March 13, 2003

Karass in the Network

Steven Johnson keeps on rolling. This time its a column on Kurt Vonnegut's "karass" and "granfalloon" concept.

A karass is a spontaneously forming group, joined by unpredictable links, that actually gets stuff doneó as Vonnegut describes it, "a team that do[es] God's Will without ever discovering what they are doing." A granfalloon, on the other hand, is a "false karass," a bureaucratic structure that looks like a team but is "meaningless in terms of the ways God gets things done."

No doubt you've experienced these two types of networks in your own life, many times over. The karass is that group of friends from college who have helped one another's careers in a hundred subtle ways over the years; the granfalloon is the marketing department at your firm, where everyone has a meticulously defined place on the org chart but nothing ever gets done. When you find yourself in a karass, it's an intuitive, unplanned experience. Getting into a granfalloon, on the other hand, usually involves showing two forms of ID.

Good stuff already, but there is more. Orgnet is a company making an intriguing social network software. I want it. Includes some great examples. My favorite tracks Amazon purchasing patterns for political books. People who buy right wing books don't buy left wing books. Only one book connects the buying networks. The right forms a tighter knit buying network, less books more closely joined. The left reads more, but spreads its reading out. A reflection (or cause) of the lack of focus of the American left?

Posted by Abe at March 13, 2003 09:24 PM