P2P Foundation

The Foundation for Peer to Peer Alternatives

Though there are many kinds of networks , they all seem to have a hierarchy

This seems to be the logical conclusion from recent research reported in Nature

We quote:

"researchers at the Santa Fe Institute (SFI) have shown that it's possible to extract automatically the hierarchical structure of networks. The researchers say their results 'suggest that hierarchy is a central organizing principle of complex networks, capable of offering insight into many network phenomena.' They also think that their algorithms can be applied to almost every kind of networks, from biochemical networks (protein interaction networks, metabolic networks or genetic regulatory networks) to communities in social networks."

I believe this is true, as the opposite would imply 'sameness' of all the nodes, totally equal influence.

But this does not mean that there is only one kind of hierarchy, or leadership, i.e. how is it intentionally exercised in human social networks.

It is therefore useful to recall the summary provided by John Heron:

The key question is: do the centralized and hierarchical elements in the protocol, enable or disable participation?

In true peer to peer networks, Heron writes, the role of hierarchy is to enable the spontaneous emergence of 'autonomy in cooperation':

"There seem to be at least four degrees of cultural development, rooted in degrees of moral insight:

(1) autocratic cultures which define rights in a limited and oppressive way and there are no rights of political participation;

(2) narrow democratic cultures which practice political participation through representation, but have no or very limited participation of people in decision-making in all other realms, such as research, religion, education, industry etc.;

(3) wider democratic cultures which practice both political participation and varying degree of wider kinds of participation;

(4) commons p2p cultures in a libertarian and abundance-oriented global network with equipotential rights of participation of everyone in every field of human endeavor

Heron adds that "These four degrees could be stated in terms of the relations between hierarchy, co-operation and autonomy.

(1) Hierarchy defines, controls and constrains co-operation and autonomy;

(2) Hierarchy empowers a measure of co-operation and autonomy in the political sphere only;

(3) Hierarchy empowers a measure of co-operation and autonomy in the political sphere and in varying degrees in other spheres;

(4) The sole role of hierarchy is in its spontaneous emergence in the initiation and continuous flowering of autonomy-in-co-operation in all spheres of human endeavor

From all of the above, we can conclude that hierarchy does not disappear in peer to peer processes, but that it changes its nature. Hierarchy, or authority ranking as it is called by Alan Fiske, takes on new forms such as peer governance, servant leadership, multistakeholdership.

Here is how Joseph Rost defines leadership in the new collaborative era:

The first is that the activities be influential, that is, noncoercive. The second is that the activities be done by people in a relationship. The third is that the activities involve a real significant change. And the fourth element is that the activities reflect the purposes of the people in the relationship, not just a single person. All of these standards insure collaboration rather than the notion that leadership is a great leader doing great things ."

Similarly, another author on leadership, Jeffrey S. Nielsen distinguishes ‘rank thinking’, from ‘peer thinking’ :

"I define rank thinking as the belief that only a few in any organization should be given special privilege to monopolize information, control decision-making, and command obedience from the vast majority either through coercive or manipulative power. Peer thinking, on the other hand, is the belief that everyone in the organization should have equal standing to share in information, participate in the decision-making process, and choose to follow through persuasive means. Peer thinking assumes that we each have equal privilege to speak and an obligation to listen. Peer-based organizations create a space--an arena--where we come to recognize and respect one another as equal participants in organizational life ."

Can we do anything about unwanted, because too hierarchical and unequal, forms of protocollary power, in the context of using value-sensitive design?. Can we actually design networks of cooperation so that they are more democratic?

Here we can refer productively to the conscious design of what Stephen Downes calls Knowing Networks . What are there characteristics?:

"First, diversity. Did the process involve the widest possible spectrum of points of view? Did people who interpret the matter one way, and from one set of background assumptions, interact with with people who approach the matter from a different perspective?

Second, and related, autonomy. Were the individual knowers contributing to the interaction of their own accord, according to their own knowledge, values and decisions, or were they acting at the behest of some external agency seeking to magnify a certain point of view through quantity rather than reason and reflection?

