Social networks have boomed, tools to enable the networks abound, MySpace, twitter, face book et al being the most  well known, but many more fail than succeed, and they do so based on the degree of mutuality that exists.

Bear with me here.

Imagine 2 people who have $10 to distribute between them, one has the power to divide the money any way he likes, the other has just one thing, the right to accept or veto the deal for them both.

Rational economics would suggest that the holder of the veto would accept any deal that has him better off beyond the inconvenience of saying yes or no, say 2 cents, as both parties will be better off with a yes. However, experiments consistently demonstrate that the second person will veto any offer he sees as unfair, resulting in both parties losing, and this “fairness” point kicks in around a 70/30 split.

This implies there is a deep willingness to punish unfairness, even at personal cost, and that there is a strong  emotional dimension to decision making, something very hard for economists to take account of in their models.

This emotional dimension underpinning behavior has profound implications for the way we should be thinking about the development of networks, irrespective of weather they are social, commercial or political ones.

Social networking works because there is an unspoken deal in place, which promises mutuality, Wikipedia being a shining example, there appears to be no control  and there isn’t, control is exercised by the “wiki community” by virtue of their ability to remove any incorrect, irrelevant, or corruptive content, the access to the edit key which is easier to exercise than the effort required to post something, keeps things on track.  Wikipedia in its earliest incarnation was a failure, as it left control with a small group of expert editors and contributors, with nothing left for the community which then failed to show up, as the “mutuality deal” was not in place.

Much of my work is with farmer groups, and the greatest challenge in the formative stages of getting a group “over the line” is the notion of mutuality, and how the group coalesces around a source of that mutuality, then finds ways to self regulate, if it is to be successful.