Saturday, 5 May 2012

Exponential Growth + Network Effects.

Dr Albert A Bartlett's lecture on Arithmetic, Population and Energy is a really great introduction to the exponential function, and how we generally fail to understand it's implications. In the unlikely event that you have not already seen it, go watch it now, it is worth your time.

So, what things are growing? (Perhaps not exponentially due to limiting factors, but at a dramatic and most likely super-linear pace even so):
  • The total population of the world.
  • The percentage of the population who are educated to a certain level.
  • The percentage of the population connected to the internet.
Another good read is The Mythical Man Month, by Rodney Brooks. In this book, he observes that the number of channels of communication in a group of n individuals is given by n(n-1)/2. I.e. in big Oh notation O2 (O squared).

Now, taking these things together, we have a growth in the number of potential channels of communication that increases at a rate somewhere between polynomial (O squared) and exponential.

Assuming (naively) that any given (non-geographically limited) interest group will scale linearly with the total number of potential channels of communication, all forums should experience this rate of increase.

I have always believed that quantitative change inevitably drives qualitative change.

So what impact will this have on the quality of communication (in terms of properties and characteristics, not value)?


Since there are physical (bandwidth, mental capacity) limits on our individual capacities to communicate, a drive towards increasing specialization must be a consequence (this is generally acknowledged, although the rate at which our specialization must increase is probably under-appreciated).

What other effects will we see? Any comments?

Will this affect things other than just communication? What about the economy? How we divide labour? The network effects are in evidence there, also.