Nations And Networks

I was reading the NY Times today on the excellent Editors Choice App on the iPad and came across this line in a piece by Scott Shane:

“We’re still focused on the nation and not the network,” said John Arquilla, professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School. “You can do brilliantly in Afghanistan and still not deal with the Faisal Shahzads of the world.”

This is not a post about the US' strategy in its war against terrorism. I have very mixed feelings about it and don't feel that I can add anything to that debate.

This is a post about nations and networks. The Internet is a global network with 1.25bn people on it right now (comscore may 2010 numbers). The world bank says there are 6.7bn people on planet earth so that is only 20% of the total population but it's a meaningful number and it is growing fast (up 12% in the past year according to comscore).

And there are some networks that are as big as countries. Google's monthly user base is 70% of the population of China. Facebook's monthly user base is 150% of the population of the US. Twitter's monthly user base is larger than the population of Germany.

These are some of the largest networks but as Professor Arquilla points out there are all sorts of networks on the Internet and some of them are dangerous. Maybe more dangerous than countries in an age of mutually assured nuclear destruction and suicide bombers. There are rogue nations and there are rogue networks.

I think we are just beginning to understand the power of these networks and what they can become. My partner Brad penned a very thoughtful post on the USV blog a few weeks ago talking about web services as governments. He was using that analogy to think about the recent actions of Apple, Facebook, Twitter and other web-based platforms. But the analogy is more powerful than that. Internet networks span geographies, the have governance systems, they are starting to develop currencies, they are starting to develop large economies. Just look at the Meetup Everywhere widget to the right of this post to see what the AVC network looks like.

So when we think of global political systems and how they are going to develop in this century, we cannot simply think in terms of the traditional nation state. We also need to think about the emerging network state.