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The Exploit | Networks

Networks are everything.

1. Ants | Distributed Network

It took a long time for scientists to figure out how ants organize themselves. No one understood how such a large colony could function with what seemed like no communication. Then someone figured it out.

Ants give off pheromones to indicate what they’re doing. There is a different scent to say ‘i’m gathering food, i’m taking out the trash, i’m going here, i’m going from there’. When an ant walks around, doing its duties, it picks up on the pheromones of its neighboring ants. These local interactions gives the ant a feel for what the whole colony is doing. This local feedback mechanism paints a picture of the whole colony and keeps everyone doing their thing.

This is an example of a distributed network.

Deborah Gordon talks about it here.

2. Mice | Decentralized Network

Bradley Griffith and I wanted to have a network effect on the crowd at SXSW. We bought poster boards and wrote the word ‘MICE!’ in large letters. Below that we wrote “Ask me how!” When someone asked us how we told them that we had eyeliner, held out eyeliner, and offered a face-painting to the inquirer. If the individual wanted to participate, we drew three whiskers on each cheek, and a black spot on the tip of their nose.

Pics are on Flickr

We also explained to the people being “miced” that if they had eyeliner with them they could “mouse” anyone they wanted. I had several blank signs in my backpack so people could create their own “MICE!” signs and walked around independent of the original group. We were trying to create many micing hubs that were separate. The only rule was simple: if you saw any other mice you had to high-five them.

We set out to impose a dominant network effect on the public at SXSW. We wanted this network effect to be self-sustainable. To do this, we had to exploit several aspects of the social network. The only way to exercise power on a social network is to use tactical strategy. The imposition of power cannot be reserved to the status of a property that one group can own and implement. Each mouse at SXSW created a tension between the mice and non-mice. The non-mice began to question their relation to this new mice-network.

Because of our understanding of network theory Griffith and I knew not to give up after the first hour or two of lackluster results. At first very few people were receptive to the ‘mouse’ idea. We understood that the more mice we created, the more we would be able to create. The more mice that were added to the network, the harder it became to avoid exposure to mice.

We also understood that getting several mice to stay with us was a key part of the movement’s growth. If people became attached to us onlookers would see many mice clustered and be more inclined to take part. Barabasi says “we find that real networks are governed by two laws – growth and preferential attachment” (Linked, p86). New mice attached themselves to our ever-growing group as it was the easiest place to mice new people. The number of new people we miced was directionally proportional to the number of current mice both wandering around the SXSW environment, and at our central-micing location (Linked, p88).

3. (killing) The Music Industry | Centralized Network

An important concept Galloway and Thacker introduce is that of the symmetrical and asymmetrical conflict. Symmetrical conflict is two identical systems battling it out, like a tank versus a tank. A major symmetrical conflict occurred within the record industry in 1939. At the time, ASCAP was the only entity that controlled the rights to all popular music; they raised their rates by 448% in eight years to the dismay of broadcasters. Another entity called BMI was created to do battle against ASCAP. In 1941 ASCAP cracked after BMI proved to be a success. Competition in this vein is common and we can easily make sense of it.

An asymmetrical attack occurs when one system is undermined by a system playing by different rules. The bit torrent users have created an asymmetrical attack on the record industry. An asymmetrical attack is the historic response to the centralization of power (Galloway p21). The record industry has positioned itself as a powerful unit, which Galloway says will only increase “the chance of a single asymmetrical attack penetrating straight to its heart” (Galloway p17). The bit torrent users are not going away. Altering the code of the mp3 to restrict use in the form of Digital Rights Management (DRM) is also an attempt to exert centralized, coercive control (Galloway p45). Due to the flexibility and the survivability of a network, the illegal downloading cannot be stopped.

Looking at this purely from a network effects perspective, we can liken the bit torrent users to an emerging infectious disease. (Galloway p93) As more people download an mp3 the download becomes faster for all, and it becomes harder to stop the sharing of the file. The record companies are dieing from this disease. If we personify the infectious disease and contemplate its perspective, it would revel in the ease at which this transformation of power is taking place without consciously understanding its full implications.

4. Fin
Spanning all of the things The Exploit covers is difficult. Networks make up everything, and every network is a little different. They all play by the same basic rules: protocols allow for interactions, and hubs form out of these protocols.


  1. Kknight wrote:

    This is a great overview of a dense topic, Alex. I’m most intrigued by your statement “networks are everything” and would have loved to have read more interrogation of this idea.

    Friday, October 15, 2010 at 7:51 pm | Permalink
  2. roclafamilia wrote:

    Helpful blog, bookmarked the website with hopes to read more!

    Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Permalink
  3. really liked your presentation. i think you did a good job of explaining our networks connect us to everything. the prezi presentation itself was very nice!

    Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 8:14 pm | Permalink
  4. aparadekto wrote:

    Hey, I can’t view your site properly within Opera, I actually hope you look into fixing this.

    Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 10:05 pm | Permalink
  5. Lewis Giles wrote:

    I think your projects are always interesting. I am especially excited about your up coming stalking video for Dean’s class. The “sexy cat” guy and his “silly” adventures I’m sure will give me endless amounts of joy.

    “Mum and Dad they’re dead…”

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 6:54 pm | Permalink
  6. Mattie wrote:

    You gave an awesome presentation and really helped cleared up the confusion I felt in regards to networks after I read the book. I love the “Mice” experiment, and I look forward to hearing about what your final project will be on!

    Thursday, November 4, 2010 at 6:41 pm | Permalink