@windley Your ideas of networks and hierarchies is on the path towards “networks of systems” and “heterarchies of systems”. I saw Geoffrey West at ISSS Sonoma 2006, and his research into allometry is beyond metaphors, and deep into systems science.
A “network of systems” implies that each part (system) is viable on its own. A hierarchy of parts may be composed of (i) all self-sufficient viable parts (i.e. systems), or (ii) parts that don’t have a function without a whole (e.g. organs in a body). A “heterarchy of systems” may have parts with multiple functions (or purposes) in multiple wholes. The ideas are isomorphic across all types of systems (e.g. urban systems, companies, information systems).
You may be interested in Parhankangas, Ing, Hawk et al. (2005) “Negotiated order and network form organizations”. The systems science community will meet at ISSS San Jose 2012 next July, if you’re in California then.
Like JP and Dion, I think there’s more than a mere metaphor between the city/corporation insights and the ways we build software today. I’d argue that social systems, including cities are models for the techniques and technologies we ought to be using. Networked systems scale better and are more flexible than hierarchical systems. They can absorb complexity better without suffering from the debilitating effects of tight coupling that hierarchical systems create. But I’m ready to go further than I think JP and Dion are. [….]
In a request-response system the requester is obligated to understand the semantics of the APIs it deals with. In event-driven system, the responsibility for semantics falls on the event processor—the receiver. This is called semantic encapsulation. Turning semantic responsibility around leads to looser coupling.