According to a recent New York Times article, Tim Berners-Lee is partnering with MIT and the Univ of Southampton (UK) to launch their Web Science Research Initiative. I don't have much more information than that but it sounds like a graduate level research space into a more modern version of social networking analysis. The key people are Berners-Lee, Wendy Hall (head of School of Electronics and CS at U of Southampton), Nigel Shadbot (prof of AI, Univ of Southampton), and Daniel Weitzner (principal research scientist at MIT).
Commenting on the new initiative, Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of theWorld Wide Web and a founding director of WSRI, said, "As the webcelebrates its first decade of widespread use, we still knowsurprisingly little about how it evolved, and we have only scratchedthe surface of what could be realized with deeper scientificinvestigation into its design, operation and impact on society.
"The Web Science Research Initiative will allow researchers to take theweb seriously as an object of scientific inquiry, with the goal ofhelping to foster the web's growth and fulfill its great potential as apowerful tool for humanity."
I'm pretty sure the web is already an object of serious scientific and even commercial inquiry, but more effort is always a good thing. In comparison, our undergraduate UAMIS class seems much less conceptual. I'm sure those ideas will eventually trickle down to us too. Social network analysis is a complex enough task, and not a simple topic; i.e., it'd need a full-blown semester to teach.
One of the more anticipated massively multiplayer online games coming up later this year (and anticipated all last year) is the Age of Conan. Aside from the game's theme and storyline, one of the interesting aspects here is the ability to create a virtual army of folks numbering in the hundreds.
This isn't a new idea per se. There have been MMOGs that allow for team efforts all the way back to the days of text-based MUDs, but the 3D worlds of today make it increasingly more complex with the addition of many types of tools, weapons, etc. What AoC also allows are full scale sieges of town and cities by an army. This kind of planning takes a whole new level of thinking.
The base level ideas focus on organizing a team of folks to achieve some stated goal. In most cases these days, this is something a guild will undertake with its members; however, it doesn't need to be a pre-organized/preset community, and many such quest efforts can take on an ad hoc group.
The next stage beyond just gathering folks is understanding the roles and skills of the members. Often there is a leader who has experience in the matter on what skills are necessary and where to place people (in the environment).
Usually this is event-based, that is, focused during a specific amount of time (rather than a long-term activity). So another step is to make sure the key folk needed arrive at the meeting point, along with their tools. If they don't the leader(s) need to readjust the assignments and formations.
During the execution of the quest, there may be preamble actions to take before they get into the mix of it; in MMOGs, this could be casting spells, donning specific armor, etc. Then there may also be real-world things to set up: a comfortable seat for long activities, water/super-caffeinated products, going to the restroom, quiet environment, etc.
As they enter the melee, the direction becomes even harder since there is so much going on. Modern MMOGs allow special heads-up displays showing status information, communications channels, and more, with different HUDs possible for different roles. It's not just keeping up with the action in the melee itself, but also keeping an eye on the HUDs to make sure you are in sync.
The activity can rage on for hours, and the stress impacts everyone. Everything from friendly fire, kill steals, random shots, hard choices, and more. The commitment here is not just in terms of mental stress and duress, but also in terms of ability to keep focus and in sync with the overall plan. In other words, the moment to moment stressful and dangerous action makes it feel real to many. The high level of risk is what helps to develop the level of commitment amongst players to the game, and to each other.
The aftermath or outcome also has consequences. As a fried said, most guilds fall apart because of arguments when dividing the winnings/loot. Everyone has sacrifices per their character, and many are emotionally connected to their character on a deep level. A catastrophic loss of equipment or the character takes it toll as a long-term effect; I would daresay on a level proportional to how long the person has been involved.
In a real-world military system, leaders assume that teamwork is a given. They never had to face the idea of a "democratically-organized" army as in an MMOG. That is a much harder proposal in terms of setting up teamwork.
