Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.
Russell says:
Interesting conference - too bad I wasn't there to get a longer impression, but boy it seemed like there were some serious pecking orders there.
And someone else I know there said this via IM last night:
You are missing some good conferences this week here, although I have come to the conclusion that a lot of the bloggers are pretty pompous.
I'm not sure what to make of that. Pecking orders? Pompous? It bothers me, I guess.
That's odd. I haven't noticed pecking or being pecked. Pompous? Nothing more or less than I would expect. I wonder if I'm missing something? I'm generally fairly sensitive about this sort of stuff. Anyone here at ETech have any specific examples?

I DO think we're talking about blogging too much, but pecking?

Via Yusuf


This is totally OT, but I just can't help mention that I really like your blockquotes above. I haven't ever seen a conversation so clearly marked up before. Very nice touch, Joi.

Last night, after all the sessions, before dinner, a lot of us were sitting in the lobby. On one side of the room were a lot of the #JoiIto people, on the other side was another group of people. In the middle there were two concentric circles of people. In the center of this circle sat you, Doc Searls, Dan Gillmor, I think Jeff Jarvis and a few other people. In the outer ring were people I didn't recognize. Ever once in a while I would notice people pulling up a stool and sitting listening to what the center circle was saying. To me it seemed like they just wanted to be close to you and the folks you were talking to.

Our get together in the sports bar the past two nights could be another example of a pecking order.

I don't see a problem with this, but I think it is there. I think that groups of friends can be mistaken for a pecking order. I'm sure some people thought our Jeannie and JiBot session was elitist, but really we weren't trying to exclude anybody, it's just that many of us are friends and we sometimes talk in ways that don't include other people. Really, I think it's people not making a conscious effort to include people they don't know instead of trying to exclude people and establish a hierarchy.


Not to be annoying, but you've just noticed this now? You're in the position of a fish not noticing the water in which it swims.

ahhh. conferences. aren't they just a whole lotta luvin' goin' on kinda things... i'm going down there tonight to say hi to doc, grab some chow with Liz and see who's lurking the lobbies and sports bars. missin' anything? not sure, but probably not. with all the bloggin' goin' on it's easy to catch the info -- just not the dynamic, but as you duly posted, this is nothing new... see you stateside soon, I hope!

Yes, I realize that there is the normal distribution of people who are getting more attention than others, but I guess I'm over-reacting to the notion of "pecking order" since "pecking" seems a bit proactively negative to me. Also, I'm not sure that it's any worse than any other social situation. But maybe I'm not being sensitive. I guess that compared to a conference where no one knows each others, there are more groupings.

What "pecking order" means? :)

Joi, the impression of negativity increases with distance from the top. And it is a very real thing for a lot of people.

A related point about the lack of insight can be found at this article by Clive Thompson. Here's a flavor:

"...But the funny thing is, this sort of nuanced critique is quite hard to find amongst digital folks. The digerati who are most fascinated by social-network theory tend to be those who are -- whaddya know -- really hugely popular themselves. The pundits who continually obsess over the magic of social networks are the ones who have been enormously rewarded by them, which makes them, in a way, utterly unable to see the huge social problems that are created by network dynamics. Christ, it's like asking a bunch of popular cheerleaders to determine whether high school is pleasant, fun, and a socially egalitarian place. (It's also like asking the rich whether they think the marketplace is mostly fair and "rewards merit". What the hell else are they going to say?)..."

I think a pecking order is almost inevitable. It's a way of solving game-theory "coordination problems". Someone sayes "here's what we should do next", and then other people go along with it or walk away.

Without this, people would be off doing all kinds of odd ineffectual things on their own. But if there's someone saying "ok, now start blogging", "ok, now use orkut", "ok, now talk about pecking order", there's a much greater effect and everyone wins.

If the person saying these things starts saying silly things, "ok, now drink this kool-aid", people will find someone else to listen to. Their power is a technical thing, it's just transaction costs. Real, but tending to zero in the limit as the network becomes more efficient.

If you look at your own social network, i suspect you'll see a pecking order. This doesn't mean the people at the top have the most power, just that they're good at guessing what everyone wants to do. And people lower down in the pecking order can exercise power simply by being stubborn... "Shall we do this", "No", "How about...", "No, stupid, get it right.", "Ok how about...", "Yeah, ok".

