The Network Map That Reshaped Londoner’s View Of Their City
We celebrate 150 years of the Tube (London Underground) this year, another invention of those busy mid-century British Victorians. As the system developed from one line with 6 stations to 10 lines and hundreds of stations, one part of the network could not keep up: the map.
Maps have always attempted to represent distance and space as accurately as possible, but as the Tube grew into a network, the maps became more and more complex. Enter Henry Beck. Beck was a London Underground employee who realised that because the railway ran mostly underground, the physical locations of the stations were irrelevant to the traveller wanting to know how to get to one station from another — only the topology of the railway mattered. This approach is similar to that of electrical circuit diagrams.
So the Network was stretched in places, squished in others, and placed in a rigorous 90 and 45 degree straight jacket with pleasing curves. This became not just the Network map, but came to express Londoner’s view of their city. The map expressed the fundamental truth about travelling on the Tube:
In a Network, It’s All About the Connections
Although it is not really possible to draw a map of today’s Business Networks, with their hundreds thousands of “stations”, it is still the case that in a business network, it’s all about the number of connections. On the Tube Map, that’s the difference between a station marked with a little tick mark, such as Covent Garden, and an interchange such as Bank. This affects property prices in London. Properties which are close to stations with lots of connections, such as Wimbledon, are more valuable than those whose station has just one line.
In Business Networks, businesses that are connected to more businesses are more valuable: if I am looking for a supplier, I am more likely to choose one with 50 connections rather than one. The reason for this valuation is slightly different: the well-connected supplier is validated by doing business with companies similar to mine. They act as a screening service for me, and I return the favour for them.
Networks Need to Be Able to Adapt to New Technologies
The original tube map of 1931 has expanded in geography but has also had to take in its stride new forms of transport such as Thames River Boats, a Cable Car and a Light Rail. It proved a highly adaptable system, with the new capabilities appearing on the network as yet more interchanges. Business Networks have to be engineered to adapt to new technologies and new “forms of transport” as new document types are sent across them.
Business Networks may not have yet come up with an iconic piece of graphic design to compete with Beck’s much-loved masterpiece. But it won’t be long until they support more annual “journeys”. The Tube currently runs at about 1 Billion journeys per year, large Business Networks are already approaching 1 Billion transactions per year, and have achieved this in about 15 years, rather than 150 years.