Kathleen reminds us that Steven Johnson himself supports her analogy of the Dean campaign as an example of emergent learning. "In fact", she tells us, "Johnson was quoted in Wired magazine as saying that 'Dean is a system running for President.'"
Except that, as far as I can tell, Johnson didn't exactly say that--at least not in the way that Kathleen means.
I had no luck finding the quote in the Wired archives. However, I did find the quote (or something close to it) in a Frank Rich editorial in The New York Times (sorry, the NYT archive requires registration and a fee to read their archives):
''The term blog is now so ubiquitous everyone has to use it,'' says the author Steven Johnson, whose prescient 2001 book ''Emergence'' is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand this culture. On some candidates' sites, he observes, ''there is no difference between a blog and a chronological list of press releases.'' And the presence of a poll on a site hardly constitutes interactivity. The underlying principles of the Dean Internet campaign ''are the opposite of a poll,'' Mr. Johnson says. Much as thousands of connected techies perfected the Linux operating system's code through open collaboration, so Dean online followers collaborate on organizing and perfecting the campaign, their ideas trickling up from the bottom rather than being superimposed from national headquarters. (Or at least their campaign ideas trickle up; policy is still concentrated at the top.) It's almost as if Dr. Dean is ''a system running for president,'' in Mr. Johnson's view, as opposed to a person.
What is "emergent" here? Kathleen suggests that it's Dean's strategy: "Dean's strategy could be characterized as emergent because it drew its power up from the grassroots, rather then being superimposed by national headquarters." But I read Johnson somewhat differently here. I read Johnson as saying that Howard Dean himself, as knowable figure through his campaign message, is emergent. The voice of the campaign, rather than being directed by a central force, emerges from the dialog of various participants on the campaign weblog.
Is this an important distinction? Kathleen suggests in her post that all this language parsing is "trivial" and "misses the point" of her paper. But I think the definition of "emergence" does matter here, for the same reason that the definition of "effective" matters when Kathleen writes, "the principles outlined in Steven Johnson's book were effective for Dean (until the meltdown)." In what sense were they "effective"? Dean got demolished in the very first primary. I would argue (and will argue in a future article) that, partly because of this highly networked grassroots system that Kathleen calls emergence, the Dean campaign believed its own hype. The media, which is also a headless social network that often runs on no more than "pattern recognition" of the most primitive sort, made the same mistake.
So to sum up, I still don't believe that "drawing power up from the grassroots" is the same thing as emergence, I don't believe that Steven Johnson ever supported the idea that the Dean's campaign's strong grassroots support can be simply translated as emergence, and to the degree that "drawing strength from the grassroots" is what the Dean campaign did (whatever you want to call it), I don't think it is unambiguously a good thing to be unhesitatingly imitated.