work at all like that. You go up the hierarchy only if you give value to the hierarchy that pays for you. In this case, it’s actually for the whole network. So both sides of the table have to benefit if you are to go higher. The other interesting thing here is, you see people who are retiring early. Can you imagine, the site is only 5 years old and you see such short life-cycles where people become ambassador and also retire early. You can actually go to a level where you have done lot of work in the network and get out, and its all happened in 2-3 years.

PS: I apologize for the little delay in posting this. I am scheduling up posts for next week to ensure this column is put on blog every tuesday on time. 

5 comments:

swordtail said...

Nice. I remember the fiery discussion we had last year in the same class about how peer relationships/trust can create a network that has no hierarchy and high levels of efficiency and transparency

Venky said...

@Salar, Thanks!!

Vimal Krishnan.R said...

According to French philosopher Micheal Foucault, there exists an agent in every society, which exercises its power through a particular "discourse". The discourse can be in the form of religion, knowledge, law, education and the like. A subaltern class or in other words, people at the lower rung of a hierarchy system often do not even realise the fact that their minds are conditioned and that their choices are influenced very subtly through such discourses. This phenomenon can be observed in the functioning of the corporate world as well. Large corporations and organizations try to maximize their own value in a community by throwing dust in the eyes of people through different ideological apparatuses and rosy service and business offerings. The corporate feigns to adhere to the "customer(society at large) is king norm", while simultaneously pulling the strings to channelise or produce a certain customer behavior or choice making pattern. But the internet is a great platform for community creation. It provides a level playing field and demolishes any sort of hedgemony. As mentioned in the article, the internet can bring about close knit communities fostered through group cohesion and like mindedness. It can bring together people from all walks of life from different parts of the world. Geographic and cultural differences are blurred and such a community transcends regional differences or any form of conflict. At the helm of the community is the common idea or interest and not a person. The essence of such a community is the creation of beneficial value for the community at large. Hierarchies and ordinal positioning of people in such a case assume greater significance as they result only in a holistic improvement and value creation for the community and not in a concentration of power. People simply advocate the common idea and a symbiotic quid pro quo transaction model is created where in there is an optimal give and take between the community and the individual.

Venky said...

Thank you Vimal for such a profound and insightful comment!! I really appreciate it!! Probably the biggest comment so far in my blog:):) Your observations are spot on!!

swordtail said...

Nice. I remember the fiery discussion we had last year in the same class about how peer relationships/trust can create a network that has no hierarchy and high levels of efficiency and transparency