Bottom-Out Networks?

Shoshanna Zuboff has introduced a new term in her blog to build on the discussion of top-down versus bottom-up networks. Her terminology is the concept of ‘bottom-out politics’ or ‘populism’. I think this is a good alternative to conceptions of ‘peer networks’ or ‘peer production’, since horizontal and vertical networks are often mixed in so-called peer networks. For example, our studies of peer production of text, such as Wikipedia, and software, such as Firefox, underscored the degree to which the more successful networks have clear albeit complex management structures. They blend top-down, bottom-up and horizontal (bottom-out) networks. That is why I have called them ‘collaborative network organizations’ (CNO) rather than peer networks, for example, since the term does not imply particular, unidirectional lines of communication or control. I discuss the CNO concept in a forthcoming Prometheus article on the wisdom of managing collaborative network organizations. The key to these organizations is the decision of individuals to network with one another, often despite of, and often crossing existing organizational and institutional boundaries. In politics, the influence of ‘networked individuals’ is, in my view, creating a Fifth Estate.

Is the Obama campaign bottom-out populism? Networked individuals are certainly critical to the success to-date of the campaign. However, so are traditional top-down campaign networks within the campaign and the Democratic Party, and bottom-up popular reactions to the candidate. So it is all of the above — the sophisticated use of networks by the candidate, the party, and supporters of the candidate. Networked individuals of the Fifth Estate, but also a networked Democratic Party and increasingly networked citizenry.

Obviously, I find Professor Zuboff’s concept to be stimulating. Of course, please take a look at her work, as you might find her view more convincing:

Comments are most welcome