Third, interactivity. Is the knowledge being producted the product of an interaction between the members, or is it a (mere) aggregation of the members' perspectives? A different type of knowledge is produced one way as opposed to the other. Just as the human mind does not determine what is seen in front of it by merely counting pixels, nor either does a process intended to create public knowledge.

Fourth, and again related, openness. Is there a mechanism that allows a given perspective to be entered into the system, to be heard and interacted with by others?

It is based on these criteria that we arrive at an account of a knowing network. The scale-free networks contemplated above constitute instances in which these criteria are violated: by concentrating the flow of knowledge through central and highly connected nodes, they reduce diversity and reduce interactivity. Even where such networks are open and allow autonomy (and they are often not), the members of such networks are constrained: only certain perspectives are presented to them for consideration, and only certain perspectives will be passed to the remainder of the network (namely, in both cases, the perspectives of those occupying the highly connected nodes).

Even where such networks are open and allow autonomy (and they are often not), the members of such networks are constrained: only certain perspectives are presented to them for consideration, and only certain perspectives will be passed to the remainder of the network (namely, in both cases, the perspectives of those occupying the highly connected nodes)

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So there is some kind of hierarchy in p2p but it is a different kind ... a flowing, impermanent kind of hierarchy where anyone can acquire the "rank" needed to actively determine where to go, and where such a position is held temporarily, with others stepping in when one authoritative node in the network ceases to contribute or limits its activity.

Contrary to classical hierarchical authority, in a network setting, the p2p process prefers and promotes anyone who is active (and who can in some way mirror the wishes of a larger group of participants) but only as long as that node is really active. With inactivity, the node quickly loses standing.

In the classical case, the extreme is hereditary hierarchy, where activity plays practically no role at all - only being born into the right family counts.
Hi Sepp,

I agree with your two points which is the greater mobility, and the need for engagement.

However, that doesn't exhaust the issues I think. Wikipedia is a good example of how it can go wrong: 1) when the wikmedia foundatio refuses community involvement; and 2) within the community, the existing editorrs discourage participation ... How do you solve such entrenched power?

Yes Michel,

wikipedia seems a good example of a network gone "hybrid", meaning the idea started out well - to begin with it was a network of volunteers who all had equal chances of becoming important nodes ("editors" in wikipedia parlance?). But as a rather comples set of "rules" developed and as a tight community of editors formed, who all seem to have a strong attachment to orthodoxy and mainstream views, what used to be a network turned into a de facto hierarchy:

No longer can any "normal" participant make any changes or put up any articles that do not pass the censorship of that new hierarchy, the collective of editors.

What used to be the just desire to keep vandals at bay turned into a tool to keep any form of unwanted input out of the Wiki. And the decision of what is unwanted seems to be made by a tight inner circle without being in any way transparent.

How do you solve such entrenched power?

That seems to be the central question and one we must solve, lest other networks go the same way and we lose many of the advantages of networking.

I don't have the answer but some ideas come to mind.

1) Rules of interaction should be few and simple

2) All nodes in a network to be bound by the same set of rules

3) New nodes have all the same rights as "old" ones.

4) There should be provisions to ban (remove from the network) nodes for clearly anti-social behavior. Rather than controlling what a node can do inside a network, it seems more appropriate to control who can take part and who can't.

Someone who has been excluded from participation in a particular network for anti-social actions, can always find other networks to take part in. If they are then excluded from multiple networks, the diagnosis (anti-social) would tend to get more solid, and in an extreme case, an individual maight find that they have few options left. That should induce a change in behavior for the better. But meanwhile, the network(s) can continue without disturbance.

In the case of wikipedia, it appears that some anti-social individuals managed to get to the top of the heap, consolidated their power, and that they are now keeping the willing volunteers "at bay".

The big question of course is: What would be the criteria for deciding that someone is acting in an anti-social way and should be excluded?

Answering that question would, I think, be essential for the protection of networks from destructive influences that can turn a network into a de facto hierarchy and greatly reduce its usefulness.
This is a fascinating discussion, guys!

