Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ The Failure of Completely Open Networks?

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Jan 25, 2008

Originally posted on Half an Hour, January 25, 2008.

Responding to Scott Karp, who writes:

Digg’s struggle with gaming is so extreme that they had no choice but to band certain forms of collaboration in a system that is defined by its collaborative nature.

What this proves is something that has been known (and resolutely ignored by pundits) for quite some time: that the network effect is not cumulative.

People keep portraying ‘the wisdom of crowds’ as though it were some sort of democracy - people vote, and whomever has the most votes wins. That’s how Digg operated.

But the failure of Digg is analagous to the failure of democracy. The ‘wisdom of crowds’ is not obtained by mere voting. What is required - as the new Digg algorithm explicitly recognizes - is diversity.


I think it may be worth considering what constitutes 'completely open' and/or 'regulated' in a network.

All networks - including Digg - are constructed. All networks are therefore regulated, that is, the manner of their construction impacts their conduct.

Perhaps we should say that to 'regulate' is to manage transactions in a network on a case by case basis, as opposed to 'design', which is the creation (or one-time adjustment) of network parameters.

As for what constitutes 'completely open' in a network that has been designed, I am at a bit of a loss.

Strictly speaking, 'completely open' would entail no design whatsoever, but that would also entail no network at all.

We could say that 'completely open' means that any person may participate as fuly as anyone else. But if so, then the recent change by Digg does not change its status as 'completely open'.

I don't have any faith in the press to actually comprehend any of these subtleties. But I think it would be nice were the press to move beyond empty slogans.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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