Social capital and end-oriented networks
I’m just about to knock off for Christmas, but I have to get ready for a conference at Queensland Uni of Technology early in the New Year where Larry Lessig will be the main speaker. I’m giving a very short presentation, and struggling to improve my understanding of all this, in particular the relationship between the technology of the Internet and notions of social capital. I haven’t come up with anything earthshattering, but I have had some thoughts on which I’d welcome comments.
Lessig stresses benefits of networks with intelligence at the ends rather than the centre. I want to think about this with respect to the network as a device for disseminating innovations, as well as for communication. In a centralised network, any innovation is automatically available to all users, so the dissemination problem is trivial. On the other hand, only those in charge of the network have the capacity to innovate. In a network with intelligence at the ends, innovators may need to take positive action to share their ideas, and can easily conceal innovations or restrict access if there are incentives for this.
This is reflected, I think in the disappointing returns to the vast amounts or money and effort poured into customer-service innovations of various kinds during the dotcom era. Everything was proprietary, and often patent-protected. So even if the parts of a good idea were all there, they were unlikely to come together.
To make innovation work in an end-oriented network, we need the kind of social capital, and also the kinds of technical protocols that encourage and facilitate sharing. What these are is a topic for further research.
fn2. I had my first experience of One-Click shopping at Amazon the other day. I’m sure I’d get used to it in the end, but I must say I found it rather unnerving. One click to place the order and one to confirm it suits me rather better.