In the beginning, there is a hot mess of undifferentiated stuff. As time passes, random results and conditions interact to create structure, and structure builds on structure, as much defined by what it is than what it is not. Structures grow apart, wildly and irrevocably so, and then die as entropy claims us all.
This is as much a description of the Big Bang theory as it is a great mental model for the maturity curve of any new field.
Stage 1: Collection
This is the fun stage where every new thing could be the next big thing. This is incidentally how Yahoo initially categorized the Web, but has analogs to today where every new trend in Github starts with “awesome” lists of “awesomeness“. Early explorers derive joy from mapping out the latest knowledge in a new frontier. This is ingrained in human psychology, which I always love exploring through application in games, and is as addicting as it is a species survival trait.
Stage 2: Curation
After a certain point (Dunbar’s number?) the amount of things collected start to have minimal, and then negative marginal utility. The amount of duplicates, cognates, and “outdates” weigh on the collection and browsers are paralyzed with the paradox of choice. You can start with basic rules of thumb (a good idea of base rate expectation) but eventually the need for quantitative and qualitative methods of curation (including ranking) arises. PageRank is the most commercially successful curation method of all time and I applied it in my own way this week:
Stage 3: Censorship
Soon, even the best ranking and curation methods get overwhelmed as people game the system and cultural norms emerge. I was struck by the compelling arguments made this week by the wonderfully outspoken Cindy Gallop, who argued that in Mary Meeker’s Annual Report (which she will make in a couple of weeks) she covers 200 slides’ worth of internet trends except the #1 use of the Internet.
Stage 4: Communication
Ranking/Curation and Censorship creates have and have-nots, and enough have-nots will form a schism and splinter a once nascent, unified field into multiple tribes that don’t talk to each other. Ironically, this is the sign of a fully mature field. These tribes often forget their shared values and go to war over their relatively minor differences, and it is the task of leaders to make efforts to bridge gaps and heal wounds and remind ourselves of our better natures. Marc Andreessen made some very pointed comments on the tech vs politics debate this week (link) but I think the best example I found this week was the debate raised by Ed Snowden and his forceful stand as someone willing to commit potential crimes in order to stop larger crimes.
Stage 5: Commemoration
Try as we might, everything eventually dies, and the last stage of a mature field commemorates everything notable that falls by the wayside. When a new field starts, everything makes history. Nobody thinks to write things down as they happen, until it is too late, and then everybody wonders what it was like as it happened. When the field matures, everything is -just- remixes of history. My example of this from this week is Startup Graveyard.
writing notes: i was delayed in this post this week due to travel and other commitments so I did not get to expand on this as much as I would have for a relatively huge theme.