A network swarm is all edges and therefore open ended any way you come at it. Indeed, the network is the least structured organization that can be said to have any structure at all. It is capable of infinite rearrangements, and of growing in any direction without altering the basic shape of the thing, which is really no outward shape at all. Craig Reynolds, the synthetic flocking inventor, points out the remarkable ability of networks to absorb the new without disruption: "There is no evidence that the complexity of natural flocks is bounded in any way. Flocks do not become 'full' or 'overloaded' as new birds join. When herring migrate toward their spawning grounds, they run in schools extending as long as 17 miles and containing millions of fish." How big a telephone network could we make? How many nodes can one even theoretically add to a network and still have it work? The question has hardly even been asked.
There are a variety of swarm topologies, but the only organization that holds a genuine plurality of shapes is the grand mesh. In fact, a plurality of truly divergent components can only remain coherent in a network. No other arrangement -- chain, pyramid, tree, circle, hub -- can contain true diversity working as a whole. This is why the network is nearly synonymous with democracy or the market.
A dynamic network is one of the few structures that incorporates the dimension of time. It honors internal change. We should expect to see networks wherever we see constant irregular change, and we do.
A distributed, decentralized network is more a process than a thing. In the logic of the Net there is a shift from nouns to verbs. Economists now reckon that commercial products are best treated as though they were services. It's not what you sell a customer, its what you do for them. It's not what something is, it's what it is connected to, what it does. Flows become more important than resources. Behavior counts.
Network logic is counterintuitive. Say you need to lay a telephone cable that will connect a bunch of cities; let's make that three for illustration: Kansas City, San Diego, and Seattle. The total length of the lines connecting those three cities is 3,000 miles. Common sense says that if you add a fourth city to your telephone network, the total length of your cable will have to increase. But that's not how network logic works. By adding a fourth city as a hub (let's make that Salt Lake City) and running the lines from each of the three cities through Salt Lake City, we can decrease the total mileage of cable to 2,850 or 5 percent less than the original 3,000 miles. Therefore the total unraveled length of a network can be shortened by adding nodes to it! Yet there is a limit to this effect. Frank Hwang and Ding Zhu Du, working at Bell Laboratories in 1990, proved that the best savings a system might enjoy from introducing new points into a network would peak at about 13 percent. More is different.
On the other hand, in 1968 Dietrich Braess, a German operations researcher, discovered that adding routes to an already congested network will only slow it down. Now called Braess's Paradox, scientists have found many examples of how adding capacity to a crowded network reduces its overall production. In the late 1960s the city planners of Stuttgart tried to ease downtown traffic by adding a street. When they did, traffic got worse; then they blocked it off and traffic improved. In 1992, New York City closed congested 42nd Street on Earth Day, fearing the worst, but traffic actually improved that day.
Then again, in 1990, three scientists working on networks of brain neurons reported that increasing the gain -- the responsivity -- of individual neurons did not increase their individual signal detection performance, but it did increase the performance of the whole network to detect signals.
Nets have their own logic, one that is out-of-kilter to our expectations. And this logic will quickly mold the culture of humans living in a networked world. What we get from heavy-duty communication networks, and the networks of parallel computing, and the networks of distributed appliances and distributed being is Network Culture.
Alan Kay, a visionary who had much to do with inventing personal computers, says that the personally owned book was one of the chief shapers of the Renaissance notion of the individual, and that pervasively networked computers will be the main shaper of humans in the future. It's not just individual books we are leaving behind, either. Global opinion polling in real-time 24 hours a day, seven days a week, ubiquitous telephones, asynchronous e-mail, 500 TV channels, video on demand: all these add up to the matrix for a glorious network culture, a remarkable hivelike being.
Kevin Kelly - Out of Control