A key feature of the Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 phenomena is "Emergence". With more and more data being added to the web and company intranets, there needs to be a structure in place for users to be able to find the essential information in the jungle - the needle in the haystack. However, particularly when considering the internet as a whole, there is not - and cannot be - someone in charge of creating that structure.
So how do we manage to find any relevant information on the web? Probably the answer most of you are thinking of right now goes something like: "Google - duh!". I now urge you to read Harvard professor, Andrew McAfee's blog post on "The Mechanisms of Online Emergence" to get a comprehensive idea of why the emergent structure of the internet provides such good results. He raises the questions related to corporate information systems: "Doesn't your Intranet also have search capability? Isn't there a little 'search' box up in the corner of each page? Why doesn't it work as well? What's so great about Google?". Read the post, and you'll understand why emergence is so high in the priority list of Enterprise 2.0.
Wikipedia explains "emergence" in the following way:
In philosophy, systems theory and the sciences, emergence refers to the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. Emergence is central to the theories of integrative levels and of complex systems.
_An integrative level, or level of organization, is a set of phenomena emerging on pre-existing phenomena of lower level. Typical examples include life emerging on non-living substances, and consciousness emerging on nervous systems.
A complex system is a system composed of interconnected parts that as a whole exhibit one or more properties (behavior among the possible properties) not obvious from the properties of the individual parts. A system's complexity may be of one of two forms: disorganized complexity and organized complexity. In essence, disorganized complexity is a matter of a very large number of parts, and organized complexity is a matter of the subject system (quite possibly with only a limited number of parts) exhibiting emergent properties. Examples of complex systems include ant colonies, ants themselves, human economies, climate, nervous systems, cells and living things, including human beings, as well as modern energy or telecommunication infrastructures.
McAfee states that "Tools like PageRank and tag clouds turn online content into an emergent system¿ one in which structure clearly exists and changes over time, but that structure can't be inferred from examining the work of any single actor, and the actors themselves are unaware of the overall structure."
So, emergence is basically unstructured order - not structured chaos, like most traditional intranets end up becoming after endless extensions and additions, and years of use. Web 2.0 unleashed this development in the public internet, but now also companies are increasingly showing interest in these new opportunity of enhancing information findability and effective structuring. Prof. McAfee notes on the creation of emergence in corporate environments as follows:
As I've argued previously in this blog, employees in healthy companies are much more interdependent than strangers scattered across the Internet, and should also have a greater shared sense of mission. In addition, business leaders have the two powerful behavior-shaping tools of incentives and culture at their disposal. The cultures of Wikipedia, Digg, and other online communities grew up around the technology; within companies, culture already exists. This implies that companies' Intranets might be able to take faster and deeper advantage of all the mechanisms of online emergence than the broad public Internet. It's not hard to imagine that teams of employees would start linking, tagging, subscribing to feeds, providing ratings, describing the content of both internal and external pages, etc. Perhaps the Intranet could even become a point of pride among employees, or an important part of the identity of the company. It's also easy to imagine that the function of the Intranet group might shift from generating largely static and sparsely interlinked content to assisting the organization and navigation of employee-generated content.
- Web 2.0 Essentials
- Enterprise 2.0
- Enterprise 2.0 - Benefits
- Enterprise 2.0 - Risks
- Enterprise 2.0 - Implementation
- Web 2.0 & Enterprise 2.0 - Enhancing collaboration with social software
- The Mechanisms of Online Emergence - Andrew McAfee
- Wikipedia: Emergence
- Steven Johnson on "Emergence" - An extremely interesting piece on the emergent theory and its relationship with the Web.