I'll go further and say that 'perception of pecking order' is an essential part of social ecology. Certain percentage will move away in response and possibly create their own group. Some will strive to move up in the pecking order by participating. Others will complain loudly and attract others who feels the same.

It's just how societies work IMHO.

*Some* societies, Don. Not others.

Despite the interesting topic and all-star rostrum, I didn't attend in part because I felt a little snubbed. I founded, I am on the steering committee of the Deliberative Democracy Consortium and the chair of its online committee. I also had personal reasons for not attending (my daughter was just born at the end of January) too.

Anyway, I'd love to talk with you directly some time so that perhaps next time you can include me as an insider. (Are you going to be in NYC anytime soon?)

btw, I enjoy your blog and I'm glad that raised this issue. You are never going to please everyone, that's just a rule.

- Mike

Despite the interesting topic and all-star rostrum, I didn't attend in part because I felt a little snubbed. I founded, I am on the steering committee of the Deliberative Democracy Consortium and the chair of its online committee. I also had personal reasons for not attending (my daughter was just born at the end of January) too.

Who's loss was that I didn't attend? Probably mostly mine.

Anyway, I'd love to talk with you directly some time so that perhaps next time you can include me as an insider. (Are you going to be in NYC anytime soon?)

btw, I enjoy your blog and I'm glad that raised this issue. You are never going to please everyone, that's just a rule.

- Mike

I was in a conversation where I felt there was some hierarchy play during one of the lunch breaks, but a more generous interpretation might be that some people at the table didn't know me very well. However I was also watching a friend of mine at the same table playing to his perception of the table's hierarchy. That was weird.

That sounds icky, Jon.

I think we do a disservice to our putative hopes regarding decentralization and democracy by not understanding how hierarchies work, and how we've benefitted from them ourselves. More, I think we hand our enemies a potent weapon with which to delegitimate our work.

I'm beginning to understand the whole pecking-order/hierarchy thing this way:

Look at Orkut. Behind every beaming face on your screen stands some great number of souls not represented, for that is the ratio by which non-Orkutspirators in the world outnumber the invited. Every last one of us up in there is connected to a huge social network that hoves around off-Orkut, the rest of the social iceberg. Except maybe Marc Canter - I almost suspect he's invited everyone he's ever swapped business cards with. ; . )

So what happens when one of the people in your RL social network gets to Orkut one way or another, some months hence, finds out that you have 2241 "friends," and wonders why if that's so, you never thought to invite *her*? You don't think she might just think of you as playing in some kind of arena to which she's hiterto been denied admission, and resent it?

See, by (appearing to be) reifying a pecking order that may not even actually be there in the minds or actions of the people affected by it, Orkut is not merely causing awkward social situations internally, it's setting up potentially upsetting moments offline as well! So much for "first, do no harm"!

This lack of self-awareness regarding our adventures in social networking gets more and more uncomfortable for me, and I'm hard pressed to articulate just why. I do know it's trouble, and neither denying its existence and importance in our lives, nor simply stating "that's just the way things are in human populations" is an acceptable response.

I'm with AG, it's icky as hell. Especially since if you start looking, you will see it everywhere. But it really is "the way things are in human populations". Can we please not turn into just another utopian ideology with no relation to actual human behaviour? Pecking orders exist, they exist because they serve a useful purpose. If we want to get rid of them, we can't just say "no more pecking orders". We *have* to have a viable alternative, we *have* to have some way to coordinate action.

The only thing i can think of is to change the pecking order based on the situation. Different experts on different things. The thing is, people get into the habit of occupying a particular perch in the pecking order. Some people, when they enter a conversation, automatically take it over. Others always defer. It might take a little practice and a little conscious attention to break the habit.

Maybe there are other ways. I don't know. But the starting point has to be: ok, people do behave this way, i behave this way, what are we going to do about it?

( if i'm making comments above my station, just pay me no mind ;-) )

I'm not trying to deny human behavior exists or that there was normal human behavior going on considering the mix of people, but I didn't find it particularly unusual or extreme. On the other hand, I wasn't looking for it and as people have pointed out, maybe I wasn't in a position to notice some of the problems.

I guess I also just don't like the image of "pecking."

Think of it as thread scheduling then, Mr. Hyperthreader.

I'm with Paul Harrison. In any group of people, you'll find that some kind of 'pecking order' emerges, because some people are noisier, smarter, richer or more powerful than others.

