This post was prompted by the recent traffic of a piece by Zeynep Tufecki ( Can “Leaderless Revolutions” Stay Leaderless: Preferential Attachment, Iron Laws and Networks ) here: http://technosociology.org/?p=366
It dismays me to see people like Zeynep Tufecki lapse into tired complex systems rhetoric to present a biased picture of networks and organic systems.
Time and again we see the standard responses: preferential attachment, the Matthew Effect (the rich get richer), the supposedly “iron law” of oligarchy, the evolution of power laws.
It is disingenous to present one side of the evolution of networks, i.e. the growth phenomena, without presenting the other side, which are the constraining phenomena, such as carrying capacity.
By way of example, imagine airports. As the global network of air traffic increases, a small world network evolves in which most air traffic goes through particular hubs. Those dynamics are well known.
BUT, those hubs cannot grow indefinitely. The “rich” cannot get infinitely “richer.” There are limits. Complex systems reach built-in homeostatic limits that cause them to evolve to the “edge of chaos,” a dynamic balance which is neither “too little” nor “too much.”
In other words, there are upper thresholds AND lower thresholds. I have shown this graphically in a post about carrying capacity here: http://blog.p2pfoundation.net/understanding-carrying-capacity/2010/07/01
In addition, flocks and swarms can be said to have a member who is “out in front” but not necessarily a leader. Furthermore, when the group changes in response to its environment, a different “leader” emerges.
( Also posted as a response on David Weinberger’s blog here: http://www.hyperorg.com/blogger/2011/02/14/the-twitter-doesnt-topple-dictators-cliche-undone-but-leaderless-networks-dont-stay-that-way/ )