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.
Popularity as the measure of what’s valuable (yuck)
We decided what is central and popular is what matters. And this has now become an assumption, the first principle that’s not actually a first principle. And yet, so much analysis and prediction relies on this assumption.
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; the 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 to have a good guy bad guy dichotomy.
The more centrality, the more bad.
And, not to get too dark, but central can be really bad. Cancers work this way. And, this is the too much of a good thing argument, but consolidation of wealth works this way. Sources of mass dissemination of misinformation. When one node takes over a network in a marketplace, you know what that’s called? A monopoly.
These aren’t always happy hubs we rightfully like and trust.
So I say yuck to centrality as what matters.
The most important types of nodes in a network
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.
Bridge nodes as linchpins of opportunity
But the bridge nodes, irrespective of hub-ness, are the linchpins of opportunities. For example – 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.
Proximity to a bridge node as the predictor of success
My point here is the things that radically alter the trajectory of your life, success, almost always involve a bridge that someone helps you cross, not the most central nodes in your network.
Knock out a central node in a social network, and watch as the gazillions of nodes following it simply attach to the closest next most similar node, like Gab’s growth after Trump was banned from Twitter. If Amazon was shut down tomorrow, you’d be on Walmart.com by next week.
Remove just one person who helped you when you really needed it, and it becomes hard to know who or where you’d even be today.
And yet, when we try to find those bridges, we often get it wrong, because we’re drawn to centrality.
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.
What this has to do with websites
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.