Barabási’s Linked tedious, but worth the work

By Mark Godi

The most recent cover of Linked

Ah-ha, now I get it. Thanks for the example professor Barabási.

As I navigated the first half of Albert-László Barabási’s book Linked, this is the thought that dominated my mind. It is clear early in the reading that Barabási is a physics instructor by the way he describes each principle. Luckily, he follows each mind-numbing idea with a lay-person’s example. On top of that, he uses several illustrations which are also helpful.

In the end, I think I got what Barabási was saying and enjoyed the first half of the book. What he is talking about applies to so many levels of society.

Linked starts with an introduction on how western minds first began understanding networks. It starts with the work of Paul Erdős and Alfréd Rényi, and expands to Duncan Watts and Steven Strogatz. The last few chapters I read started getting into Barabási’s work. This is where I feel like I started connecting (pun intended).

Basically, networks begin with isolated nodes. As the nodes link, they form small clusters. As the connections continue, a number of hubs, or highly-connected nodes, will start to form. It is these hubs that allow small, seemingly different nodes, to connect from far away.

The part of the first half I found most interesting were chapters seven and eight. In seven, The Rich Get Richer, the idea is that “real networks are governed by two laws: growth and preferential attachment.”  In chapter eight, Einstein’s Legacy, fitness is introduced and we learn about the explosion of Google in 2000.

Google is a node that sought growth and linked with Yahoo, which was a hub. The link with the hub plus Google’s incredible fitness or amazing usability, turned it into arguably the biggest hub on the internet.

I stopped for a while after chapter eight to try and scale this model to something I might do. Say I had a news story or a “node” and I want to grow it. I am going to first have to make sure it is desirable, well put together or “fit.” Next I’m going to want to find the proper hubs and get them to point or link to my news. If my timing is right and I have the resources (see chapter seven), my news can blow up. If I prove worthy, nodes will start seeking me.

I made another deduction after reading Chapter nine: Achilles’ Heel. It discusses how strong networks can become and cites how the terrorist’s attacks of 9/11 were unable to destroy the “network” of the United States. The U.S. was damaged and a chain reaction ensued that is still seen today. However, the country was not destroyed because enough of the countries’ “nodes” remained.

My daughters Presley, left, and Payton

Meanwhile, Google was able to dwarf all other search engines without an attack. It demonstrated fitness, displayed preferential attachment, and rose to power. Yahoo, Alta Vista and others were not destroyed, but they have been relegated to second fiddle.

If you want to grow yourself in a network, worry more about making friends and less about who you perceive is in your way.

The first half of Linked forced me to really step back and adjust how I see the world. Am I a hub? Am I a node? Is there a formula for attracting yourself to the best hubs?

I feel like I’m pretty successful and I should attribute that to my hubs. My mother and father are huge hubs, both well connected in the community. The randomness of being born got me established ahead of others. I have two wonderful daughters, an incredible wife, parents, in-laws, job, etc. How much of that is attribute to my “fitness” and how much is attributed to my “links?”

Here’s to an equally as inspiring second half of the book.

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