Britt in Shorthand: People Trump Power

Britt in Shorthand: People Trump Power

Britt Blaser is a blogger with a posting style I respect and appreciate.  He enters long posts, the kind that appear to have taken a long, long time to compose.  No rapid-fire, shoot from the hip, "power blogger" emanations.  Britt's posts seem thought out, carefully developed, and are very expressive.  And impressive, too.

You can find them at Escapable Logic, where the subhead is Politics. Economics. Love & Death.  No wonder Britt posts infrequently.  Those are not topics one just dashes off a blogpost about offhandedly.

Most recently he has one up there entitled, "The People Law trumps the Power Law" which is well worth reading. I agree with much of, actually most of what Britt has to say.  I might argue a word here, a point there.  But big picture, he's got it right.

Over in Joho, David Weinberger's comments offer a very interesting analysis of Britt's words.  Now it is clearer than ever to me that indeed Dr. Weinberger got his degree in Philosophy -- it is a deep thought on the meaning as well as the math of what Britt says.  Philosophy always struck me as meaning plus math (aka: thought + analytical cognition), and now David seems to prove the point (pun unintentional and most assuredly apt).

What you'll find in this blog post are some comments from this blogger's vantage point.  You might consider that to be a little math, a little meaning,and a whole bunch of Pop Culture and Media/Marketing sort of mixture.

Britt begins with this:

There are five principles Iím playing with lately:

  1. The size of your audience confers limited power
  2. A networkís value is the square of its nodes (Metcalfe)
  3. Network nodes are significant only when theyíre verbose
  4. Most conversation is among nearby nodes
  5. Only interactions count, and the richest count most

Here are thoughts and comments on those principles and the accompanying graphics and discussion as found in Britt's post:
Re #1The size of your audience confers limited power   I'd agree, almost with a knee-jerk reaction ... until giving it some thought.  Audience is a word that means different things to different people.  Rather than split hairs (and remember, I am a media guy, so audience may mean many things to me, and to Britt have none of those very same inferences or indications) I accept this as a general statement, but not so much as a principle.  And remember, the principal is your pal.  Sorry, that just slipped out.

But in the nitty-gritty, where Britt offers a classic Long Tail graphic to illustrate his point, his expansive remarks (below the graphic) are spot on.  I most appreciate his close on that one, superb use of language:

Embrace is not the same as Extend.

I've been having a running argument with some political activist friends of late.  They think that because 'everyone they know' feels a certain way . . .well, then, it must be a trend, a new wave, a meme spreading throughout the country and into every nook and cranny of the nation.  No, I tell them, it is just them and their like-minded friends and associates.  And most of those friends and associates are passive, and some of them may not even vote when the time comes.  Britt's statement as quoted immediately above seems to drive that point home.

Re #2:  A networkís value is the square of its nodes (Metcalfe)  Here I go splitting hairs over semantics again.  Define value and I'll probably find no reason to argue Metcalfe.  But I must share with you my initial reaction to Britt's post, which  I first read two or three nights ago:  Does this work if one does not use a clock-like graphic where the system is a base 12, and where one can draw such a great illustration to make the point?  And to a media/marketing guy like me, who has spent over a decade also working in telecom, this graphic is a total delight!!  You just gotta love those phone sets around the outside edge in calibrated and proper five minute intervals.

Look at Britt's neat graphic -- dontcha just love the telephones as clockwork nodes?!?!?<br />

Allow me to also disclose that Britt once left me in total awe, when he showed me a use of Excel to create graphics.  He educated and informed me, in essence made clear to me a simple method via which I could express that which I found to be a complex task.  And I am deeply grateful to Britt for that.

As a wordsmith and literal sort of fellow, I am uncertain about a law declaring value squared by virtue of the amount of nodes in place.  Part of me wants to argue the math, but more of me wants to find better semantics to get it said.

Bottom line: great graphic, Britt.  Wow.  Did you use Excel Draw for that?  Man, you are the master of this.  A network's "value" -- uh, yes, some multiple of its nodes does indicate what one might refer to as value (power, mass, influence, threat, force, velocity, rate, viability, or perhaps any --er, makes that many--calculable expression) or other such descriptors.  On face value alone I accept this in much the same manner that one accepts Moore's Law.  True enough most of the time to be true most of the time.  NB: I would embrace, but not extend, that remark, if I were you.

Re #3aNetwork nodes are significant only when theyíre verbose  Huh? Verbose?  Meaning, uh, exactly, er, what?  Nodes might be silent.  Nodes can embody any number of variables or sorts of characteristics, to overstate my own point.  Significance is another one of those words that requires specificity in order to comment.  As a general statement, or to attempt to interpret this in the general sense,  --no, never mind.  I need clarification from Britt as to what exactly he means by verbose.  Otherwise I'd be babbling without a reference point.  Better, of course by inference, to babble with the benefit of a reference point.  Right?  This from me, perhaps a card-carrying member of The Order of The Verbose.

