The Coming Fragmentations

As any system grows, the cost of maintaining it as a single system grows.  When a system becomes a certain size, maintenance of it is too high, and fragmentation is required.

This can be seen in pizza.  Very few people refuse to slice a large pizza and eat it as a single unit.  Even the few that do (you monsters) would cut up a pizza that was twice the size.  Another way it happens with pizza is when the parties to the pizza could not agree on a single set of toppings, so different portions of the pizza have different toppings.

But it can also be seen in a few non-pizza places, which I will examine below.


There’s a reason why a world government has been opposed by many people for a long time.  The size of such a government would be so big, with so much bureaucracy, that we would all die trying to figure out which floor we needed to visit to requisition a pencil to fill out a form to submit that would let us take our street-crossing test so that we might return home.

At some point, government at one level may grow too large, and it should fragment.  We have in the USA a national government, with state, county, and local governments.  At some point we will need to rework the layers so that we have regional governments (some of which might overlap), or specialized governments (eg, the Mississippi River Government that would manage collective interests for states and regions directly related to that river).

When we learn to manage the layers of government, we will be able to institute world governance that is not a threat to individual liberty.

This type of fragmentation might be called stratification, since it deals most particularly with layering the governments.


The transportation in America, of humans, anyway, is primarily by autonomous transport (ie, cars).  There is some use of buses, trains, planes, and boats, but these are fairly limited in scope and, therefore, use.  In certain areas, the road-based system has grown too large, and it should be fragmented to help reduce that burden.

You can only build so many roads before it does no good.  It makes far more sense to add alternative transportation to augment the system.  This means that fewer people are reliant on the original form, and more of the traffic does not overlap.  It’s equivalent to adding multiple traffic channels in other systems.  Instead of getting cross talk on a radio, you can simply move some traffic to another channel, and continue with multiple sets of conversations independently.

This type of fragmentation is also a form of stratification.


At some point it may make sense to fragment the browser.  When it happens, the OS gets new services to handle different parts of what’s currently in the browser.  That includes HTTP, bookmarks, cookies, authentication, signup, and rendering.

Some of these are already partially fragmented in the form of libraries, and some browsers like Uzbl already try to move toward a browser that is reliant on outside components.

While the functions could permanently remain in the browser, with other applications relying on the browser as a service, the benefits of moving them outside will reach a tipping point for most systems and users.

This type of fragmentation isn’t about the layers as much as about specialization, which it could be called.

Mobile Devices

One day the mobile device will likely fragment.  You will still have a dedicated component with a CCD for a camera, one with broadband wireless IO, one with a screen, but you won’t have a separate screen on your camera and phone.

In that world, you could use your computer screen as the head for your mobile device, for example, and you could use the power from the train to power your phone or mobile computer, saving your battery for later.

This is also a form of specialization, and some aspects are already there.  Many smart phones use WIFI when available instead of the wireless broadband.  There are also a few smart phones with the ability to plug in to a netbook-style dock.

Online Services

The final fragmentation for thought today is of online services like Facebook, but also things like Google and Wikipedia, and even the DNS itself may fragment.  There’s an ongoing push for someone to come up with distributed social networking.  Diaspora is the most prominent attempt, but others are working in the same direction.  This type of fragmentation might be called democratization, because its primary goal is to restore the control over the service to the users.

But it also has other benefits, including the possibility of improved utility.

Stratification, Specialization, Democratization

The three types of fragmentation today were in layering the functions, in breaking up by activity, and in distributing the control of systems.  They all have their places, and some systems will require a combination of them, or even something different entirely.

But we should be aware of the systems we interact with, and we should consider whether the problems we see are caused by other factors, or if they are due to the system outgrowing its britches.

The examples are numerous.  I could go on.  Economic systems, little league sports organizations, insect colonies, large-scale computing, military, etc.  The abstraction of fragmentation is quite useful, and even more so when intelligently put into practice.