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Less Than Metcalfe's Law
applies to interconnected machines in a full network. It does not apply to
humans and therefore it does not capture the value of the internet. It also
does not describe the value of connected human beings on a fully
interconnected network. Metcalfe's Law is about machines, not humans.
The Truth Behind Metcalfe's Law
I'm sick and tired
of hearing about how Metcalfe's Law describes the power
and value of the internet. It is an abused concept.
Metcalfe's Law basically tells us that as you connect
n number of machines you get n squared in potential value. So, with 2 machines you get a value of 4. When you connect 10 machines, you get a value of 100. When you connect 200 machines, you get a value of 40,000. People like to apply this idea to the internet. In particular, people claim that the strength of the internet is a direct result of so many machines being connected. I think that this is bullshit.
First, let me clarify something. Connecting machines is not good enough. You need to literally network the machines. Put another way, the machines need to be
inter-connected, not just connected. If the machines were merely connected, like old-style Christmas tree lights, and one of them shit the bed, the entire system would take a dive. So, you can't just connect machines together under the assumption that the magic of Metcalfe's law will give you a ton of value.
Next, if you try to understand the
value internet in terms of Metcalfe's law
outside of understanding humans, you are going to end up putting feathers on a pig. You see, Metcalfe's Law really should be applied to fully interconnected machines, and
machines alone, as they define the entire network.
We could argue that humans are literally are machines, but that would avoid the point. Metcalfe's
Law doesn't capture the value of the internet, if the internet is defined as
being more than routers, switches, hubs, and T-1 lines. If you keep humans
about of your definition of the internet, you can use Metcalfe's Law,
otherwise you are making a big conceptual mistake.
Humans Are Sloppy
While it is possible for any machine to talk to any other machine over a network connection, it is not possible for any human to talk to any other human at any time over the network. Here's an example to help you digest the idea. If I am writing an email or an instant message, my mental resources are dedicated to that task. If any other person contacts me, or
interrupts me, then I must refocus my mental resources. Machines can talk to many other machines at once (or virtually at once) whereas humans cannot.
Humans can't work in parallel, at least not beyond a few tasks.
Humans are sloppy.
They drop data all of the time and therefore, the value of their connections
is limited. Put another way, we are open to the noise of our analog signals.
We don't do a good job keeping the message clean. The telephone game is a
perfect example of our communication failures. Fortunately, we recover from
errors using a variety of heuristic crutches (i.e., we do a damn good job
The internet is about both machines and humans. While you can talk about Metcalfe's Law for machines, if they are fully interconnected, you cannot effectively utilize Metcalfe's Law to describe the value of humans being connected via the internet. We are not all fully connected. It just isn't possible unless we were Borg.