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Who’s in my network? Who’s cool enough?

One of the most interesting things in following “the power of the network” is defining what that network is. I’ve come to the conclusion that what I’m most interested in is the people who make up these networks – not the machines and the codes that make them ‘go’. I have a masters in computer networking – I’ve lost many nights to worrying about how to make something blink faster. I am in library school now because I worked out that I was more interested in the people using the tools than the blinky lights on the tools themselves.

However, in moving into a field made up of people instead of chips and wires, I’ve worked out that people are messy. They aren’t consistent. They aren’t logical. And they certainly aren’t very good at agreeing who is cool enough to be in the cool club

A mailing list is a group structure – it has boundaries and one is either ‘in’ or ‘out’ – it is not possible to be ‘in’ to some people and ‘out’ to others like it is when you think of ego-centric friendship communities. Of course, with any group, there are members who view other members with disdain and would prefer that they were not also part of the group. This is one of the common features of urban tribes that Ethan Watters describes. Mailing lists push people to think in terms of group structures, even when the social cost is great. Faced with having to resolve this, it shouldn’t be surprising that an urban tribe swings back and forth between seeing itself as a collective with an identity that trumps individual relationships and seeing itself as a group of friends first and foremost.

That said – it will be very interesting to see how FeedBurner navigates this water while lots and lots of people are watching (via Techcrunch). If these groups are self-organized (the only way it can scale, right?), be prepared for a very public mea culpa in a few months. The rules for who determines who’s in a group are simple to follow, as long as the stakes are low. Being the biggest kid on the RSS block, FeedBurner’s stakes are not low.

The biggest issue around this will be what rules are used to determine which blogs are included in a given topic. It isn’t clear if there will be any real quality control – in his post Brad says each network will have a gatekeeper to make sure only blogs on topic are included, but there doesn’t appear to be any hurdle as to what constitutes a quality blog in a topic. That could work out badly. And if the bloggers and/or the network coordinator are making subjective decisions on which blogs can be included in a given network, this will end in tears. The politics around who’s in and who’s out of a blog network are impossible. I know this from personal experience.

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