Becoming network native

I think one of the most challenging conceptual blocks facing anyone whose business or interest touches the Internet in some way is the notion that the network itself is the playing field that matters, not any single node within it.

People used to obsess over making the perfect web site. Many are doing the same now with mobile apps.

Crafting the perfect product is an interesting and worthwhile pursuit, but the Internet typically rewards platforms over point solutions.

This might be the line that defines one generation vs the next.

The network natives are busy igniting activity, connecting and collecting things. They see plumbing and grid solutions to grow cities where most people are still building houses.

The really good developers have the ability to generate network activity, to fuel new data by manipulating the way people move around the Internet. They build services for the Internet and expand on data from other platforms.

Simon Willison has demonstrated this in the past with things like Wildlifenearyou, and he’s doing it again with  Aaron Straup Cope uses Flickr data and maps platforms to generate new lens through which to see our world:

“We should start to think about how we interpret data the same way that people design patterns for textiles and work with it the way they might approach a bolt of fabric to fashion any number of different objects – from a bag to a dress to a wall-hanging – out of it.”

Daniel Levitt and Tony McCrae are both looking at the world in similar ways as we build the n0tice platform for local community activity.

I’m not just talking about getting hyperdistribution to explode virally across the network.  An interesting network-native startup called Path is demonstrating how to exchange private experiences only amongst people who know eachother via the Internet.

If you’re interested in this stuff, you have to read Steve Yegge’s internal memo about Google’s challenges in the face of platform plays at Amazon and Facebook. A clearer window into what makes the big dotcoms tick has perhaps never been published before.

“A product is useless without a platform, or more precisely and accurately, a platform-less product will always be replaced by an equivalent platform-ized product.”

I don’t know when John Gage or whoever it was at Sun came up with the slogan “the network is the computer”, but it’s probably about 25 years since that statement catalyzed a group of people who were on a shared journey to turn the Internet into a mainstream thing.

Yet there are still too many people focused on creating, producing, delivering, and shipping things meant to be purchased and consumed. The production-consumption model still dominates the way people think.

That wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that so many traditional institutions and companies and organizations repeatedly get blindsided by new ways of working that undermine everything they stand for.

We’re witnessing a recurring disruption in a very basic anthropological tendency to harness power by controlling information. The scale at which the network is able to break down towers of information power can be comprehensive, swift and seemingly violent.

It really shouldn’t surprise people anymore when this happens. Yet it does.

The network is a market that doesn’t respect secrecy, supply and demand, or many of the other traditional value levers that people have depended on for centuries.

The network respects a connected, service-like approach to the world. How can you tell if network-native thinking has changed the way you see things?

  • Instead of caring about how much value you will get from your customers in exchange for your goods, you care about how much value you create for your customers with your services
  • You want to help other people succeed knowing that you will benefit from their success
  • You simultaneously seek ways to embed what you do into other things and to embed strengths of what others do into your things
  • You view those who do the same thing as you as partners rather than competition
  • You view those who take more than they give as threats
  • Nothing you do is ever done

Being network-native means that the network is where conception and design happens, where manufacturing and production happens, where delivery happens, where feedback and research happens. It means that everything that you can do is done openly on the network with and amongst customers, suppliers, partners and competition.

Of course, even if you want to change the way you operate to be more network-native it’s certainly no easy task. Even the most innovative companies in the world struggle to change their core processes…look no further than the dotcom king – Google.

Amazon is a shining light in this respect. Again, as Steve Yegge notes:

“Amazon was a product company too, so it took an out-of-band force to make Bezos understand the need for a platform. That force was their evaporating margins; he was cornered and had to think of a way out. But all he had was a bunch of engineers and all these computers… if only they could be monetized somehow… you can see how he arrived at AWS, in hindsight.”

What kind of people do you have? What is your greatest asset? Ok, now turn all that into a platform. Simple, right? 😉