The information ecosystem
Universal implications of small-world clusters
The results of the small-world network clustering simulations have far reaching implications for the whole world. What they are telling us is that the effect of the Internet on the human population as a whole is going to be much the same whatever proportion of people are connected. In other words, a person who is not connected to the Internet is almost as connected as someone who is connected.
It is hard to imagine that a rice planter in the paddy fields of China may be almost as connected to Bill Gates as anyone working for Microsoft, yet effectively, this is what this small-world cluster theory it telling us: the rice planter may be only a few further steps away.
A friend of mine who was a chief executive of a large traditional menswear manufacturing company once told me that the Internet would have no effect on his business. He explained how his company had massive factories in the UK, able to produce thousands of men's suits every week at costs far below any other manufacturer. They also had their own stores to sell the suits, with an outlet in every town in the country. He couldn't see how the Internet could threaten this long established business.
At the time, I'd just read an article about a laser machine, that could quickly make a three dimensional computer representation of any person as easily as a photograph could be taken with a camera. Further more, computer software was under development that could use these three dimensional representations to create cutting patterns for clothes, to fit people exactly.
I immediately imagined the electronic details of these patterns being emailed to a small village in Asia where there would be a cutting machine able to use these electronic patterns to cut out the material for a made to measure suit. I imagined scores of local workers, coming each day to the premises where the cutting machine is located to pick up the bundles of cut cloth to make them into made to measure suits on their sewing machines at home. Apart from the air transport costs of sending these finished suits to the UK, all the other costs would be so minimal that I couldn't see how this large company with its massed produced suits would be able to compete: on either price or customer satisfaction.
The company may have many retail outlets all over the country, but, many small kiosks, taking orders and making three dimensional images could be set up very quickly and easily involving far less overheads and management organisation. I didn't see how this executive could be quite so complacent about his company's dominant position in the market place.
Of course, this is not a reality, only idle speculation, but, it provides an example of the way in which the principle of small-world clustering could dramatically change the way in which future trade and commerce might be conducted.