Mathematics is the study of patterns, be it patterns of numbers (arithmetic), shape (geometry), motion and change (calculus), or chance (probability theory).


When talking about dealing with information abundance I always talk about pattern recognition. That we need to be able to recognize patterns around us, present in the landscape of information we are engulfed in. Probe, sense, respond, as Dave Snowden of Cognitive Edge says.

So I spy patterns in my social networks (where are they from, which background, what is missing, how much diversity in opinions, change over time), and I spy patterns in what my social surroundings communicate to me (what is the overlap and difference in their stories, what is hot or not, what excites large parts, what excites only those emotionally close, or only those far away from me). I also spy patterns in the behaviour of those that do not belong to my social networks. Who is linking to the same stuff I and my peers are linking to, but with different words, and different descriptions? Differences in language mean they might be a different community. A community that, as indicated by the fact that they seem to be interested in the same stuff I am but for different reasons. It might be worthwile to get into contact with that community, extending my social environment, extending my understanding of the things that interest me, and connect them into new networks of meaning and context (Siemens, Connectivism).

In the past months I have been thinking about how our human skills needed in dealing with information abundance, and what we know about what makes groups and communities be effective, can serve as design principles for social software tools (I now think that the word social in that term actually refers to taking those skills and traits into account, where I used to say it means it puts human relationships before information objects, which is a less detailed understanding of the same, and the perspective from the tool, not the human perspective).
Now if pattern recognition is a crucial skill as I described above in dealing with the information abundance we live in, and mathematics is the study of recognizing and manipulating those patterns…then what can mathematics bring us with regard to social software tools?

The mathematics of change, chance and shape seem to be important here as we are dealing with networks (of people, information sources and objects). What can we glean from mathematics in this regard, that can serve as design principles and features, or that can be used to determine ‘blind spots’ in existing tools?

Just a thought that came to mind while reading The Math Instinct by Keith Devlin.

(photo: Mathematics by Robert Scarth under Creative Commons BY SA license)