Collectives Collaborate, Connectives Cooperate ⇢
Fascinating distinction between collaborating and cooperating, the parallel notion that collectives collaborate, while ‘connectives’ cooperate:
We often use these words interchangeably, but they represent fundamentally different ways of contributing to a group and each comes with its own dynamics and power structures that shape groups in different ways…
When collaborating, people work together (co-labor) on a single shared goal.
Like an orchestra which follows a script everyone has agreed upon and each musician plays their part not for its own sake but to help make something bigger.
When cooperating, people perform together (co-operate) while working on selfish yet common goals.
The logic here is “If you help me I’ll help you” and it allows for the spontaneous kind of participation that fuels peer-to-peer systems and distributed networks. If an orchestra is the sound of collaboration, then a drum circle is the sound of cooperation.
For centuries collaboration has powered most of our society’s institutions.
This is true of everything from our schools to our governments where we have worked together through consensus to build systems of increasing complexity.
But today, cooperation is fuelling most of the disruptive innovations of our time.
In virtually every aspect of our culture, the old guard is being replaced by cooperative, self organizing, distributed systems.
Collectives are part of the machinery of the previous era. They give priority to the group over the individual and encourage members to adopt a joint identity that unites them around their shared goal.
A connective doesn’t give priority to the group or the individual but instead supports and encourages both simultaneously. There’s no shared sense of identity in a connective because each member is busy pursuing their own goals.
Collectives are breeding grounds for hierarchies and power struggles.
Even with the best intentions, collaboration often encourages pyramids of power and authority. The higher up the pyramid you are in a collective, the more freedom you have to carve out your own individual identity and direct the group’s efforts towards your own goals. The conductor is famous while the tuba player remains unknown. But if the tuba player gets up to leave someone needs to step in to replace her.
Connectives are self-organizing and self-sustaining.
No master architect, conductor, or blueprint is needed. You can join or leave a drum circle at any time and the beat goes on with or without you.
Wikipedia is a collective. Delicious is a connective.
Hence the brutal hierarchies and old school power structures that govern Wikipedia. Delicious on the other hand doesn’t have the same problems; No consensus is needed because people aren’t collaborating. Each user is free to use Delicious for whatever they want.
Since connectives support individual goals, they create value even when a group is small and growing.
Wikipedia is pretty much useless as an encyclopedia until it contains thousands of articles which requires a huge collaborative effort. But the very first person who used Delicious was able to get value from the system right away. As the system became more popular new kinds of value emerged.
By linking selfish yet common acts together, connectives are able to empower individuals while creating new kinds of group value.
Moving your bookmarks from your own computer to Delicious enhances their value because you can access them from anywhere, but the kind of value you get from them stays pretty much the same. Once bookmarks are shared and interconnected though, an entirely new kind of value is created … one that transcends the original act of bookmarking and yet fuels it at as well; bookmarks are no longer just about remembering but also about finding. And this illustrates the real power of connectives: they’re able to support individuals while encouraging the emergence of new kinds of group value.
Nature is a connective not a collective.
In a forest there is no script that all of the organisms follow. There is no conductor. Yet there are countless levels of interdependence and cooperation at work in which selfish goals intersect to sustain each other and create larger, unpredictable, organic patterns.
Networks are fundamentally natural and organic processes. Although you wouldn’t know that by looking at the corporately controlled internet we have today. Today’s internet inherited the political and technical baggage of broadcast era networks whose mechanical architecture is completely out of tune with emerging logic of our connected culture.
Connective is a synonym for network in a sense, but I like the opposition to collective, and it relates to the distinction I have long made between group and ‘grouping’.
Stowe Boyd, Facebook Groups versus Groupings
Groups — addressable collections of people who become associated by invitation from the group’s owner, and who have symmetric relationships with each other — are as old as the web. You have them in Yahoo Groups, Flickr, and all over the place.
One of the most interesting and exciting advances on the social web have been ‘groupings’, where people are spontaneously members of free-form and ad hoc associations without invitation.
For example, all those people that follow me on Twitter are in effect members of a Stowe Boyd grouping. Or all of those people that use a given tag, or follow it (I wish Twitter would implement that, by the way). Or all the people that have liked the same artist in Ping.
Consider Last.fm’s ‘virtual neighborhoods’, based on people’s music play. Wandering around in my Last.fm neighborhood introduced me to more great music in a few hours than all the people I know had played for me in years.
If I were only connected to people on Twitter that I already knew — that I invited to be friends with me — my world would be much much smaller.
Don’t get me wrong: groups have their place, especially when privacy or secrecy is needed, as in many business situations, or when planning a surprise party. But openness, transparency, and serendipity are more interesting as general principles than closedness, opaqueness, and knownness.
And now I should make the case that groupings are connectives, more about cooperation and less about about collaboration, which is more the province of collectives or groups.