In Nature we can see, if we pay attention, endless examples of hierarchies, from the ones of rivers affluents to tree branches and, of course to human societies.
In math there is a way to measure the complexity of a hierarchy using the Horton-Strahler order, a metrics that takes into account the number of branches of branches and measure aggregation at different levels.
Anthropologists have long detected a tendency in human societies to aggregate in clusters (families, clans, ….) and independently whether we are looking at New York or some isolated tribe in the Amazon basins the structures look very much alike.
Now a research conducted by Benedikt Fuchs at the Medical University of Vienna, Austria, on aggregation appearing in massive on line games shows striking similarities with the aggregation we found in cities or rural communities.
Researchers have looked at the on line game Pardus, gathering some 400,000 players and observed how they tend to aggregate in the cyberspace over a period of three years. They have discovered, based on the Horton-Strahler metrics, a seven layer hierarchy, from single individuals to friends, to acquaintances, to Alliances to dynamic association of groups (two order hierarchy) up to the overall gamers. This can be matched with a living human society where we have the individual, his family, his relatives, his friends, the friends of friends (weaker relations), the neighbourhood, the higher order community (nationality, belief,…) and the humankind.
This seems to indicate that it is not the context forcing aggregation to shape in certain structures but rather some circuitry cabled in our human brains that leads to these aggregation and hierarchies.
So what? Well it is always interesting to discover reasons why, and quite often once we have understood them we can derive practical guidelines on bettering our every day life.
Think about smart cities: they are containers of people, business, processes and more. But what does smart means? A more efficient environment or an environment where people are happier to live in?
Understanding the psychology of aggregation can be an important step in making sure that the two interpretation of “smartness” overlap… Just another example of the growing need for an holistic approach leveraging on several knowledge areas.