I wanted so bad the formula for sure network success when I finished reading Linked.
I was disappointed.
It took thinking for a long time about the principles in Albert-László Barabási’s book to realized my expectations for the second half were not realistic. There is no finite formula for turning everyone into hubs. If there was, the scale-free model that our democracy is built on would not exist.
However, what Barabási offers is more of a guide. Before I start tackling a story, or really anything, I can ask myself: Where does network theory fit in here? Who are the people connected with this issue? Who are they connected with that I might not initially think of? What kinds of paths are common in this network?
In the first half of the book, Barabási explains what the scale-free model of growing a network is. He touches a bit on how the model effects society, but goes much further in the second half of the book. In the second half, Barabási mentions more about what made networks fail or succeed.
One chapter that I really liked was No. 10, Viruses and Fads. In it, spreading rate and critical threshold are discussed. What is the degree of desirability of your product and what level of difficulty will consumers put up with? The example used is Apple’s Newton handheld computer. It was the first of its kind and did lots of things well. But certain usability issues proved too much.
A good product with good marketing still has little room for error if the market is ripe with competitors who can shore up similar problems.
I also really liked the idea in Chapter 14: Network Economy, where it talks about the success of Hotmail verses the decline of Epidemic.com. Hotmail had the means to cascade. Hotmail was cheap, easy to sign up for, and advertised itself on each email sent. Epidemic.com paid users to put advertisements in their emails. The problem was that once initial users passed along emails, there was no reason for their friends further “infect” others. Epidemic.com spent over $2 million advertising during the Super Bowl, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a key flaw. The company went under.
Again, we have a good product with a good marketing. This time, however, the product didn’t lend itself well to cascading principles.
Barabási finishes with the Chapter: Web Without a Spider. In it he focuses on the idea that curing cancer or growing a democracy is so difficult because the last century has only identified the network’s pieces. A shift in focus needs to be taken next.
He says, “The goal before us is to understand complexity. To achieve that, we must move beyond structure and topology and start focusing on the dynamics that take place along links.”
To me, this means that I should take this book as a jumping off point, not a Bible.
I think the part where I tripped up soon after putting the book down was with expectation. The book read so scientifically that I was expecting a finite answer at the end. I wanted Barabási to say, in essence, “grow your network by following steps, A, B, and C.” Or say, “Destroy this network by following this formula.”
Bottom line: Barabási has given me a good place to start when problem solving.