It's interesting to see the evolution of reward mechanisms in MMORPGs. In multiplayer situations, it is often difficult to tell who completes a task when there are a number of steps involved. For example, in a raid on WoW against a single monster, who gets recognition for the kill when it takes 40-80 people working as a team to kill that beast? It's defined now in WoW but this same problem existed all the way back to the days of text MUDs.
In the first generation, essentially there was no thought involved in this. Whoever made the killing blow got the points for the kill. Very primitive and the cause of many an argument. The next few improvements--it came in several different ways--was to add a list on the create being attacked where it kept track of who the attackers were and distribute the points based on how many points of damage each person made on the creature, so the distribution of experience points for the kill was more even. WoW provides a newer version of this whereby each person engaged in the raid gets dollars per kill, which once the creature was dead, they could spend to buy the reward items.
However, this still raises a problem when there are items that several people want to share from the common pool of rewards. In the people-administrative way, the guild--there's usually a guild involved--makes a decision on who gets what. This is where it breaks down again: what happens when there is an item so unique that the top contendors or leaders will argue for it. As my friend Eric described, that is the death knell of many a guild.
If you think this is a situation limited to MMORPGs and games, you're mistaken. This same situation exists when you have a community that is working for a shared goal, and there is some reward that needs to be distributed across the membership. In team scenarios in corporate environment, that is not very different than negotiations for annual bonuses. The differentiating factor is that in MMORPGs as in other communities, the group of people are not part of a single formal organization with defined managers and advocates. Instead it is up to each person to argue their own case. In other words, it is even more difficult in communities.
I don't have any answer here, but it is important to recognize that the situations are similar here, and compare what methods of distribution or approaches people take.
The HBR June issue has an article(requires subscription) by John Gourville which is one of the firstI've read to explain so clearly the issues behind the psychology ofadopting new products. I take this to mean not just products but alsoservices from any organization.
In summary, the idea was raised by the Nobel-prize winning psychologistDaniel Kahneman that explores why people deviate from rational economicbehavior. This combined with other work, on how individuals valuechoices in the marketplace, define the basis on how people handle theintroduction of a new product or service.
The four behaviors that arise are: people evaluate new product asalternatives, based on perceived value rather than subjective value;they consider new products relative to points of reference to existingones; they view such references as benefits/gains orshortcomings/losses; and finally, the most important behavior, losses have a far greater impact than gains.
This leads to the endowment effect whichthe author reports as the behavior where people hold things theyalready have in much greater value than those they don't. In fact, itleads to a multiplying effect in the market where consumers value theirexisting holdings as three times more valuable, while organizationswith new ideas/products value their own holdings as three times asvaluable. Thus, to convince consumers to change from the old to the newproduct may require up to nine timesthe improvements over the older product. As the author explains, AndyGrove of Intel has held the belief that an innovaion that can transformthe industry rapidly needs to offer a 10x improvement over existingalternatives. (I know my Sharp Aquos HDTV doesn't quite reach thathigh, but I still like the switch over from my 25" inch Sony tuber :)
The author continues by giving several categories of probability: the Sure Failure, the Easy Sell, the Long Hauls, and the Smash Hits. AnEasy Sell indicates limited (small) changes to the existing product andlimited changes to the behavior necessary. A Smal Hit has significantchanges to the product but only limited changes to the behavior.
I strongly suggest you pick up a copy of the HBR to understand the full extent of this article.
This has direct impact on any new technology, a topic of constant focusfor us at dW. Every company wants the smash hit, but for many it ismore by accident than on purpose. However, often they focus onimprovements to products based on what they think is important, andduring the product development stage do not really consider the factorsof user adoption behavior because it is so hard to measure. I've comeacross so many cases where the technology is considered quite advancedby the technical team that develops, supported by surveys of groups ofthe bleeding edge customers who are already raring to use it; but, theyfall short when they call out to the general market which issignificantly slower to adopt the idea.
