Sunday, December 28, 2008

Asymmetry - the word for 2009

Almst all the dealings we have are asymmetrical, but somehow that hasn't been anything to worry about. We are, however, seeing asymmetry beginning to bite in many unpleasant ways.

The first is the power that organizations have over individuals. Random/arbitrary increases of interest rates on charge cards with little recourse. Banks making errors, taking a long time to pay what's owed and then when they pay it twice by mistake demand that the error be corrected, "Immediately or else...". The petty bureaucracies of home owners' associations - you can't park a Ford F150 in your driveway, but a Cadillac Escalade is OK (Thanks Frisco, Texas).

The second is in the everyday communcation between parties. There is the kind of power asymmetry described above, but then there is what I call "interest asymmetry". Where one party in a conversation say something - which is of no interest to the other party. We have all been involved in conversations with spouses, other family members, children, where something that is riveting to them is really dull to us. In the interests of harmony, I will not cite specific examples here....

At a wider level, we this interest asymmetry shoing up when we use social neyworking sites. We have the opportunity to converse with many people using these tools, but these conversations have inherent asymmetry too. What we choose to say is, at least, interesting to us. What we choose to "listen to" has variable degrees of utility. I am interested in family postings about the kids, but not teribly interested in the ins and outs of Cpmmercial Property Law in England (something my brother in law is an expert in). For non-family/non-friends I am typically interested in work related stuff, or special interests (food, sailing...). So when I see the jumb;ed stream of messages, I put filters on, e.g. "Oh this is Paul talking about LIBOR again, I think I will ignore it." or "This is Robin talking about the kids, Christmas trees, presents, etc." I will ignore that." The atter case because I follow Robin's inciteful postings on technology, but not on his children.

People who are followed by a large crowd (because of celebrity, interests, self-promotion) have an even more asymmetric communication approach using the media of social networking because they have so much to say, and limited opportuinty to listen if all their followers were to respond. While they will often have set themselves up with expectations of symmetric communication, the style quickly becomes asymmetric.


Richard Veryard said...

Hi Chris

I agree about the importance of asymmetry. Philip Boxer and I wrote a couple of articles for the Microsoft Architecture Journal about this (delicious links).

You may also want to look at our Asymmetric Design blog.