One of the most fascinating inventions in the 20th century is the internet. The internet was created in 1964 by linking four computers from different Universities together. The book, Linked, explains not only how the internet has connected us, but why it has connected us and how the connections work. Instead of explaining how the internet works in technical terms, the author, Albert-Làszló Barabàsl explains how it works using sociology and psychology. Some of the main elements that he discusses are how people are connected, and the degrees that separate them; how nodes work with the internet; and the successes and failures of the internet. I will give a short summary of these three topics covered, and then discuss my thoughts on the book.
The first part of the book discusses how people are connected. The author brings up the Kevin Bacon game. The Kevin Bacon game is a game in which someone lists an actor or actress and they need to find how many steps they are until they hit Kevin Bacon again. Each step is a person that they know from a movie. He gave the example of Mike Myers who has a connection number two. Mike Myers is connected to Robert Wagner who is connected to Kevin Bacon. He later expanded on the number connection by discussing Erdős number. The Erdős is similar to the Kevin Bacon game, except it relates to the famous mathematician Erdős. These two games both relate to the Six Degrees of Separation. The Six Degrees of Separation is the idea that everyone in this world is connected to everyone by at least 6 people. Finally, the author discusses people socializing at a party. He says that if you bring 100 people together who do not know each other, offer them cheese and wine, and they will begin socializing. He claims that after a while you will a few groups of 30 – 40 people.
The reason he gave these examples is because they all have to do with networks. One of the fascinating things about the internet is the giant network that it is. The author brings back up the Six Degrees of Separation and relates it to the internet. He cites that many companies have tried to map the internet and find different webpages threw clicks. He found that, on average, it takes about 19 clicks to get from one page to another. While it isn’t as direct as the Six Degrees, you have to take into consideration how large the internet is, and how some websites are bigger than others.
He goes on to discuss nodes. Nodes are groups of people or things that relate to one another. If we go back to the Kevin Bacon game, the author cites that not all actors have the same number. This is because there are many types of actors. The author brings up the example of porn stars. He says that while they are technically actors/actresses they would not have the same connections as a big time actor such as Kevin Bacon or Mike Myers. The author brings up an interesting statistic. Around 37% of people who have a job got that job from an acquaintance, not a close friend. This acquaintance is usually a friend of a friend, which is still inside your node. He also discusses the 80/20 rule. This rule states that 80% of something is done by 20% of something. For example 80% of peas were in 20% of the pea pods or 80% of the wealth is owned by 20% of the people.
Nodes relate to the internet, because it exists in clusters. He gives the example of his personal website. The author states that he is an avid nytimes.com reader, thus his website has links to nytimes.com articles. The node is between his website and nytimes.com. Nytimes.com, being a respected news source, will link their articles to other nytimes.com articles, articles from the AP, and other respected news outlets. Google’s search engine works with nodes. One of the main things the search engine looks at is how many websites link to it. The bigger the websites node is, the more popular it will be on Google’s search results. He also says that the 80/20 rule applies to the internet. He says that many websites that you go to are some of the “bigger” websites that make up 80% of the traffic. These sites would include: Facebook, Google, CNN, eBay, and many others. The other 80% of the websites would be personal ones such as jondoe.com or bobsfishtanks4sale.com. While there are a large amount of websites out there many of them are not used by most people.
Finally, he discusses some of the successes and failures of the internet. One of the failures he discusses is computer viruses. He relates computer viruses to the STD AIDS. He cites a man, Gaetan Dugas, who helped spread the AIDS disease, threw his sexual promiscuity. He created large networks of people, and these people (because they were intimate with him) had the disease. He relates this back to computers citing the “Love Bug”. This was a virus that attacked any computer that had Microsoft Outlook. If the person opened this specific email it would download a virus and crash their computer. This caused chaos inside of business, governments, and personal houses. However, one of the successes he discussed was email. Even though the internet wasn’t designed specifically for the World Wide Web and emails that is what it has mostly become. The author even says that if the inventors of the internet would have known this is what would come out of it, they would have designed it a little bit differently. Despite this, email has become a great success in linking people together and revolutionized the way that we function today. As you can see the web is not perfect, but it is a good way of linking people together. Whether the way people link together is used for good or for evil is up for each individual to decide. The author points out that the internet is unlike any company or organization in that it is almost impossible for it to fail. There are so many copies of web pages, so many backups, and so many users, that it would be very difficult to write a single virus that would delete the whole internet. Even if someone successfully did delete the internet, most big companies and personal websites have their websites stored in some other area making it very easy to re upload the website back to the internet.
Overall I enjoyed the book. It was a very well researched book with many computer related and non-computer related examples. In respect to his opinions, I agree that we are all very much connected. The internet has, without a doubt, helped connect many people from around the world. When my family first rid us of dial-up internet I began searching the internet more often. I found myself talking to people from all around the world, some of whom I still talk to today (though not as frequently). Not only has the internet connected me with people I don’t know, but it helps me keep in contact with people I do know. By using instant messaging, email and Facebook I still talk to a good amount of friends from High School so that we don’t lose touch. I felt that his writing style was very random and didn’t have a definite flow to it. If the book would have been more organized, I would have enjoyed it more. Despite the lack of organization, I did enjoy the book and would recommend it to anyone interested in the internet, networking, or computers in general.