In fact, in some cases, the improvements are just not enough (per theabove marketing theory). In other cases, the perceived value of theproduct is just conveyed either adequately to the consumers, or by the right influencers who can change perception. Ittakes the right mix of technical know-how, eloquence, stubbornness,ingenuity, and charm to find the proper evangelists for a project. Butfirst you need to be able to find those who are fans of the idea in thefirst place (goes back to my other thought on building a fan-base); theevangelist themselves must be a convinced fan, or others willeventually consider them a sham.
This theory applies to the tens or hundreds of thousands of newprojects that start up on the internet. A product manager needs toconsider if the product falls into the win category of Smash Hit or will be a Long Haulsell as much as the innovation of the product itself. This meansunderstanding the user behavior and need for the product in the firstplace. The difficulty lies in quantifying the improvements.
In some cases, you can do it by this process:
get a sample population of an existing alternative to the product
investigate what part of the product they utilize the most, which has the biggest impact, or which causes the most pain
measure how much of the time or effort is spent by users on those elements
consider what, if any, improvements the new product has to those impacting elements of the old
if the product improves the time- or effort-consumed for that element, measure how much it does so
Consider this improvement versus the type of win you could get
Easy to say all this; hard to carry it out.
The impact of the endowment effect is the old adage: people fear change.It's not fear per-se, but more inertia. To overcome the inertia, youneed to change perceptions. To grow customers and fans, you need tobuild the audience and community around the idea, to build up momentumof understanding and acceptance to overcome this inertia. (I mentionthat this is a crucial second step of the Open Source business model earlier)
Money magazine has a US Dollar to Wizarding world currency convertor for the world of Harry Potter, but apparently it has some shortcomings. If JK Rowling, the first billionaire author, were to transfer $1 Billion--that's US one billion, or rather a UK one thousand million--to Harry's world, apparently she'd need several trucks to carry all that change, but not have much in terms of larger values.
CURRENCY CONVERTER RESULTS
Monday, July 23, 2007
1000000000 US Dollar = 2 galleons, 125862069 sickles and 15250000000 knuts
HARRY POTTER CURRENCY CONVERTER
US Dollar to Harry Potter Currency
Knuts do not divide evenly into dollars or vice versa. Consequently, there may be small discrepancies due to rounding.
I'm back from family leave. The baby and mom and doing great, and we have no end of pictures. We've even started a site on Kodakgallery.com just for the family and friends. It's a much simpler way of selectively sharing a large number of photos with a group of people, although not quite an open social site. It's more of a private portal per owner. I think this used to be Ofoto before Kodak reopened it under their brand name. Unlike Flickr, it doesn't openly share pictures with everyone, but each site has its use. In fact, the better way would be to have both visibilities (public and private) through proper access control mechanisms, and let the owner figure out what they'd like to share.
Anyway, I found this article on Tom's Networking on building a Bluetooth sniper rifle, where you can scan open bluetooth devices from hundreds even thousands of feet away, all built from common parts for a few hundred dollars. So, if you have bluetooth cell or laptop, please make sure you try to keep it secure.
Davenport in his book Thinking for a Living points out that the are essentially four basic types of activities carried out by Knowledge Workers in a line starting from :
Knowledge worker jobs involve typically one or perhaps more than one of those activities.
For example, developerWorks is involved primarily in the activities ofPackaging and Distribution. We rely on authors, contributors, bloggers,and other experts to create the knowledge. We then package thatknowledge in various forms: articles, tutorials, blogs, briefings etc.We then offer a distribution mechanism for these pacakged knowledgethrough our web sites, our live events, etc. This is made available toour readership so that they may try to apply it each to their own uses.
The packaging part is the difficult proposition now in the light of unstructured knowledge.The dW web sites has typically been a e-zine in the past with manyZones each reflecting a magazine along some topic that appeals to someaudience. The knowledge comes from many sources, both within andoutside IBM to attempt to get the best coverage on a topic we can.These are structured into the semblance of an article or a tutorial.