Among a group of friends I hang out with I suppose you could say there is a pecking order as some people are keen to plan and organise stuff we do, and others are happy to just come along and hang out without trying to control the situation themselves. (The main point being that nobody is going to think that the 'organiser' is better, more important or more worth listening to than anyone else.)

Generally people complain about this stuff when the scope gets out of hand. For example, the pecking order in an office situation is nominally based on expertise in business, but when the same pecking order gets applied to a social situation (where business expertise is irrelevant) it's unfair and annoying.

In these cases I have always found that those who stay at the top of the pecking order (or at least, those who remain well-liked and respected) are those who know when to keep their mouths shut when it is appropriate!

"those who stay at the top of the pecking order (or at least, those who remain well-liked and respected)"

Ah, there's the rub!! These are two very different things.

I do hope nobody thinks I was trying to be utopian; I know how much damage gets done when people try to fly in the face of deep human predilections. But neither do I think that things like pecking orders are entirely natural, nor should they remain unchallenged.

I can only think of one thing worse than a pecking order, and that is "no pecking order". i.e. when any schmuck feels he has has the right to include himself in the equation, regardless of merit.

And so Hugh strikes upon the real issues at hand:
"when any schmuck feels he has has the right to include himself in the equation, regardless of merit"

but... but... THAT is the basis of a true democracy... Total equality...

What we have here (in the blogosphere, geekland, etc), folks, is an aristocracy. It will last here, as it has before in various form is various times/places throught history, until there is a redistribution and "equalization" of access to tools and knowledge.

"Nothing is so good or bad but thinking makes it so."

It's a natural progression. As long as you are aware of it, it can be dealt with.

EXACTLY, Boris. Isn't there a major disconnect between (on the one hand) working to democratize access to power, and hugh's take on the other?

No rights without responsibilities, yes. But what I'm working for is precisely a situation in which "any schmuck feels he has has the right to include himself in the equation, regardless of merit." Silly me - I thought that was the point.

I think what this means is that living a significant portion of your life on the Internet is like being in High School, forever...

It probably looks like high school now, but it won't for long. Some people won't tolerate social structures that consistently mimic a high school mentality and will use the net to reroute the structure in an attempt to create new groups that are more fair; development of the Atom spec was interesting for that reason. There will always be aspects of non-democratic pecking order(s) within groups, but if it's just a low grade fever groups thrive to some extent.

The process of grouping and regrouping will continue generationally, but online it's at an accelerated rate. We continue to create tools that increase that accelation and now social networking tools are being deployed to analyze these processes. Maybe they'll analyze the content as well as the connections, helping us understand the health of online communities in real-time. Was ETech just a bigger FOO Camp? Maybe to some extent. Democracy helps, but it may take a little patience, humility and grace as well.

Ultimately in all information sources we will find that a pecking order of sorts will emerge (in some communities, this might be known as a 'Google Ranking'.) When anybody off the street can comment on an issue, topics of high interest are often swamped by a high volume of low-value comments. One can imagine if Google displayed results in random order, instead of ranking them into a pecking order.

Socially speaking, the same thing happens whether we like it or not. As we get to know people, we will assign values to what they have to say. When discussing workplace politics you don't assign the same value to the comments of a 40 year old CEO as you do to a fifteen year old employee at McDonalds, even though the McDonalds employee may be shouting louder.

In my view it's not the existence of a pecking order itself that is of concern - after all this necessary simply to find someone one is interested in listening to. The real concern is of _mobility_ in the pecking order, whether over time (people moving up or down according to past performance, perhaps) or depending on the topic at hand (consult the experts about certain topics, but don't give a lot of weight to them when they are talking outside their area of expertise.)

of course there's a pecking order. you don't really believe it to be egalitarian, do you? the clive thompson piece is a neat encapsulation of the situation -- many of us who are working with the whole social network/technology/design/software space are class A connectors, and we're fascinating with this role. (i sent a note to jon lebkowsky and danah boyd asking them about this in discussions for a panel we're on).

but at etcon? jeff bezos really, really had no interest in speaking with me. and more realistically, it was a coming-together of several different groups of people that i'm a part of ... blog people, south by southwest people, howard and joi people, japan people, old friends people, eff people. as people try to figure out how to work that kind of crowd, you bet there's going to be some sorting, tree-pissing, and negotiating. but it wouldn't be different at a medical conference either.

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