Citizens Only Series
In this article we will look at a deceptively simple concept that allows for extreme scalability. Known in the software world as “another level of indirection”, it’s said1 to have the potential to solve any problem in computer science. Don’t worry – you don’t need to be a computer scientist to understand this powerful concept. In fact, we will only look at examples from the “real world” and leave the topics of pointers, references, containers and other interesting structures for another day.
Basic ALOI – Pet Management
Andrew has a dog called Barkey. He trains it to obey a number of commands, such as “stay”, “heel”, and “sit”. Everything works really well, until the family gets a second dog called Scrappy. The new dog understands the same commands, but when Andrew wants one of the dogs to do something, he finds that both of them perform the same action. The problem: The direct communication model with Barkey doesn’t scale beyond one dog. The solution: Before issuing the command, state the dog’s name. “Barkey, sit!” will allow Andrew to get as many dogs as he likes, and still be able to address them individually. Not impressed? Here’s a more advanced example using exactly the same concept.
Scaling a business with ALOI
Lisa started her own company, working as a management consultant. After a year she was so successful that she had to start saying no to business, so she decided to hire another management consultant. Instead of just selling her own services as a consultant, she added a level of indirection and started selling management services from a pool of management consultants. The company thrives, and Lisa hires a CEO to run the management consulting business and starts a second company that offers marketing services. She thus adds another level of indirection and starts running a group of companies. Business is great, but Lisa isn’t done just yet. She creates a franchising concept and allows entrepreneurs to start businesses using her proven model and brand. Again, another level of indirection is used to drive scalability; instead of starting each company on her own, she can now get a fleet of new companies through a network of entrepreneurs.
Are you feeling a little underwhelmed? Don’t worry. Because ALOI seems so simple, its great power isn’t obvious. On the surface it just looks like a way of creating hierarchies. To give us a different perspective, let’s look at a how we can use ALOI to build Cortex City.
- Recruiting more citizens. I cannot effectively reach enough people to grow the city to thousands or millions of citizens. But ALOI can, through you. If you start inviting people you know, our reach increases exponentially. And if those you recruit starts inviting their friends and colleagues…and so forth.
- Creating more content. I cannot create enough content on my own to fuel the city’s need for providing valuable content to our citizens. But with citizens contributing articles, discussions, and comments, we can grow faster and add more diversified values and thoughts. Again, we use ALOI to increase scalability.
- Form a city council. Instead of a one-man show where The Mayor2 tries to do all the Cortex City planning, programming, testing, web design, social media engagement, visitor behavioral analysis, market research, competitive analysis, monitoring, financials, campaigns, newsletters, articles, recruitment, videos, moderation, podcasts, security, project management, and so forth – we can use ALOI and form a city council. With a sheriff to run security, a treasurer to oversee financials, and the other key roles needed to properly run a fast-growing city, we are able to scale and provide much better services to our citizens.
The Reference List Technique
To conclude this introduction I’ll share with you a clever application of ALOI that is useful for content providers and communities like ours. The idea is to create a list for an important topic, but instead of creating original content, you highlight others who have done a great job on those topics. For example, we might create a “7 Must-Read Articles on Time Management”, or “5 Business Sites to Visit Every Day”, or “The 10 Most Influential Leadership Communities”. For each item in the list, provide a raving review and links to the site or content. Final twist; make sure to inform those you are referencing about the fact that you’ve included them on the list. With ALOI as the core idea in two dimensions – we created a list of things, and we referenced other work instead of creating the content – the reference list technique gives us plenty of value:
- Share your sources on great information and inspiration with your community.
- Create value without actually creating content – faster, easier, and cheaper3 than coming up with original content.
- Support others use of ALOI. By linking to other sites, people, or content, you are extending those communities to include your own4, which actually means you’re helping them add another level of indirection, indirectly5.
Since you make sure to inform those whom you reference about the list, there’s a very good chance they’ll be so happy that they will link to your list, which in turn means their communities get linked to your – another level of indirection.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this introduction to ALOI as part of our Citizens Only Series. But before you go out and use it recklessly (for example by creating a list of the best lists about creating lists), there’s one thing you must know. All problems (in computer science) can be solved by adding another level of indirection…except for the problem of too many layers of indirection6.
Thank you for reading,
Bjorn “The Mayor” Karlsson
1. David Wheeler (1927 – 2004), computer scientist from England, is the source of the famous quote “All problems in computer science can be solved by another level of indirection”
2. Who sometimes talks about himself in third person, a sure sign of an inflated ego or bad grammar.
3. In a way, the value is also less. But on the other hand, reinventing the wheel is not what you should spend most of your time on, unless you find it really rewarding.
4. Therefore, use the technique with great caution. Only link to things that you think is good, important, valuable, funny, or whatever values that are representative of you and your community. Except for when you create anti-lists, of course (such as “Eleven Sites You Should Never Visit”).
5. Very close to circular reasoning, but I think we got away with it.
6. The quote is usually attributed to Kevlin Henney, but I haven’t yet verified it by asking him.