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«Phantom Authority» | The In-Breeding of a Virtual Organization

Virtual Organizations 5 of 6.jpg (1595×1467)

Lately, I have been pondering a research thread I abandoned  last year when my health took a turn for the worse: the question I call «modes of networked authorship-authority», or something similar.

Andrea Cifollili, in a paper for First Monday, has defined a similar process with her concept of «phantom authority» — the concept owes a debt to Bentham’s Panopticon.

Cifollili, however, emphasizes the mechanisms of editorial control rather than the entire process of collaborative authorship — the processes that lie behind the HD screen — needed to sort out different networking strategies.

My hypothesis is that these allegedly innovative modes of content production and consumption result from discreet and familiar approaches to the issue of — collective and individual — authorship.

I argue that content networks differ from other supply chain management mechanisms due to features specific to networked citations. Among these is the transparency of chains or sub-trees of «influence», a cause recently taken up by  the Curator’s Code project.

Source of the illustration:

A Business Model for Electronic Commerce
Telektronikk 2.2000

In an attempt to build on my intuition about virtual authorship, I have been trying to incorporate two separate models, the iTaxonomy of Lethbridge and the CNO — collaborative networked organization — of the ECOLEAD group, below.

Cases in Point

The best way I know how to make sense of this process is by drawing up a list of representative examples and seeing how well the definitions fit them.

According to the ECOLEAD model, for example,

A Collaborative Networked Organization is a special type of collaborative network comprising only organized collaborations while, in general, collaborative networks include both organized and non-organized collaborations.

This condition would seem to limit the strategic options of a CNO to one of either a Star Alliance or a Market Alliance in Lethbridge’s scheme. Each incorporates a brokerage role as part of its organizational core, though the Market Alliance’s oversight of satellite members and their activities is more limited.

Co-Alliances and Value Alliances present us with …

A collaborative network [Camarinha-Matos and Afsarmanesh 2005] is constituted of a variety of entities (e.g. organizations and people) that are largely autonomous, geographically distributed, and heterogeneous in terms of their operating environment, culture, social capital and goals. These entities collaborate to better achieve common or compatible goals, and their interactions are supported by a computer network.

Where Lethbridge describes four basic purposes of information flow — coordination, planning, operations, and the selection of opportunities — ECOLEAD describes four of its own, assuming that pursuit of business opportunities can be a separate process. These are

  1. Brokerage
  2. Coordination
  3. Planning
  4. Support (Operational)

I find this model to be a little clearer in defining the four basic modes, as follows:

  1. Professional Virtual Community | WAN, ProZ, PRX, Media Bistro
  2. Virtual Breeding Environment | Berkman Center and its foundation support
  3. Virtual Organization | Global Voices, Ushahidi, Atlas Network
  4. Virtual Teams |  …

A Virtual Breeding Environment is an “an association (also known as cluster) or pool of organizations and their related supporting institutions that have both the potential and the will to cooperate with each other through the establishment of a “base” long-term cooperation agreement and interoperable infrastructure” [Camarinha-Matos and Afsarmanesh 2005].

Under that definition, the VBE most closely resembles  Lethbridge’s Co-Alliance construct for voluntary collaboration among semiautonomous interentities.

The optioms presented by the lower two quadrants here — the Co-Alliance and Value Alliance represent (1) the disintermediation and deaggregation of content and (2) a shift in the mode of relationships with the end user, who may now interact directly with part or all of the components of the value chain withou encountering a unified «face» …

[In progress]

The VBE respond to business opportunities by forming VOs. As an organization, it has also competencies but not limited to the union of the competencies of its participants. The VBE competencies are the result of combining two or more participants’ competencies to realize more complex projects (e.g. building a highway, bridge, etc.).

Most importantly, the definition allows for the multiplicity and informality of networked identities and the interlocking of these relationships to create synergies.

A VO comprises a set of (legally) independent organizations that share resources and skills to achieve its mission/goal, but that is not limited to an alliance of for profit enterprises. A Virtual Enterprise is therefore, a particular case of VO. [Camarinha-Matos and Afsarmanesh 2005]

A Virtual Team, also known as a Geographically Dispersed Team (GDT), is a group of individuals who work across time, space, and organizational boundaries with links strengthened by webs of communication technology. They have complementary skills and are committed to a common purpose, have interdependent performance goals, and share an approach to work for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. A VO comprises a set of (legally) independent organizations that share resources and skills to achieve its mission/goal, but that is not limited to an alliance of for profit enterprises. A Virtual Enterprise is therefore, a particular case of VO. [Camarinha-Matos and Afsarmanesh 2005]

No networked organization embodies these features better, perhaps, than the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, where the advanced strategies preached, and the technologies for realizing them,  have been  thoroughly practiced over the years.

Let me give you some examples of virtual organization — «phantom authority» across formal institutional boundaries.

  1. Global Voices Online
  2. PRX
  3. ProZ
  4. The Atlas Network
  5. Youth and Media Lab
  6. New America Foundation

[Disorder and No Progress]

I have lost my train of thought. This happens.  What I aimed to do is apply the ECOLEAD analysis to some concrete examples, of which Harvard, with its Berkman and other endowment mills, provides ample opportunity.

Above, the result of a Navicrawler analysis of a Web site related to the World Association of Newspapers predicts significant real-world interlocks with the Knight Foundation and its partners in co-funding. This prediction holds true, the Network for Good seems to be an exemplary Market Alliance. …

This network provides us with an example of — mixing but maintaining the biological metaphor of media development — an archipelago of in-bred VBEs.

Berkman’s Rebecca MacKinnon, currently a fellow at the New America Foundation,  remains a frequent citer of Innovation Media Consulting and shares funding sources with its ONG avatar, WAN-IFRA.

The rule for optimizing interlinking is «e une pluribus» — from one, many — or «entia multiplicanda sunt»

«Phantom Authority» can be the result of discretely near-invisible cooperation across explicit boundaries. One of the most common tactics is to confuse the boundaries between institutional roles and individuality of authorship — the blog pundit speaks in his or her own name but does so from the point of view of an interested third party.