Daily Archives: January 31, 2008

Six Degrees vs The Tipping Point and the problem with metaphors.

Kevin Kelly writes on something that is getting a fair amount of attention: the new book by Duncan Watts (Six Degrees). Watts critiques another book by Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point), and Kevin Kelly does a good job of commenting on it.

My problem with all this analysis is the use of metaphors. Using metaphors of disease or forest fires helps model and understand the characteristic of certain activities (e.g. the success of failure of certain forms of communications), but they are just that, models. And limited ones at that. It’s good that Watts has shown the limits of Gladwell’s metaphor. But I suspect his metaphor is just as limited.