TECH TALK: Constructing the Memex: Small Worlds

The Memex is about connecting people, ideas and information. In a way, it creates a small world out of the unstructured content that is out there on the Web. Writes Duncan Watts is his book Small Worlds:

The small-world phenomenon formalises the anecdotal notion that you are only ever six degrees of separation away from anybody else on the planet. Almost everyone is familiar with the sensation of running into a complete stranger at a party or in some public arena and, after a short conversation, discovering that they know somebody unexpected in common. Well, its a small world, they exclaim. The small-world phenomenon is a generalised version of this experience, the claim that even when people do not have a friend in common, they are separated by only a short chain of intermediaries.

Adds Mark Buchanan in his book Nexus:

These small-world networks work magic. From a conceptual point of view, they reveal how it is possible to wire up a social world so as to get only six degrees of separation, while still permitting the richly clustered and intertwined social groups and communities that we see in the real world. Even a tiny fraction of weak links long-distance bridges within the social world has an immense influence on the number of degrees of separationThe long-distance social short-cuts that make the world small are mostly invisible in our ordinary social networks.

So, can this social networks truth be extended to ideas and memes using the Memex?

What the Memex does is create a small-world out of the content that is out there. So, in theory, a few clicks should be all that should be required to take us from one page to another. The invisible short-cuts are created by bloggers. Just as people have some weak ties which shorten the distance in the social world, blogs, because they represent peoples interests, also make connections through some weak ties to other blogs.

So, while my blog may cover mostly about new technologies and ideas relevant to emerging markets like India, I also write about a few other topics that are of interest to me like Memex or Entrepreneurship, for example. These are the weak ties that connect me to other people who would have probably been outside the gamut of the reading I would have done in the normal course of events. What the Memex does is make these weak ties visible.

The Memex makes it possible connect us to not just information and ideas, but ultimately to people. In the year-long existence of my blog, I have made many interactions with people I would probably have never interacted with otherwise. Blogging means putting in public a part of ones persona and brain. The Memex then makes the connections, making possible short-cuts through weak links to people (and memes) whom otherwise one could not have possibly not been aware of. The Memex makes the world smaller and more connected.

This is important because in a world of plentiful information, we need a refinery to convert the raw, unstructured content ores into the gold of Knowledge and Insight. This is ultimately the challenge and hidden promise of the Memex.

Next Week: Constructing the Memex (continued)

TECH TALK Constructing the Memex+T

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.