There is something key in what Michel quoted from John Heron: "There seem to be at least four degrees of cultural development, rooted in degrees of moral insight". I think we leave this dimension out of the equation at our peril.

Perhaps a p2p tool like a wiki is like any other tool (or weapon) - it might take a genius to invent it, but any Joe can use it. So p2p communities focused on use of a tool can be taken over by nodes that are "rooted in lower degrees of moral insight". Is this what has happened with Wikipedia?

Reading your last comment, Sepp: "The big question of course is: What would be the criteria for deciding that someone is acting in an anti-social way and should be excluded?", in the light of John's quote, a connection popped into my mind.

I have been reading the latest issue of Kosmos Journal, which is all about 'changing the world together'. In addition to an article by Michel (:-)), there is one by Terri O'Fallon on community and conscious evolution. She talks about how adult individuals can (but don't always) mature through "ripples of widening perspectives", and that as they do so, they are drawn to differing types of community. John Heron seems to me to be describing the operating norms of communities corresponding to ever widening perspectives. At the level where p2p becomes the natural operating norm, "the co-evolution of the collective and the self take on a new meaning: Awareness of meaning, conflict and projection moving through the community becomes a means to one's own individual development."

In a nutshell, the only way to help the networks we care about protect themselves from destructive influences might be to engage in this way with our own individual development and learn to speak out in an inclusive, authentic but assertive way whenever the openness of the interaction seems threatened.

I am particularly interested in this whole debate, as I am working inside a large hierarchical organisation and my daily inquiry and practice is how to activate and nurture p2p ways of being within the command and control structure that can benefit the development of the individuals who participate, but also the effectiveness and wellbeing of the organisation as a whole.
Hi Helen,

very interesting view, highlighting the importance of the subjective element, and your interpretation of Wikipedia as an example is illluminating.

I wonder if you could not evolve this contribution in a more formal thoughtpiece for our regular blog as well, citing Terri's work and perhaps you could get hold of an e-copy through the author?

Sepp: I would turn your phrase around: first we must have rules for behaviour, just as in a democracy, I mean, it is your freedom to be a male chauvinist pig, but as long as you follow the community norms, that is fine. However, when you repeatedly breach the rule, exclusion may follow, but I think it should be not the first option.

However, apart from that I think it is legitimate to have selection rules that are in harmony with the object of the group. For example, joining our community here means you are interested in peer to peer, otherwise, it makes no sense, and that should create a discipline as to the nature of postings.

Today, I found an interesting thoughtpiece by Manuel De Landa, on the mixed nature of hierarchies and meshworks.

His idea is that there exists a permanence of material processes that coalesce either as homogenous elements (striving to be the same), hard hierarchies, or accepting heterogeinity, soft meshworks.

While I do find that a triune structure of hierarchy/decentralized/distributed is important, and that meshworks cannot be equated with markets, (see below), it is nevertheless a stimulating quote,

here it is:

Manual De Landa:

"Herbert Simon's distinction between command hierarchies and markets may turn out to be a special case of a more general dichotomy. In the view of philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, this more abstract classes, which they call strata and self-consistent aggregates (or trees and rhizomes), are defined not so much by the locus of control, as by the nature of elements that are connected together. Strata are composed of homogenous elements, whereas self-consistent aggregates articulate heterogeneous elements as such. {6} For example, a military hierarchy sorts people into internally homogenous ranks before joining them together through a chain of command. Markets, on the other hand, allow for a set of heterogeneous needs and offers to become articulated through the price mechanism, without reducing this diversity. In biology, species are an example of strata, particularly if selection pressures have operated unobstructedly for long periods of time allowing the homogenization of the species gene pool. On the other hand, ecosystems are examples of self-consistent aggregates, since they link together into complex food webs a wide variety of animals and plants, without reducing their heterogeneity. I have developed this theory in more detail elsewhere, but for our purposes here let's simply keep the idea that besides centralization and decentralization of control, what defines these two types of structure is the homogeneity or heterogeneity of its composing elements.

