Does Software Influence Culture?

Does software inform– or even create— culture? Probably.

We know from Conway’s Law that people in an organization will create systems that match their general pattern of communication. I think it is a little deeper than that, and has more to do with the formal pattern of authority distribution inside the organization. The communication paths follow from that.

In organizations that take the hierarchy literally, we find that loosely-coupled, peer-to-peer, well-interfaced, object-oriented “design patterns” of software design are usually hard to get implemented. Instead, more centralized and hierarchical designs are favored. This is “Conways Law”:

organizations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations


Now it gets interesting.

The inverse– is it also true? This is my expression of the inverse:

organizations are constrained to employ organizational designs which are copies of the authority distribution structure underlying the software systems they use.


Call it Mezick’s Inverse if you like.


Consider the internet. It is built on TCP/IP: the down-low substrate, the fundamental “under it all” stuff that connects everything.

It is a P2P network protocol. Peer-to-peer. No one computer has any more “control” than any other regarding how packets (data) make it from A to B.

On top of that, higher-level, P2P-oriented layers of protocol emerge: HTTP, IRC, SMTP.

On top of those protocols, applications like instant messengers show up.

Then, still later, very rich P2P apps. Facebook. Twitter. LinkedIn.

These are rich, end-user P2P apps… with P2P architectures… that encourage and in fact enable P2P relationships by and between the users.

What is the result… at the highest level of abstraction? Peer-to-peer culture. Or, at least more demand, more pressure, for genuine P2P culture.

Worldwide. And, in your country. And, in your org. And, on your team…


And so: does software create culture? Prob-ab-ly.

Just take a look around.


Related Links:

Conways Law (link)

McCarthy Show podcast “Software Creates Culture” (link)