Posts Tagged ‘synaptic web’

Collaboration versus Collectivity

February 9, 2010

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In previous posts, especially in those related to content mapping, I frequently referred to collective actions and efforts in describing certain concepts, but never elaborated on the exact meaning of these terms. One could think that collectivity and collaboration are identical (they often are mentioned in the same context) as both have something to do with individuals working together. In fact, I find it important to highlight their differences for I expect collectivity to play as vital a role in Web 3.0 as collaboration did in Web 2.0.


As already understood from popular Web 2.0 applications such as Wikipedia, Google Docs, or WordPress, we define collaboration as sharing workload in a group of individuals who engage in a complex task, working towards a common goal in a managed fashion, and are conscious of the process’ details all the way.

As the number of participants grow however, it becomes apparent that collaboration is not scalable beyond a certain level while remaining faithful to the definition outlined above. Although there is such a thing as large-scale collaboration, what that covers is lots of people having the possibility of contribution but in reality only a few doing so. Mass collaboration goes further by blurring the definition of collaboration so much that it practically becomes just another expression for collectivity.

And when I speak of collectivity, I think of a crowd performing a simple, uncoordinated task where participants don’t have to be aware of their involvement in the process while contributing. The outcome of a collective action is merely a statistical aggregation of individual results.

Different realms

Collaboration and collectivity operate in different realms. Collaboration can be thought of as an incremental process (linear) while collectivity is more similar to voting (parallel). On the figure below, arrows represent the timeline of sub-tasks performed by participants.

Suppose a sub-task like that was the creation or modification of a Wikipedia entry. In this case collaboration proves more effective, as it offers a higher chance of eliminating factual errors during the process, while a collective approach would surely preserve all of them (and offer the one with the fewest). The semantic complexity of a document does not fit the more or less hit-and-miss approach of collectivity.

However, if we decrease the complexity of the content, say, to one sentence, the probability of individual solutions being as ‘good’ as products of collaboration is expected to be equal. Collective approaches therefore suit low-complexity content better.

The synaptic web

What content is of lower complexity than connections within a content network? Different relations such as identity, generalization, abstraction, response or ‘part-of’ require no more than a yes-no answer. Collectivity is cut out exactly for this kind of tasks.

As the creators of the synaptic web concept put it,

With the advent of the real-time web, however, increasingly effective publishing, sharing and engagement tools are making it easier to find connections between nodes in near-real time by observing human gestures at scale, rather than relying on machine classification.

Hence the synaptic web calls for collectivity. What we need now is more applications that make use of it.


  • Just one day before my post, @wikinihiltres posted an article comparing the efficiency of collective and collaborative approaches to content production through the examples of Wikipedia and Wikinews, concluding that “the balance that ought to be sought is one that continues to accept the powerful aggregative influence, but that greatly promotes collaboration where possible, since collaboration most reliably produces good results”.

Entropy and the Future of the Web

January 19, 2010

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Inspired by this post of Chris Dixon, I summarized my thoughts on the future of the web in a single tweet like this:

The fundamental question that will shape the future of the web is how we deal with entropy.


The disorder of the web thrives on both content and their connections. Today’s approach to the web of tomorrow depend on how we address this issue. The figure below shows what we can expect as a result of different combinations of low and high entropy in the two layers.

Entropy in the content layer reflects the degree of internal disorder. If we choose to lower content entropy through the addition of relevant metadata or structure we’ll realize the semantic web. If we don’t then content will remain unorganized and we’ll end up in the noisy web.

Entropy in the connection layer expresses disorder in the network of content. By defining meaningful relations between content elements connection entropy will decrease leading to the synaptic web. Should we leave connections in their ad-hoc state, we’ll arrive in the unorganized web.

The study of web entropy becomes interesting when we take a look at the intersections of these domains.

  • Semantic – synaptic: The most organized, ideal form of the web. Content and connections are thoroughly described, transparent and machine readable. Example: linked data.
  • Semantic – unorganized: Semantic content loosely connected throughout the web. Most blog posts have the valid semantic structure of documents, however, they’re connected by hyperlinks that say nothing about their relation. (Say, whether a blog entry extends, reflects on or debates the linked one.)
  • Noisy – synaptic: Organizes high entropy content by connecting relevant elements via meaningful relations. Among others, tagging, filtering, recommendation engines and content mapping fall into this domain.
  • Noisy – unorganized: Sparse network of unstructured content. This is the domain we’ve known for one and a half decades where keyword based indexing and search still dominates the web. If it continues to develop in this direction then technologies such as linguistic parsing and topic identification will definitely come into play in the future.

Which one?

The question is obvious: which domain represents the optimal course to take? Based on the domains’ description semantic – synaptic seems to be the clear choice. But we’re discussing entropy here and from thermodynamics we know that entropy grows in systems that are prone to spontaneous change and order is restored only at the cost of energy and effort.

Ultimately, the question comes down to this: are we going to fight entropy or not?

Bringing the semantic web into existence is an enormous task. To me, fighting the reluctance of people to adopt the use of metadata and semantic formats is unimaginable. The synaptic web seems more feasible as the spreading of social media already indicates. But in the end what matters is which domain or combination of domains will be popular among early adopters. The rest will follow.