When I walk through Waterloo station every morning there are hundreds of people trying to do the same thing as me – get from one side of the station to the other in as direct a way as possible. There are so many people, trying to get to so many different places at once, it seems strange that there aren't more people getting in each other's way, colliding with each other.
Perhaps not so strange. In The Social Atom, Mark Buchanan writes about the work of German physicist Dirk Helbing, who has devised models for studying the spontaneous formation of human 'streams'. In situations where hundreds of people are moving in opposite directions, people avoid collision by shifting slightly sideways one way or the other. This simple individual behaviour rapidly leads to "an organized flow and the formation of coherent lanes". People only move as far as they need to to find other people who are moving in the same direction, bringing people of similar movement together. Lanes which form, even accidentally, quickly grow as other people join.
The people involved are not necessarily thinking that consciously about what they are doing – this is a natural outcome. Structures that "self-organise on their own, without human intention". People that make small adjustments to what they're doing in order to make it easier to achieve something. A simple form of self-organisation. Much like the self-organisation that characterises the social web. Because, after all, the web is humanity connected, and typified by online communities that self-form.
So what about value? We talk about supply and value chains. But of-course the world is not linear anymore. In a hyper-connected world value doesn't move up and down a chain, it flows around a network. In a network, value is not owned by a single entity, and users are included as value creators:
"The value in media is no longer in sources but in flows; when we pool our cognitive surplus, it creates value that doesn't exist when we operate in isolation"
This is not an economy, it is an ecosystem.