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Nothing is forever

September 22, 2011

This is all obvious. Facebook wants to do to the internet what shopping malls did to Main Street. But have you been to an indoor shopping mall lately?

I think there’s a cycle at work: canalization and diversification follow one another. Customers are confused by novelty, so someone builds a containing structure with legible, predictable taxonomies. Then, as the more diverse system outside those channels evolves new, shiny attractions, even the novelty-averse customers start to leave the familiar for the wilds, and their presence accelerates innovation. Whether the organizing agent can keep packaging novelty as familiarity determines whether it can survive.

AOL thought it was such an organizing force, but it was really an ISP. – SecretPlans.org

Quite so. I’ll only add that there are natural negative feedback loops inherent in the system. Somebody unimaginative attains leadership over the containing structure. He or she views the novelty as a threat, and makes the fatal mistake of deciding that of the two obvious strategies for dealing with the novelty, making integration with the novelty difficult in the hopes of strangling it in the crib is a better tack than ’embrace, extend, extinguish’. The result, predictably, is ever-accelerating defection, since people can’t use their new, cool thing.

I’ll resist the temptation to get snarky about how organizational dynamics virtually guarantee that the containing structure will eventually be taken over by somebody determined to put the ‘wall’ in ‘walled garden’.

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