Unstructured or less-structured knowledge, however, is where dWCommunity comes in. It's less structured because it does necessarilyfollow some kind of content format that people are familiar with: thereisn't necessarily an order to how the information is formatted, wherethe answers lie, where to look for more resources, or sometimes evenwho wrote the information or what their reputation/skill level in thesubject is. There is also usually little formal or standardized editinginvolved.
On the other hand, unstructured knowledge is where there is a hugeamount of growth, everywhere on the Internet. Take our blogs forexample: every blogger has their unique style on how they post theirknowledge, or even what kind of info they provide; while it isstructured according to the goals of that person, every visitor has totry to figure out each post or each blogger in context of others. Thisis both good and bad; it invokes style and personality to a greaterlevel. However, not everyone is a born-writer or blogger. Lots ofpeople go to school and study journalism just to learn how to do it;others, I will daresay like myself, have a natural apptitude for it.
To become more useful to those Knowledge Appliers, it helps to know howto better package your knowledge. While blog systems provide a tool forpresenting the knowledge, they don't automatically make you a betterwriter or a better blogger. With unstructured knowledge like blogs, fordW for example, we now share the workload of knowledge packaging withour experts, in exchange for greater freedom for them to carry oncreating knowledge about their activities. We also carry out anotherpart of the Packaging aspect through the blog tool itself.
What we (dW) need to provide is guidance. We collect the ideas,information, practices and success stories on what makes for goodhabits, techniques and practices for more successful blogs. We sharethat information with our bloggers as much as we can. In addition, wecontinue to workon ways to better distribute this knowledge across the site and the net.
Take the example of our blogs and multiply it for each other type ofcommunity tool (wikis, forums, podcasts, etc.) and you can see the rolewe provide in this Knowledge activity line in terms of unstructuredknowledge. When you consider that much of this is still fairly new orbleeding edge, we sometimes have to do the bleeding in the process offinding out what works and doesn't to better support our unstructured knowledge creators.
Unless of course someone else wants to handle that function ;)
I picked up my copy of The Starfish and the Spider again to look back at how they describe their approach to building a community. The book advocates a new view of decentralized and non-hierarchical organizations, systems, even software. The two creates refer to the hierachical organism (Spider) that can survive loosing some parts of its body but after a point dies, as compared against the distributed organism (Starfish) which even when cut into pieces, essentially break up into multiple separate and surving organisms.
The reference is directly apt to communities, and in this light relevant to our Spaces model. Essentially, it is a way of how a community can organize itself. Per the book, there are five elements that help to make such a system successful: circles, a pre-existing network, ideology, catalysts, and champions.
In our view, a Space is a virtual implementation of having a circle of people that allows them to interact in any number of ways their own circle see fit. This is the home room for the virtual membership to gather together, interact or share information.
The pre-existing network comes from the large membership--6 million the last I checked--that already exists in developerWorks. However, that's not the only place. We also expect to draw folks from other areas of the Internet, which is why syndicating information from your space is so important. While circles can survive losses of members, they still need some minimum level of participation to sustain the existence of the system; otherwise, rather than subdividing, your membership simply dissipates. This is why for the long-term it is important to try to recruit new members. Of course, that still depends upon the intentions of the circle itself; they may decide that the circle only needs to exist for a short-term. In our model, the syndication not only helps to share information, but also acts a way to potentially draw more members based on their interest. The potential candidates can judge for themselves if they like the output of the circle.
However, raw information from the circle is not enough to bind people together. This is why ideology is of value. Call it what you like: mission statements, guidelines, values, tattoos, etc. They represent the ideas that the circle hold of importance; their view in relation to the information. Such ideology is not always necessarily complex, or spelled out; they may even be too subtle to ascertain from the regular ruminations of those on the roster. A better organized group works to make sure that their ideology is made apparent. To help shape that ideology, you need catalysts and champions who help raise and direct the circle.
dW Spaces can help shape the circle and tap pre-existing networks. It can even help the circle describe and post their ideology. However, this is where the software meets the wetware. This is where the brains of the catalysts and champions play key roles. In other words, software alone is not to build communities. It helps to to facilitate them, but you still need the people working to bring it together.
