More on bandwidth: light and darkness

My friend Robert Steele emailed me in response to my last post, saying there’s more to consider, and I agree. He mentions Open Spectrum.

I’m feeling cynical. Here’s how I responded:

I’m aware of open spectrum… I’m in other conversations with various wonks & engineers who’re discussing bandwidth, spectrum, etc. Of course we could have a much different scene if we weren’t constrained by markets and politics. People how can see one sense of the obvious often miss another, which is that the world we’re in is not an ideal world, and the ideals we can conceive are not necessarily easy or even possible to implement. I pay less attention to the “next net” list we’re both on because so much of it is fantasy and masturbation.

I own a nice home in rural Texas but I can’t live there because I can’t even get 500kbps. I thought it was amusing that Vint is arguing for gigabit bandwidth when most of the U.S. is dark and there’s too little monetary incentive to bring light to the darkness. Of course I think we need a public initiative to make it happen, but in this era “public” is a dirty word. I halfway expect to see all roads become toll roads; a world where only the elite can travel, and only the elite will have broadband access. Though aging, I’m struggling to remain part of the elite… *8^)

Blogchat and mutation

It’s hard to scale conversations beyond some manageable number of participants. Christopher Allen, in an excellent article on Dunbar’s number and other potential limits of social scale, argues that the optimimum limit is around 5-9 participants, possibly as many as 12.

In last night’s #blogchat on Twitter, I saw an example of attempted conversation beyond any reasonable scale, yet it did kind of work in that participants felt they were getting value from the conversation, and were excited and stimulated by the firehose of tweets and retweets.

I’m not sure “chat” is exactly the right word for this kind of conversational explosion where it’s difficult to track specific comments and ideas. In the Tweetchat application, a dozen or more comments would appear every few seconds. My experience was one of zeroing in a best I could, tracking only a fraction of the conversation. That’s the way Twitter generally works, anyway, as you scale up – you’ can’t hope to follow everything that’s said, so you dip in and out of the stream of expression. It’s nonlinear, chaotic; what I sometimes refer to as “drive-by conversation.” It feels very ADD. On the other hand, it’s stimulating, and I never fail to learn from these conversations, however disjointed they may seem.

I thought the experience would be more poweful as an asynchronous forum – that Twitter might not be the right tool for this kind of conversation. I posted so: “I wish we had this same group talking in an asynchronous forum to facilitate attention and focus.” Someone responded “That’s what the transcript is for – attention & focus.” So this is more like a blast of ideas, a group brainstorm, not quite a conversation, if you assume that conversation is sustained and coherent exchange of ideas, somewhat linear and trackable.

My concluding point is that we’re creating new ways of communicating that don’t necessarily acknowledge presumed limits of scale. We can say that meaningful conversation or teamwork has a limit of a dozen particpants, but we’re pushing that envelope hard. Same with Dunbar’s number, “a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships,” presumably 150. The Wikipedia article for Dunbar’s numbers says”this limit is a direct function of relative neocortex size, and that this in turn limits group size … the limit imposed by neocortical processing capacity is simply on the number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained.” Maybe we’ll see a neocortical mutation as we friend and follow many hundreds or thousands of people and attempt to manage ever larger numbers of “stable” relationships.

Friday on ChannelAustin: Social Media for Nonprofits

Coming this Friday, February 26: Social Media for Nonprofits, a one hour live special broadcast, 7pm – 8pm on Austin’s TimeWarner & Grande Channel 10 and streaming on We have a great lineup, should be a lot of fun. I’ll be moderating a conversation with other local social media experts. Our mission is to help Austin’s nonprofit community get comfy with social networking and social media marketing. You can tweet questions to the hashtag #npotv.

Other panelists include:

Lani Rosales, president and co-Founder, New Media Lab,

Armando Rayo, vice president, Engagement at Cultural Strategies,

David J Neff, Senior Digital Strategist, Ridgewood : Ingenious Communication