Emergent Global Community Inter-Networking

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Jim Fournier

What would be the potential positive impacts on the world if a very large network of people sharing ecological and social justice values could come together, and come to see themselves as a whole, using the Internet?

What kind of information technology might help to facilitate, and even catalyze, the emergence of an electronically mediated chaordic network on a global scale?


Many organizations, and even networks of networks, are now represented in online databases, but each remains largely an island unto itself. Until recently many sites sought to be "the" portal to the larger whole, but this approach has only insured that none can ever succeed. The LinkTank Principles were articulated in response:

Any solution must appeal to the perceived objectives of existing constituent entities.
Any solution must facilitate the creation of an


It seems that the most effective approach would be to facilitate the development of tools that would allow organizations to better interact with their own memberships. Then, by virtue of many people in many overlapping networks using inter-operable tools, a very large virtual network could be formed; a vast array of databases representing individuals and their relationships as if in a virtual peer-to-peer network. No single, global representation of the entire network would exist anywhere; rather, it would be represented by many overlapping local representations contained in the data-structures of the individual nodes which collectively form the whole.

Two fundamental concepts must be addressed first in any representation of a social network: identity and relationship. Identity includes mundane facts and figures, such as name and addresses, but in a social network must also include interests, expertise, projects, affinities, needs, and so forth. Much of identity is topical, while relationship data is about who knows whom, who will act as a referral for whom, and under what conditions. Another issue, which follows closely, is privacy. Reliable control over one's own identity and relationship information is essential to establishing trust in the system.

Over the last two years a loose network of several dozen people calling themselves LinkTank have come together to discuss these ideas and how to go forward with implementing them.

LinkTank Statement of Purpose:

LinkTank is dedicated to the creation and maintenance of a digital communications platform, operated as a public interest utility, that will strengthen civil society by enabling people to connect, communicate, make transactions, and self-organize in a manner that is consistent with the highest principles of democracy and reflects an enlightened understanding of the fragile beauty of our planet. We will bring together, develop, promote, and hold as a global public commons, software tools and infrastructure that facilitate the emergence, growth, and vitality of social networks of individuals and organizations who share ecological and social justice values, as articulated in the Earth Charter.

Link Tank is currently supporting the development of prototype social network software originally conceived as a high-level networking tool for professionals within trade associations. It addresses the personal referral side of social networking very well; however, it doesn't by itself directly address two other related areas we had identified-messaging and mapping.

By messaging, we mean specifically using identity "meta-data" to enable new message filtering and profiling tools for "attention management." We are currently experimenting with a topically filtered messaging prototype. Messaging may be critically important as it moves the software from the realm of occasional use to central daily use. An inherently spam-free approach could fuel rapid adoption.

By mapping we mean the ability to generate meaningful depictions of network participants' interests and opinions, independent of specific identity. In other words, a user of the system could see how many people registered an interest in a topic without seeing their names or other identifying information. This functionality could be provided by other applications using the same identity data.

Social identity data exchange protocols will most likely evolve only as a result of the implementation of tools developed for objectives different from mainstream corporate needs. The integration of such tools and technologies points toward a key issue in developing software for purpose-centered, trust-based social networks. Maintaining “open standard” protocols for data exchange as a global commons is crucial.


We have identified a number of specific areas in which new tools, beyond existing email, listserv, and websites, could change the nature of interaction between individuals and organizations on the Net.

Individual Control of Identity - A "meta-data" self-description that each entity (individual, organization, or group) creates when they begin using the tools, and continues to control exclusively, is the foundation of this line of thinking.

Messaging - Once each user has electronic identity, it would be possible to create an opt-in spam-free message system, which not only can filter messages, but also can file them for later reference. Such a system could also enable “voting” for the relative importance of widely circulated messages by passing on small incrementing pointers to messages on community servers.

Interest Mapping - With the existence of identity data it would also become possible to generate "maps" showing the relationship among many individuals and entities, both conceptually and geographically.

Introduction and Referral - Electronic representation of relationship data could allow “brokering” software to extend personal referrals across more than one degree of separation.

Polling - Opinion polling and even voting are practical internal tools for co-ops and organizations now. In the long run, questions of general interest could be brought before the larger network through a qualifying initiative process. This might ultimately allow democratic self-sampling of global public opinion among participants in the system.

Independent Media Aggregation - Independent media channels are proliferating rapidly around the world. There are many open questions around the aggregation and customization of these sources as well as deeper questions of editorial quality and funding.

Consumer-Directed Commerce - Efforts to create tools to allow global citizens to better evaluate the ecological and social costs and consequences of our consumer and investment decisions, aggregate our collective buying power, and facilitate sharing product evaluations could be integrated within this network.

Financial Services - For some the Holy Grail of the system would be the aggregation of our collective financial clout and capital to make real changes in the world through redirecting lending and investment into just, sustainable, ventures.

These tools will ultimately involve the combination of many efforts. Our job is both to create an attractor for existing efforts and to catalyze the new work needed to integrate them into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. At this point we are searching for those holding various pieces of the puzzle, bringing them together, and turning them face up to see how they might fit together.

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