Re #3bNetwork nodes are significant only when theyíre verbose   Let's talk about that groovy graphic.  Here's a small version of it, but you really should go look at it on Britt's blog to see the full size version and see how Britt uses it in context.

Britt Blaser used this groovy graphic on his site (<a href=  He, in turn, got it from Kathy Siera's blog, where I believe it originated.  That's

This is truly a wonderful visual expression and for the most part is correct.  Hairs may certainly be split about the order (impact?) of the examples on the left vertical axis.  I would place CHAT much higher among 12-29 year olds.  And for this same demographic segment I'd lower phone and e-mail a notch or two.  As a general statement the graph is on point.  By individual age group and by degree of technical savvy and geekiness, the vertical axis points vary in impact.  Further, professional usage of the net and personal tech predeliction will also play a key role. There are generational or cultural changes for consideration within this graph that are not taken into account.  Geography also makes a difference.  To wit, in Europe where texting (are we lumping MSM and SMS together, do we count email to hand-held on a par with desktop or laptop?) is much more a fact of life and accepted in many age demos, wouldn't the order of the vertical axis aspects change?  

As food for thought this is great nourishment and a wonderful catalyst.  Verbosity as expressed in the graphic, though, is yet another matter that could be nit-picked to the nth degree.  As an overall statement to illustrate that nothing beats F2F -- well yes, of course, good show.  However, be cognitive of the fact that increased use of technology increases reliability and trust factors in other ways.  Comfort with technology breeds new manner(s) of use and acculturization (is that a word?).  Digital Natives are more prone to IM and more comfortable with it as a manner of expression than are older users.  The tech abundance of handheld communication instruments and ubiquitous availablilty thereof has bred new levels of perception.  This is a changing paradigm.  The chart as is seems more a representation of a different discussion, different context.

Britt properly credits Kathy Sierra  for creating the graphic.  She used it on her blog to expand and expound on her discussion of communications at SXSW.  She has a wonderful take on Twitter, also well worth taking a look-see.  Read Britt's blog and see how he applies Kathy's chart, then read Kathy's blog and get another take on related issues.  Context is everything.  Sort of like semantics.  But there I go getting verbose, repeatedly so, no less, rhetorically speaking.

Re #4Most conversation is among nearby nodes  Well, most conversation one is likely to hear or overhear, or hear about shortly thereafter.  And nearby in the digital sense, or as a statement taking connectivity into account, adds greater dimension.  I think Britt understates his point, or what I surmise is his point. 

There are chatter elements which begin at the edge and work their way inward.  There are central discussions beginning in the center or the core, working their way outweard with varying degrees of velocity or repercussion.  It is always wise to take into account the Kindergarten game (or, in certain circles, Parlor game) of Telephone, in which the first person whispers a word or phrase, let's say, "Venn Digaram" to the second person, sitting to their left. (or, if they are a Republican, to their right).  By the time the whisper activity has traversed the circle, it usually has morphed into something that in no way at all resembles the original statement.  Venn Diagram may well morph into "Penn & Teller" or "Vanna White" or even "Sasquatch's Sex Life" in the process. 

At the heart of the game of Telephone (which is also known as Chinese Whispers, not to be confused with an old George Michael tune) is the fragility of the message and the ability to spread it, intact..  Context, communications skills, expression, perception and natural modification by virtue of the motion or ambulatory essence of passing on a message all come into play.  There are numerous investigations and scholarly studies, papers, thesesprojects, blog posts and so forth on the topic.  Live one-to-one or one-to-many conversations can go awry, as there are often numerous response stimuli triggering any number of external influences.  In turn this effects interpretations, and the overall communication process, having to do with a panoply of elements.  These include: tone of voice, facial expression, accent, cadence or regional speech idiosyncracies, the look on a person's face or in their eyes or how they hold their head as they speak, the mental, physical, emotional or other state of the listener, background noise, the temperature of the room, or the general state of mind or degree of alterness of the listener.

I would probably be more comfortable with Britt's Principle #4 if it were stated a bit differerently:

Most conversation is among nearby nodes seems to infer or imply that conversation at other nodes, or possibly at more remote nodes is less worthy, less viable, perhaps less extant.  Does this mean that since I am in New York, in my sphere there are more conversations in New Jersey or Connecticutt than, for example, in California?  I think Britt us using the word conversation toward a larger connotative extent.  And thus do I pick my nit.  Does he mean most conversation of note [to the listener or participant]?  Well then, yes, unless we are talking about a videoconference, a telephone conference call, an IM session or an electronic chat.

To put it another way, perhaps what Britt means is tantamount to saying that it is hotter when you position yourself  closer (closest?) to the radiator.  But that is far too simple and Britt's discussion is not rudimental or banal.  Nor do I mean to minimize or criticize it as such.