Before returning to our discussion of agent-based interfaces, there is one more point that needs to be stressed. As both Simon and Deleuze and Guattari emphasize, the dichotomy between bureaucracies and markets, or to use the terms that I prefer, between hierarchies and meshworks, should be understood in purely relative terms. In the first place, in reality it is hard to find pure cases of these two structures: even the most goal-oriented organization will still show some drift in its growth and development, and most markets even in small towns contain some hierarchical elements, even if it is just the local wholesaler which manipulates prices by dumping (or withdrawing) large amounts of a product on (or from) the market. Moreover, hierarchies give rise to meshworks and meshworks to hierarchies. Thus, when several bureaucracies coexist (governmental, academic, ecclesiastic), and in the absence of a super-hierarchy to coordinate their interactions, the whole set of institutions will tend to form a meshwork of hierarchies, articulated mostly through local and temporary links. Similarly, as local markets grow in size, as in those gigantic fairs which have taken place periodically since the Middle Ages, they give rise to commercial hierarchies, with a money market on top, a luxury goods market underneath and, after several layers, a grain market at the bottom. A real society, then, is made of complex and changing mixtures of these two types of structure, and only in a few cases it will be easy to decide to what type a given institution belongs." (http://t0.or.at/delanda/meshwork.htm)
Michel, while I would love the leisure to sit down and write a thought piece, such is not my lot at the moment... I'm moving house in August and leisure has been removed from my menu until then.

However, I think I can go one better and propose this as a topic for our polilogue with Mushin some time very soon. After which I will be able to offer something based on the recording/transcription which - being born of our collective intelligence, will be much better than anything I can come up with on our own!
Michel, you say:

Sepp: I would turn your phrase around: first we must have rules for behaviour, just as in a democracy...

I thought I had put the rules as a first point, as in

1) Rules of interaction should be few and simple

The rules of interaction would be rules on what members of the network should generally do and what they shouldn't do.

Apart from an admonition that members should adhere to the topic (purpose) of the group, there could be a generally recognized set of "rules of social intercourse" that all networks can make reference to. The rules of social intercourse should be designed to make anti-social actions more difficult. And as you say, repeated breaches of those rules could result in exclusion.

It should be clear that I have not thought about the rules, nor of the details of a procedure to decide on exclusion.

"Rules of interaction" are not intended to be (a priori) selection rules but only a kind of discipline to ensure continuous smooth functioning of the network and to guard against "hijacking" by some behind-the-scenes hierarchy.
Regarding De Landa's work it is intriguing to see his view that there can be no clean separation of hierarchies and networks.

I would think that each believes it is the better way to organize things and that it should oppose any intrusion of its counterpart in its own ranks, yet never fully succeeds in doing so.
Hi Helen,

yes, the "ripples of widening perspectives" Terri O'Fallon talks about seem like a close match to John Heron's "degrees of moral insight".

That would mean our natural evolution is towards a p2p society ...

To help this evolution along, openness (as in transparency) of both ourselves and government would need a serious push.
Sepp, it's a challenge, I know. But pushing for transparency is almost a contradiction in terms. I came to the conclusion a while ago that transparency is something which is only possible once a person or group has reached a pretty advanced stage - where a person can see their own 'ego' or 'self' as a transparent construct in itself. Only when no fear of others remains can there be true transparency. Otherwise we're always hiding stuff from each other in an attempt at gaining ascendancy, covering our arses, or some other partial ploy, always doomed to failure...
True Helen, it is almost a chicken-and-egg situation. We need transparency to advance and we can't stand transparency because we aren't yet advanced (free) enough.

I believe that a 'culture of transparency' could contribute to moving on that scale of development where, at some point, we discover the real values of a network society. A positive example goes a long way in persuading people that it is possible to change...
Totally with you, Sepp. I spend a lot of my time these days helping people to experience positive examples of transparent communication and working. You are right that it helps persuade people - I see all the time how hungry people are for engagement and meaning.




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