Everyone loves a power curve – the idea that central nodes in a network are the most important, that the fat head is where all the influence and popularity lives.
All sorts of things were built on this idea (assumption).
Since, variations have been applied to study and predict the nature of lots of things: identify species important to an ecosystem, analyze protein networks in biology, high firing neurons in neural networks, traffic patterns on roads, and it’s all around us online, with personalized PageRank type scoring for your social newsfeeds.
It’s as though we decided what is central and popular is what is influential and important and valuable.
This has now become an assumption, the first principle that’s not actually a first principle that so much analysis and prediction relies on.
Measures of centrality, what is central in networks (where other things cluster around and link to that thing) are the most common ways to analyze what is important in a network. It is a proxy we take as fact.
The big hubs that everyone uses.
But it’s just very… idk, American?
I don’t know why, but when I think of centrality I think of big trucks and celebrities with big butts and football and streaming shows about power struggles and how all our favorite movies have a good guy and a bad guy but people in Europe think that’s weird because it’s not the formula for all their stories, just one genre layer.
And, not to get too dark, but central can be bad. Cancers work this way. Consolidation of wealth works this way. Sources of mass dissemination of misinformation. When one node takes over a network, that is called monopolization.
These aren’t always happy hubs we’re all drawn to. It’s not called influence when it results in the absence of choice, that’s called something else. At the extreme, they become vortexes we can’t escape.
The most important nodes – at least for you and me – are the ones that bridge groups of nodes, the go-betweens, the connectors.
These are the nodes (people, sites, newsletters, associations, institutions) that determine changes in the fate of neighborhoods in networks, the health and robustness of a group, the pioneers that determine whether and how connected things will become.
That is not to say hubs can’t be bridges. Often, hubs can be really useful bridges.
But the bridge nodes, irrespective of hub-ness, are the linchpins of opportunities. On your site, they are the paths which best connect key ideas together into a chain of learning for others – you know the most logical sequence of knowledge dissemination that you scramble to assemble when writing a book’s table of contents or workshop series.
Think about all the most important things that ever happened to you.
An introduction to your partner? A job interview someone helped you get? A referral from a trusted client. By definition, those things require a bridge, a relationship that allows you traverse from A to B.
And when they disconnect two groups, the losses can be catastrophic. Lose those and you isolate and exclude groups from a larger context, cut off water supplies, bring down power grids, even governments.
Okay, I’m getting dramatically in the weeds.
My point is the things that radically alter the trajectory of your life, success, almost always involve a bridge that someone helps you cross. They are not the most central nodes in the network.
Knock out a central node, and watch as gazillions of nodes connected to it attach to the closest next most similar node. If Amazon was shut down tomorrow, you’d be on Walmart.com by next week.
And yet, when we try to find the bridges, we often get it wrong.
Sometimes we pick the wrong bridges. We pick based on centrality – those big central nodes do get preferential attachment, which is a fancy way of saying the more power you have, the more you’ll get, the bigger you are in a network, the more relationships you have, the more you will get in the future.
Maybe you thought buying a Wharton MBA for the alumni network was a smart move and then all you got was this lousy polo-shirt and an internship.
And maybe you just don’t respect or pay enough attention with those with bridges around you – those referral sources you depend on eventually dry up. Or you spend a $10k on a business coach and they can’t help you because you’re too smart for your own good.
To bring it back from way out there – all of this network topology talk applies to how ideas relate (or don’t) on your website.
Take all the implicitly related ideas, organize and link them together, in their most basic sense.
Take a bunch of nodes that should connect or connect in your mind in really interesting ways, and design a network that others can actually traverse.
Validate that two ideas in fact connect, that users are in a context where some piece of content, some associated idea, is the next thing they need to hear, and serve that as related content.
Make sure that the journeys those users are on lead to finding those patterns in your solutions at the right time, and present them with bridges to related ideas in an order with some semblance of structure.
Extending beyond the confines of your site, prioritize a list of actions to be taken for you to find those bridges, the people, the other websites, that will result in much more opportunity than your current processes and routines left unchanged.
Far out, I think.