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I've been online since 1971 and I like to smoothe the way for everyone else. Among other things I co-founded Sympatico, the world's first easy-to-use Internet service (and Canada's largest).

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Monday, August 21, 2006

Eflactem's Law

My previous post was about another reason that networks gain value with more members. Now I’d like to talk about how certain networks lose value with more members.

This has been done before, e.g. McCandlish’s Foil to Reed & Metcalfe. The particular force I want to talk about here relates to Web 2.0-era companies, which tend to have remarkably few staff by traditional standards.

A riddle I heard in the 1980s:
Q: In a group of workers, how can you tell which ones are the knowledge workers?
A: They’re the ones who shower before they go to work.

The companies we’re talking about usually consist entirely of knowledge workers. Knowledge workers, um, work with knowledge, and they need lots of it. Communicating knowledge can often be difficult to do well, and in any case takes time for both the “transmitter” and the “receiver”. The best way to deal with this is to eliminate the need for any communication, by having one person do everything. Or, if that’s not practical, as few as possible.

One way to reduce communication is to eliminate middlemen. For instance, do your own email rather than have an assistant deal with it. A post by Rick Segal refers to CEOs who are constantly on top of their email. Not only that, but he finds that many “big shots” are quite accessible to “mere mortals”. This increases their already-heavy workload, but does ensure that they can be reached without interference, and without corruption of the information.

If you thought you were already overworked, well ...

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