“…One of the great mysteries of large distributed systems – from communities and organisations to brains and ecosystems – is how globally coherent activity can emerge in the absence of centralized authority or control… in many systems, usually those that have developed or evolved naturally, the source of control is far from clear.
Nevertheless, the intuitive appeal is such a strong one that network analysts have focused heavily on devising centrality measures… implicit in this approach is the assumption that networks that appear decentralised are really not at all… if we look carefully at the network data, it claims, even a large and complex network will reveal itself to hinge on some small subset of influential players, information brokers and critical resources, which together form the functional center on which everyone else depends. These key players may not be obvious – they might seem to be unimportant by conventional measures of status and power – yet they are always there.
And once they are identified, we are back on familiar terrain, dealing with a system that has a center. Notions of centrality have been enormously popular in the networks literature… [they don’t] force us to stomach any truly difficult or counterintuitive notions… The world always has a centre, information is processed and distributed by the centre, and central players wield more influence that peripheral players…
But what if there isn’t a center? Or what if there are many “centers” that are not necessarily coordinated or even on the same side? What if important innovations originate not in the core of a network but in its peripheries, where the chief information brokers are too busy to watch? What if small events percolate through obscure places by happenstance and random encounters, triggering a multitude of individual decisions, each made in the absence of any grand plan, yet aggregating somehow into a momentous event unanticipated by anyone, including the actors themselves?”
(Duncan J Watts)