It happens that I  participate on a few professional e-mail message
boards in which many conversations take place.  There are no physical
or geographic constraints in place in these discussions.  And many of
these are dynamic, interesting, expansive conversations.  Wikis have
discussions.  Blogs, via comments, can become conversational.  With
video inserts available for embedding in blogs and sites it makes the
presenter's look and feel, as well as how telegenic a presenter's blog,
site or wiki may be, all carry significant impact.

Rather than state it as Most conversation is among nearby nodes, I might phrase it this way: Conversations of more immediate proximity are more likely to be heard or perceived by those within earshot.  Now as corny as that sounds, I think it goes to the heart of the matter.  Here's another stab at it: Conversations in which one is involved or which take place in one's sphere (realm, world, area, arena, turf, neighborhood, community, ballpark) pack more wallop.  Or maybe it just needs two more words added to it:  Most conversation of note is among nearby nodes. And clearly by nearby Britt would seem to mean to indicate relative proximity.  Nearby perhaps meaning consequential, or  perceptually consequential.  I think we have actually returned to a word discussed above.  We are revisitng significance.

Britt would seem to have made a big-picture point.  Significance, impact, composition of audience (could mean size, could mean other metrics of note) and the corresponding resultant action (extending not just embracing) are what fuels and maintains the machinery.   The big-picture issue is The Network, The Message, and The Energy and Outcome of The Network as an Active Entity.  Or perhaps as a tool or instrument of perpetuation and expansion.

Britt expresses this in an organic sense, using physiognomy as a metaphor:

If your network has mechanisms for encouraging outreach and constant
chatter among nodes, it will grow. News and juicy tidbits flow down the
nervous system and questions and energy flow back.

Yes, provided the tools for doing so are in proper working order.

Re #5Only interactions count, and the richest count most  Once again I take issue with the wording, but not with the basic statement.  I would word it this way: Network interaction is essential; critical to perpetuation.  And to that I'd add that network maintenance is of equal importance. 

Those in-net interactions are wonderful for growth and to maintain energy levels, interest, and contiinued interaction.  But it is important to look beyond the network-as-it-is-comprised-this-moment, and look toward building a broader base.  Rich interactions enrich the existing network. 

Rather than get bogged down in semantics (easy for me to say), though, let's look at the important point Britt makes.  Using a graphic to once again illustate the Long Tail and in this case to to make a point about the [seemingly] minimal outer nodes of the tail versus the presupposed armies of Power Law Pundits, Britt argues that rich interactions come from the center.  From what I perceive him to impart as the organic and more natural source of the network.   In effect, the heart and soul of the network is from within the core.  It does more good and is of greater import (significance, value, currency; we've returned to calculable expression) than the "short tail" (?)(what else to call it?)

This would be a dangerous place to end the discussion.  There is another consideration.  Going back to the first principle, above, about the size of the audience, it is necesssary to determine just how big that size need be.   In a political campaign it means enough to create a majority vote.  In many business cases it means  creating  a profit, coming in at or above  projections.  The Bottom Line measurement metric changes with the topic or category.  But in almost all cases it means there must be growth in order to attain a critical mass, a target, a goal, an end point.  Philosphers would see this as the Capitalist point of view.

This means external growth is among the objectives, a crucial aspect of whatever the mission may be.  Rich interactions within the existing network may or may not create external growth or attract new interest from which to potentially grow.  One must not get lost in the network, or fall into a false sense of security based on the exciting, gratifying, reassuring qualities of the network as an entity, in and of itself.    

The real Bottom Line is that the network must expand beyond the insular.  The key is to spread the word.  Above and beyond the network.  Keep the choir involved and enthused.  But don't preach to them.  Maintain them, nurture them,  Preach externally to reap the benefits of growth.

Now go read Britt's excellent blog post, and send him an e-mail thanking him for debunking a big chunk of the Power Curve Long Tail mythology.  Or to put it another way, Britt found that a certain tipping point was off center, and he makes the correction. Kudos!

Spoiler alert: don't read the next two paragraphs if  you haven't yet read Britt's blogpost as discussed to kingdom come, above.

What I liked best about Britt's blog entry was his level-headed discussion of social networking and associated dynamics.   Britt never once used the term "viral marketing" or any of the other gag-inducing terms thrown around like rice at a wedding.  He does refer to the calculus of relationship. and the need for people to be people and to socialize; to interact as humans.  Not to act as machines or as operatives in some technojargon endeavor sort of initiative.  Face-to-Face (F2F) interactions and connecting on a human level (which can, of course, be achieved via the use of machines!)  is placed at the top of the chart.

The final lines in Britt's post sum it and are worth repeating:

What we care about is learning something we donít know from someone
a little closer to the action, and pushing our unique point of view
back in toward the center of the movement. Lather, rinse, repeat.

So letís put that silly Power Law to rest at last: itís a monument
to outmoded metrics. The People Law is the one weíve been conforming to
all our lives: Where thereís folk, thereís fire.