Last week I discovered one of the funnier sites on the web, Four Word Film Review. Go check out the collection of four-word film reviews (yes, just four words) of Fellowship of the Ring, for example. Zingers: "Short hero, long movie"; "One perm rules all"; and "Are they there yet"? Iambic pentameter is more than I can handle, but the four word review is right up my alley. I'll specialize in the four word book review, starting with my just-completed Book of the Month, Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software.
Here it is: Everthing is like ants.
Here are a few extra words for the truly dedicated reader. I thought Emergence was better than Smart Mobs ("Teenagers with cell phones"). The author of Emergence, Steven Johnson, holds a BA in semiotics and an MA in English. I don't know whether that qualifies him to write about the emergent properties of systems, but it does mean that he can write well and he can explain what "semiotics" means (both rare qualities in any writer).
Seriously, the book does a great job highlighting how many systems or communities are hardwired for self-organization. It's a meta-property of sorts, incorporating evolution as a mechanism (systems adapt), but emergence is a system property, not a phenotypical expression of a genetic endowment. It is more than a population but less than an organism. A swarm of bees, a flock of birds, a colony of ants, a teeming city, all of these show emergent properties without central direction (ignore zoning laws).
The Web is not self-organizing. The blogosphere is, I think, because of the maze of links that connect various weblogs. I wonder, can any two weblogs be reached in six links or less? Does Kevin Bacon have a weblog? Anyway, the thesis is that as the universe of "agents" (the units of the system) grows in number, self-organization emerges. I'm familiar with two weblog communities: the Bloggernacle and the legal blogosphere. Both started with solo blogs but, as numbers grew, key players formed group blogs which quickly became the center around which solo blogs organize, satellites orbiting around the group blogs at the core.
So group blogs emerge; they anchor a community of related blogs. Right now there are two group blogs in the Bloggernacle. I expect within a year there will be two or three additional group blogs. You might try your hand at guessing who or what organization might sponsor them. An interesting question is how many group blogs a given blogging community can support before it splits, with some of the groups forming a new topical core. As the blogosphere continues to grow, I suspect additional levels of self-organization will emerge. Or maybe a third layer of self-organization has emerged and I just don't see it yet. Any guesses? Anyone care to venture their own four-word book review of Emergence?