Our view in developerWorks is to try to help these communities start and grow, and collect the ideas of what works well in different situations, to feed back into other communities. That's a long-term process as well. Even though, the staff at dW may not be directly be the catalysts and champions, we try to help new them by acting as a common resource to collect and distribute that knowledge. In big companies, that is often referred to as a center of excellence. While we don't call ourselves that, perhaps that is the role we fill.
I think it was inevitable that something like this would emerge: a top console maker integrates with the Internet and start creating online communities, to combine its graphics system, user-to-user interaction and build a following.
And it looks like Sony has beat the others in the race with its announcement of the Playstation Home. It leverages the enormous power of the PS3 to render truly gorgeous graphics. News of it is already starting to make the rounds as a serious contendor to other 3D MMO systems like SecondLife. Since I missed the Game Developers Conference last week, but I believe it was announced according to this article.
Since I haven't actually tried it, it is difficult to tell how well it works over a network link. Also, graphics aside, it still remains to be seen what you can do inside this virtual world. From reports, it is much more like a true-3D system competitive to Cyworld, where users have homes they can decorate, buy stuff online, etc. and used primarily for socializing with friends. There's no word about programmability or if there is a way to develop new items or objects within the world, as you can in SecondLife. This is what has helped make SL so popular, and has contributed to its growth. Plus, it's free. On the other hand Sony certainly has a huge marketing machine, an established base of fans, and a network of games that could integrate with it. This might even give MySpace a run for its money in terms of social spaces.
Is this the death knell for SecondLife or MySpace? Let me know what you think.
After about 4-5 hours of sleep the previous night, I was still in reasonable shape to do my presentation at the 3rd Developer Relations Conference hosted by Evans Data Corp. This is a gathering of the folks who run developer programs at different technology companies, with speakers from Sun, Nokia, BEA Systems, Eclipse, Motorola, Yahoo!, HP Software, Intel, Borland, AMD, and many more (and of course ourselves from IBM). It seems an anachronism to have an event where all these companies that are competing for many of the same developers to share knowledge but I think it opens minds and views all the same.
My presentation was Extending your developer network with Web 2.0 communities, discussing what you need to know about communities to pick the right kind of Web 2.0 tools for yours. For all the organizations that may go headlong into setting up blogs, wikis, etc., and even multiple competing instances, without really understanding the communities they are trying to create, I hope this talk gives provides some food for thought. (The powerpoint works best in slideshow mode: F5).
I attended a few of the other sessions but the one I found refreshing was Chad Dickerson's talk about Hack Day at Yahoo! Chad's a Sr Director at Yahoo and responsible for organizing the internal Hack Days, and more importantly, the external Hack Day last June. I had missed this event entirely (busy with my then-8-month pregnant wife). They essentially opened up the Yahoo campus to 400 developers from all over who agreed to come and spend 24 hours developing new projects and mashups using Yahoo's many APIs. The format was what intrigued me:
Developers could come from anywhere but they had to agree to code, and not just be an observor
The developers actually camped out on the Yahoo lawn and ate and slept there for a day or two--even people like David Filo stayed till the wee hours of the morning
An unconference model where people signed up for any project that they thought of, led initially by talks about the APIs themselves
Yahoo employees roamed around the developers and stayed with them through the night
They had Beck give a performance there, which was quite appropriate considering he'd just appeared on the September 06 cover of Wired
The Legal departments agreed to let the developers keep whatever rights to their own code (seems the right choice but hard to accept by legal teams sometimes)
People could make whatever projects they wanted to work on, although at times, it raised some eyebrows
Now this is very obvious customer-led innovation. For all the executives and analysts that like to throw that term around, this model is the concept implemented in what I think is its truest form. I applaud Chad and the Yahoo team for doing the right thing and having the guts to put this together. Read more from the TechCrunch blog soon after the event. Here's hoping to the same success again this year.
