TECH TALK: Emerging Enterprises and Emergent Networks: SME Clusters

Think about some of the best movies you have seen. These are movies one can keep watching again and again. Every part of the movie, every scene captivates. The parts connect together and feed into each other. But there is one more quality which is there in such movies – the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Even though the individual components may be good, the complete movie creates a magical effect which goes beyond a single scene. This “emergence” effect is what is so enchanting and what differentiates the good from the great.

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are somewhat similar. Individually, they know little, but the collective intelligence levels are very high. That is why, in part, why SMEs also tend to cluster together in the physical world. It gives a mechanism for much easier sharing of information, even though they are competing together. In the physical world, SMEs are limited by geography in aggregating together. This is where the Internet can play an enabling role in building SME Clusters.

Typically, SMEs belong to some associations – either by industry, or by region. These groups are bound together by some common interest, some common affiliation. As individuals, we are all part of many such clusters. We share some things in common with other members. But in most cases, the clusters are limited to the times when people physically meet together (say, once a month) or there is some broadcast communication (like a newsletter). The bonds are still quite loose. Yet, clusters have huge value because they are aggregations of like-minded people, companies.

This is where Community Weblogs can help glue the community together. Each of these “subnets” should have its own blog. Membership to the cluster would give the privilege of reading and writing to the blog. Thus, the difference between these blogs versus the other types of blogs is that in this case, the responsibility of the blog becomes that of the community. It is a bit like a co-operative society, a bulletin board with a shared context. But since this is happening via the Web, there are no limitations to membership or frequency of contributions. RSS feeds can ensure that information flows easily back and forth to the individuals within the SMEs (hopefully, each of them equipped with a connected computer).

These “Cluster Blogs” will have a network-effect: as they get popular, they will attract more – Reed’s Law of group-forming networks at work. These blogs have to be managed – by the community themselves. An example already exists on the Internet in the form of Slashdot (a community weblog of, for and by techies). These Cluster Blogs have to be self-organising – pushing good ideas and people to the top, and relegating others to the bottom. This will ensure that within these clusters, the “knowledgeable” and passionate SMEs who understand their business and are eloquent will bubble up to the top in the eyes of their peer community (and perhaps the outside world). For the others, the Cluster Blogs will offer knowledge. They can either be passive consumers, or become active and contribute back, in which case they too stand a chance of getting peer recognition. This is like the notion of karma points used by Slashdot to reward members who contribute and whose postings are valued highly by the members.

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.