Friday, January 28, 2005

Reflections of stuff read in 2004 (part 2): Information Cascades

My continuing reflections of books read in 2004. This one's called Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age by Duncan J. Watts (New York : Norton, c2003 - 368 pages). Here are some additional notes which were not included in the original RawNotes posting.
  • p230 - Author gives suggestions on how to exploit knowledge to enhance the likelihood of a cascade.
  • p235 - About "cascades & percolation" - conditions necessary for global cascade.
What's "percolation" you ask?

My understanding is this: Imagine cooking a raw egg, and filming it in slow motion. You'll probably see the egg white still in a gooey mess, but in an instant, the protein parts become white. Something like that... Watts explains it way better than I have.

Which then made me think that perhaps the role of libraries & librarians is to:
• Create a "percolating cluster" (see p236 - "no complete general solution exists")
• Target the "ripe" or "vulnerable" cluster
• Identify & even create the connections ("axions") - "beyond a certain point, percolation occurs (define)

Maybe I could paint you an IMAGINARY SCENE -- set in the future, describing LIBRARIANS at WORK:
Liblogarian1: I have Idea Cluster marked Two-one-zero-niner online, Sir. Its network has expanded beyond initial range. Percolation probability above one. Looks like percolation is eminent, Sir.

Liblogarian2: Isn't that the cluster our folks at Outreach did a 30-sec Net-session last month? On "Traditional Asian Cuisines of the late 20th century: Their inpact on primary school education today"?

Liblogarian1: No Sir. That was two-TWO-zero-niner. We did the Comic Book routine for cluster 2109, called "What if Superman wore his underwear the right way?". The kids loved it.

Liblogarian2: Oh yes. The same session the folks at (Readers') Advisory chipped in with their Flash-Vid segment.

Liblogarian1: Sir, Advisory is asking if they can tag along again to try their enhanced Group-share chip for this mission.

Liblogarian2: Sure. The kids loved them the last time. Invite George from Acquisitions as well. I know he's dying to get his nose off his Flex-screens & have his Info-Gear out.

Liblogarian1: Roger that. A-Team 6 is on the way.

I don't blame you if you didn't understand a word of what went on. It's more than a little cryptic. Must have been reading Vernor Vinge I guess. I suppose if you are a practicing Public Librarian, you might know a little of what I'm saying.

Ok, last thing on why you should read the book. There's a really interesting case study of the Toyota-Aisin crisis in 1997. It's about how a fire at the Toyota factory almost ruined the company -- certain of its original production moulds (found no where else) were all destroyed in the fire, crippling production. The crisis was severe enough to have affected Japan's economy. Yet intriguingly Toyota was able to recover back to normal production levels within days, even though there were no contingency plans in place.

One conclusion was that the more "networked" we are, the more subseptible we'd be to risks . But conversely, this disadvantage is also a strength, i.e. it allows us to recover faster than if we were not linked. Similar parallels with regards to the Sept 11 incident, which affected businesss in New York City.

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