Money magazine is reporting that Video Gaming will be a "welcome event" at the Beijing Olympics. Apparently the Chinese government recognizes it as an official sport alongside other ones that require agility or dexterity (like soccer), although the Olympic committee has not accepted it as yet.
This isn't like the World Cyber Games (in Germany in 2008) which takes things much more seriously as a sport, but it is a start. After all if Bridge counts as a "sport"...
We talked about crowdsourcing as a particular community use-case. It definitely counts as a use-case because of the use of multiple community services, tools and need for potential CMs. (I looked up Wikipedia but there's no entry right now, so perhaps I'll have to add one)
The concept itself is far from new but the delivery is. The core idea is that you pick a topic, invite a crowd to discuss or brainstorm on it, pick top ideas, let people vote on it. The way it's being applied in online communities is interesting. Take a look at a recent Businessweek story on this (and an earlier one from July).
The following is from our slide on this item that draws some from this:
nInviting the audience to brainstorm, design, or build an idea, product, or service.
qDefine the key problem or issue you are trying to solve. Be specific.
qIdentify your metrics for success beforehand
qDefine your interval for how long this project should run
qIdentify an appropriate reward for the group
qSet up a filtering process
qTap the right audience
qHave community managers to guide and build the community
nThe implementation can vary significantly but the model is what is important.
Okay, editors hat on... I disagree that we should be lazy and call it "Service Oriented Architecture" as is what people are labelling it. It's a sign of the continued degradation of the English language.
Not only is it grammatically correct to have it as "Service-Oriented Architecture", but it also has historical precedence in "object-oriented architecture".
The hyphen implies the focus on Services. Grammatically, if you didn't have the hyphen, it is somewhat non-sensical: "Service Oriented Architecture" would indicate that you have an architecture that has something that is a "Service Architecture" and something that is an "Oriented Architecture" but not that it is oriented around services.
I keep running into Chris Anderson's activities lately. First, I'm listening to his dW podcast interview on our site this week, and next we had an internal meeting for book authors that Chris came to talk to us about. The main discussion in the call was more about how to approach book writing and some ideas that he found successful for his own bestseller, The Long Tail (see my book list). Some of it rang so true but is still missed by so many authors.
For one, he talked about blogging from the very beginning on the book as he did on his research, and carrying the conversation on regularly and for a long time. Chris started blogging from the beginning. It helped in shape his ideas, but also helped quite a bit when it came time to launch the book; he gave away a thousand copies of the book to all the bloggers who interacted with him on his blog. This, I think, really helped to spread the popularity of his book.
Blogging is certainly popular but to many book authors it is still a new phenomenon, even in the tech industry. With that in mind, many authors think that they should start blogging when their book is nearer completion that from the beginning. I think there are two parts to this: a) in general, for a blog to become even barely known takes a long-time of ongoing and active effort; b) blogging about your book helps to build awareness. In other words, if you already have (a) going for you, then (b) should be easier. However, back to my point on blogging still being new with many authors points to the fact that many of them don't even have (a) going for them.
To give my example, I am working on a book and many of the ideas that I have talked about are spread all around this blog of mine. However, I don't think I ever stated that intention. For me, the ideas are more significant--and even more than that discussion of the ideas--than the point that its for a book. But perhaps I should state that intention right away and define the premise more openly. I'll save it for a different post so as not to distract from Chris' point here.
