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.