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Friday, January 14, 2005

More on being 'Linked'....

Barabasi's Linked continues to fascinate. His 12th chapter ('The Twelfth Link') on the “Fragmented Web” has reinforced and explained a number of personal observations.

First and foremost is that the reality of the Web and its impact tends to run counter to almost everything we predict or assume. My favorite personal example is the myth of the future paperless office (the Adobe Acrobat community still seems hooked on that one; but see The Myth of the Paperless Office); but there are others, including the myth that with everyone linked we will become more sociable and less isolated. As many studies have indicated, the opposite is the case, and Barabari's overview offers a good summary as to why that is so.

An important discussion in this particular chapter relates to the formation and ongoing isolation of communities, and this seems particularly relevant to academics. One of my personal projects in recent months has been to get those who study "accountability" in different fields to at least read each other's work -- and perhaps even begin communicating amongst themselves (see our project at Queen's University Belfast to convene an international conference on accountable governance in October). Much of what Barabari writes is relevant to this idea. Although published before its onset, Barabari's discussion also highlights the importance of the new Google Scholar site, and in a way indicates the logic behind it. (If you haven't used that site, you are really missing a major development!)

A second point --one discussed more directly in the book -- is the implication of the Web's architecture and dynamic for politics and the way the Internet has political reinforced divisions and provided significant power to some. He cites an interesting book by Sunstein (Republic.com) on this, and there is much in what he says that reinforces Frank's analysis in What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (it is all linked!).

And then there is the relevance of all this to the saga of my recent purchase of a microwave oven on the Internet -- but that is another story (post to follow)....

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