Another interesting point and one that is dear to his heart apparently--he just launched a new startup BookTour.com on it--is about authors engaging others in live events, book tours, presentations, speaking engagements, etc. I think it's a great idea and fits my philosophy: most people need help on learning how to generate a community around an idea or even themselves. What live or virtual appearances and activities do is help to build that community and reinforce the significance of the work. By Chris' own admission speaking engagements can have a better ROI than book sales, even if they go hand in hand; and I don't disagree with that in terms of getting paid for day-long appearnaces versus spending months on a book. This means that as an author you need to spend the time and effort to actively promote your book and not just rely on the publisher's marketing team. The argument I always hear on this is that most people have full time jobs and do not have the time to do so. This is where I think an idea like BookTour can come in really helpful.
Let's take an online parallel: we at developerWorks are about to launch a new aspect called Expert spaces amongst other features. This allows a person to create a community around their own activities using different social software tools not unlike what groups of folks are doing with our community topic spaces now. Like our spaces now, you can start a blog of your own to talk about your project, link in resources your find useful. If you want to go a step beyond, you could even write parts of your book in a wiki online and ellicit comments about the contents you share.
For our own team, this means that we will now need to help these experts get going on communicating in this new way. BookTour focuses on the specific activity of bookwriting; we have a much wider focus on building awareness about any technical expert. We do that now to some degree, but there is a lot more that we could learn.
In my earlier view, I only identified two stages: social networks, and communities. The former describes a loose network of people who generally keep in touch with each other for a common purpose, whether purely social or for business purposes. The people within the network usually know the others, and have some degree of strong ties with each other, but they don't really define themselves in detail as a group, have well-defined goals or ideology. This contrasts against the next level of networks, the community, which do have a common identity and purpose, and where the network of people generally work together for the direction of the community. Beyond the community is the organization, a very strongly oriented group of people, often with defined objectives, budgets and even some level of hierarchy as to how they should work together.
Somewhere in between the social network and the community are other social models. What Howard Rheingold keeps describing as "smart mobs", a loose social network of folks who gather on an "instant" basis for a specific purpose. This is slightly different than the pure social network since folks in a smart mob have a (vaguely) defined purpose: anyone who is interested in X, let's meet up to do something. Other descriptions for this are often used in events as Birds-of-Feather (BOF) sessions, and Meetups. Unlike the more personal connection of a pure social network, the members do not necessarily know each other from prior contact and simply have a common interest. This can also be a transitional idea; one the meetup is over, the members disperse taking the knowledge gained from the event. Sometimes, they do keep in contact and evolve into a longer running community of interest, where membes return to keep working on that interest.
Another model that is described aptly in The Starfish and the Spider (see my book list). Groups like the Apaches of North America (circa 1800s); Alcoholics Anonymous, a peer-group organization, etc. These have some of the characteristics of a social network in that each group is fairly independent with no overall leader. However, they also go the next step along where there is an organizing principle or ideology, and there are local leaders on a decentralized basis. I call this as something different--some will say I'm just splitting hairs--because the overall larger picture of the group is never centrally coordinated. For that matter, something like this is hard to converge into a realistic distributed model, unless there is a strong need for and common belief amongst the members that the goals and purpose are what they share. Otherwise, it tends to be a localized organized that never grows beyond it's domain.
On the other end, the centralized community, seems like a good idea to try out at the beginning but over time this can grow into an inherent bureaucracy instilled in trying to centralize activities. It has some advantages in that there is less tendency to deviate from the mission of the community across the distributed organization. The Starfish model on the other hand has resilience, but truly works on a decentralized basis if the core goals and beliefs are truly of common interest on a distributed scale, and has been tested over time. Otherwise, it can break down into separate factions as each group goes its own way.
The key to group involvement in any of these types of people networks is still strong leadership and influencers. There are good practices and models for each level that can help people work faster or better, but the idea still depends on a having an interest in being a leader and keeping that interest and momentum going over time. I'm surprised by how many folks keep imagining that they can instantly grow a network from complete zero to success in a very short time. Such situations are pretty rare, and usually, new ideas that work in this vein really leverage existing relationships, population moods or past history to get there, rather than truly working from zero.