Small pieces loosely joined…and making an impact

This week I finished reading David WeinbergerSmall Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web, and it’s made quite an impression on me (and many others!) given my work in the enterprise content management (ECM) space. (You may recognize the author’s name from his co-authorship of The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual.)

Here are my rough notes that I took while pondering each page:

  • Web space is linked, dynamic, poorly edged [and] explosive. This reality should be reflected in one’s content authoring and consumption environments (e.g. how connected is the content at hand to related content?).
  • There is a fine balance between control and openness.
  • What puts things together in the first place? For example, what causes one project to succeed and another to fail? How does collaboration and content fit into success and failure?
  • Connectedness is in our DNA; so, it’s important to increase the number of connections, the depth and quality of each connection, the longevity of connections (relationships), etc. How can software enable this more effectively?
  • How do you measure integrity on the Web, given avatars, persona, anonymity, etc.? Integrity is more important than mere transparency, which is simply a recorded snapshot of thought and state. If companies and software are about building trust with customers and users, then their must be integrity, not just transparency.
  • How can software recognize content resonance (i.e. the result of content triggering action in a user or user group)? How can software increase content resonance? How can it guide a user community toward successful outcomes?
  • Management is, in short, about power as much as about efficiency. (The author does say that management is good; however, it’s not a panacea.)
  • This is a predictable tactic for imperfect creatures who find their imperfection embarrassing: redefine downward what it means to be perfect.
  • What would it mean if we could replace the faceless masses with face-ful masses?
  • Metcalfe’s Law: The usefulness of a network grows with the square of the number of people that it connects–linear user growth; exponential value growth.
  • Reed’s Law: The value of the Internet exists in the presence of groups–groups that are complex, overlapping and ever-shifting. Networks that support the construction of communicating groups create value that scales exponentially with network size, i.e. much more rapidly than Metcalfe’s square law. (Here is the essay by David Reed that led to this law.)
  • An important value of lurking–absorption of group ethos
  • Not only do we live in a shared world, but we like it that way.
  • It’s important that software reflects knowing the differences between catalysts for successful human calculation and those for successful human decision-making. Making a decision means deciding which of these “inputs” to value and how to fit them together to make a coherent story. In fact, the story helps determine which of the inputs to trust by providing a context in which the inputs make sense. That means the causality runs backwards: The inputs don’t determine the decision; the decision determines which of the inputs will count as influences.
  • Realism is strong medicine that must be used cautiously because it suspends ways of thinking that are essential components of human existence such as dreaming, imagining, supposing, wishing, and hoping.
  • Online, social groups are just as real (if not more so) as the people who compose them–software must reflect this belief.
  • Ideas don’t explode; they subvert.

So, I’m left to consider my following reaction (e.g. what it means to the software I develop):

  1. Content is secondary to the people that author or influence it.
  2. Individuals are secondary to groups.

For example, to increase the amount and value of content in an enterprise, it seems clear to me that ECM software should simplify the formation of groups (i.e. collaborative spaces). What ECM functions are only effective (or even possible) as group activities? Elevate these functions by simplifying group formation. Taken to one logic conclusion, why not make collaboration free?

This book (recommended!) will definitely influence my continued thought on how to promote the most valuable corporate asset–its people–in the context of ECM. For example, is content king or is the group-based collaboration that yields content what software should be beholden to?

Update 12/1/2008: For more of my book reviews and to see what else is in my book library (i.e. just the business-related or software-related non-fiction therein), please visit my Books page.