Tuesday, October 8, 2002

The shape of the Internet

"Until 1999, the standard way of modelling the Internet was to use randomly generated graphs, in which routers were represented by points and the links between them by lines. But it turns out that such random graphs are a poor approximation because they miss two important features. The first is that links in the net are “preferentially attached”: a router that has many links to it is likely to attract still more links; one that does not, will not. The second is that the Internet has more clusters of connected points than random graphs do. These two properties give the Internet a topology that is scale-free — in other words, small bits of it, when suitably magnified, resemble the whole... That observation may have implications beyond the virtual world. Research has shown that the network of human sexual partners seems to be scale-free, too." (from The Economist)

An Atlas of Cyberspaces offers a lovely survey of some of our modelling efforts to date.

And arguably, the greatest contribution of Actor Network Theory is that there is nothing beyond the network. Not the hubs, but the network space itself. But ANT's propensity to maintain a sense of order and stability - through the network - is arguably its primary weakness. A little D&G and the literature on flow suggests that spatiality is less amenable to modelling than at first appears. Things move in weird ways, and small heterogeneous bits do not necessarily make homogenous wholes.

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