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Monday, May 15, 2006

Online emergence

Andrew McAfee writes about the mechanisms of online emergence. The reason why Google and the Web works is not because it's a databank full of links - its an emergent system because it's the dynamic creation of countless people around the world interacting with each other via links as they create new content.

That is at the heart of the paradigm shift related to new technologies and learning. I can see that until that mindset click happens, people still use sites, blogs or wikis as a way of "sharing knowledge" i.e. passing on more links and information - whereas Web2.0 is much more than that. In this mindset tools and technologies are:


"increasing the number of people who are contributing content (and the ease with which they can do it), and increasing the number of ways to let content creators (and consumers) interact with each other. These new interactions are the further mechanisms, beyond linking, for emergence -- for letting patterns and structure emerge from low-level behavior."

Like a number of other researchers who take a complexity view of the Web, McAfee compares the Web with an ant colony:
Ant colonies are also highly decentralized, but they appear tightly orchestrated. Colonies have complex social structures and use sophisticated strategies to forage, defend themselves, and make war. This happens because each ant is 'programmed' by its DNA to do certain things (carry an egg, fight an intruder, go to where food is) in response to local signals (usually chemical scents from other ants, eggs, intruders, food, etc.). As ants interact with each other and their environment they send and receive signals, and these low-level activities yield high-level structure.

Complexity science uses the term emergent to describe systems like this. Emergence is the appearance of global structure as the result of local interactions. It doesn't happen in most systems; what's necessary is a set of mechanisms to do critical things like connect the system's elements and provide feedback among them."

While McAfee is referring to the workforce I can reinforce what he says in other contexts about the energy needed to help people feel comfortable with Web2.0 tools:
Everything I've seen indiates that the 'activation energy' required to get the current workforce comfortable with Web 2.0 tools, and so to create Enterprise 2.0, is pretty high. My executive education students usually have a deer-in-the-headlights look when we start talking about the new tools.

The tools themselves are not at all difficult to use. More complicated is the mindshift as you start incoporating them in your practice. 

He finishes with a question which is one that I share, and which I hadn't realised would be quite so difficult until I did a recent workshop about them:

What are the best ways to get a Web 1.0 workforce comfortable using Web 2.0 tools?

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2 Comments:

Blogger Joitske Hulsebosch said...

so what is the answer to that last question (I'm curious!)???

5/16/2006 05:02:00 PM  
Blogger bev trayner said...

Joitske! It's still a question waiting for an answer .. I'll tell you when I get there!!

5/17/2006 01:44:00 AM  

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