I'm proposing a distinction between vertical and horizontal networks to clarify our discussions of networks and communities. Vertical networks are confining, imposed and physical. Horizontal networks are expansive, self controlled and non-physical. This distinction replaces the two meanings of "groups" used by Jon Dron and Stephen Downes. It replaces the concept of a network being "contained by a community" as Ray Sims suggests or "within an ecology" as George Siemens proposes.I finished reading John Naisbitt's (Megatrends) latest book last night: Mind Set! He forecasts a change from tracking the Gross National Product of each country to monitoring the Gross Domain Product for each global industry sector. Automobiles are assembled in one country using components manufactured in dozens of other countries. When a country adds the finished automobile to its GNP, it misrepresents and shortchanges the contributions from other countries. It makes more sense to cut across the borders to account for the health of the global auto industry.
This gives us a way to better understand "learning networks" that Ray Sims explored yesterday. Each of us work in a physical location where other people are present that we did not choose and do not control. This vertical community is imposed on us and establishes artificial borders. The vertical community may silence dissent, as Stephen Downes explains in his rant against small groups. This imposed gathering is not fully open, as Ray explores in his distinction between learning networks and communities.Inspired by Thomas Friedman's "The World is Flat", Dave Gray (CEO and Founder of XPLANE) pictures the blogosphere as a horizontal city. Dave sees similarities to the process of meeting new people, making new friends and frequenting new places. The people who find us online and link to our blog postings share similar passions. These connections are made regardless of locations and schedules. This horizontal access cuts across vertical locations, differences and restrictions.
Horizontal networks also cut across the lines of vertical networks in workplaces (teams, groups, reporting relationships, memberships, etc.). Etienne Wenger defines communities of practice this way. He distinguishes them from matrix organizations where an individual wears two hats and reports to two different supervisors. Communities of practice cut across project or job-assignment lines to confab with peers who have similar technical expertise. Wenger suggests that the community of practice may prove to be more stable and continuous than the changing job assignments, reporting relationships and accountability structures.Inside a vertical network, we are limited in what we can learn, who we can relate to and how we will grow. Inside a horizontal network we are unlimited and free to explore, choose and change our minds.
Note: I wrote a followup to this post the next day: 4.07.2007