back to article War, Web 2.0 and the Fail Loop

The Twitterings of Web 2.0 may seem a million miles from battlefield skirmishes in Lebanon, but they both have something in common. Both illustrate perils of continuous electronic feedback loops. To most of us, the idea of being in the loop means no more than being "in the know", privy to information known only to those in a …


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  1. TeeCee Gold badge

    Missing a point with Hizbollah.

    So, small groups of Guerilla fighters, operating independantly in a defensive conflict can knock seven bells out of a modern, well-organised army with a decent command and control structure?

    Unfortunately for the main thrust of the article, this tactic has been known about and used very effectively for some considerable time now. Certainly since before there was an "information loop" or, indeed, any electronic media for information to loop in. Try looking at the Boer war for a classic example.

    The key word here is "defensive". Operating in known terrain where you've already scouted all the potential ambush points and know all the available hidey-holes, potential sources of resupply and such, coupled with an objective of "inflict as much damage on the buggers as possible" makes this one work.

    Any field commander worth his salt should know damned well that taking a large army into an area known to be populated with well-armed, dedicated geurilla forces that know the terrain is going to get his arse handed to him on a plate. About the only tactic usable here with any likelyhood of success is that used by the British in the aforementioned Boer war. I.e. round up any likely support and stick 'em in Concentration camps, scorched earth and overwhelming force against the groups concerned. Not acceptable in a "limited" conflict.

    The only mystery about the Israeli campaign in Southern Lebanon is why on earth they thought that history didn't apply to them?

  2. Xander
    Thumb Down

    I'm sorry... what?

    I think even the most brain-dead neo-luddite can tell there are some very different requirements between civillian and military communication...

    We want to know what our friends are up to, who's thinking and saying what, who's dating who and who just broke up. We want information with only minimal direction.

    Soldiers need to know where friends and foes are. They need to know what they're doing right now and what to do next. They need direction with only essential information.

    Perhaps you need to disconnect from the feedback loop yourself, eh?

  3. Dave

    I know I will get lynched for this, so without further ado...'s "sped up", not "speeded up". Thanks.

    I'll get my coat now; the one with the Monday Morning Grumpy Englishman in the pocket ;)

  4. E


    I would not lynch you, sir. I applaud you.

  5. Peyton

    I think sped reads better as well

    But "speeded" is in the dictionary, so I'd say tis fair game. (I also long for the day when "pled" will be acceptable... but currently, both here in the States and in the UK, "pleaded" seems to be preferred by everyone's style guidelines :(

  6. Mike

    types of loops

    Seems that someone has forgotten that positive feedback loops cause oscillation. Negative feedback loops work well for control. You need to know that you have bad breath, not that you have good hair, you need to know not to attack that position, not that its ok, to attack these three.

    mines the one with the PLL in the pocket.

  7. Tom Paine


    Unless I'm very much mistaken the current usage of "in the loop" derives from the NASA closed-loop comms circuits used in mission control rooms. (Ie., this sense: )

  8. Gareth

    Bugger neologisms

    "I call this place Cyburbia..."

    I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    constant loop of information makes people 'experts' on everything, just because they saw a guy on (sky/fox/any) the news. Or because there friend said so on facebook.

    This constant information flow can be exploited to get across information which is either a lie or quite frankly wrong.

    This is one problem i see with social networking, also the fact that if you dont have facebook (or whatever) you somehow have something to hide..

  10. John Ozimek
    IT Angle

    The machine that won the war

    Am I the only one who read this story and was instantly, subliminally reminded of the short story by Isaac Asimov: "the machine that won the war"?

    The basic premise of that story, written almost half a century ago now, was that whilst the military might put in place all manner of fancy cybernetics to help its forces gain the upper hand, at the end of the day, it was up to humans to compensate for the holes in the hi-tech.

    The machine that actually won the war was.....

    (Ah, but that would be telling: if you want to know the answer to that, you'll have to read the story).

  11. this

    Roun'ere [@(dave,E,Peyton)]

    in Norfolk they say 'wed' not 'weeded' for the past tense of v. to weed.

    I always rather liked it. (saying it, that is, not doing it)

  12. Dave P


    Garbage In, Garbage Out. Most of what I see on the web is garbage; purposely placed there or ignorantly placed there.

  13. Charlie Clark Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Cells versus threads?

    I quite liked the article even if I agree with most of the commenters that the analogy is false. Yes, information overload is a problem associated with our modern way communication facilities and this is certainly applicable to military situations but perhaps not as much as the problems of lugging the extra weight and keeping the stuff working. I'm not a military strategist but I thought that the advantage of small units (in certain situations) was well-established.

    But the closed-loop feedback of self-selecting groups is another matter altogether and more akin to cults. There is a military analogy in there as well, too. Isn't cameraderie about convincing units of cannon fodder that they are fighting for each other and not the big boss / class enemy giving them the orders?

    Oh, and I thought the mobile phones were confiscated to reduce the amount of evidence available to any potential war crimes tribunal.

    Anyway, El Reg, articles like this are good for discussion even if the neologisms do offend.

  14. J

    We have seen

    "The impact of this electronic information loop coursing through all our veins, thought McLuhan, could only enhance our ability to understand one another."

    We got to understand one another better; we now miss the days when we still had hope and faith in humanity.

  15. DRendar

    More Lynching (@AC Monday 23rd February 2009)

    "Or because there friend said so on facebook"



    You mean THEIR !!!!

    Their : (Belonging)

    There : (Location)

    They're : (They Are)


    I sort of agree with your statement however.

    <MINI RANT> And you mean "I", not "i" !! </MINI RANT>

  16. Brennan Young
    Thumb Down


    If you know even a little about cybernetics, you will know that things are organised into a *hierarchy* of systems. It's therefore a very incomplete (i.e. wrong) reading of cybernetics which says that 'optimally, everything should be part of a one big feedback loop'. None of the cybernetics pioneers have ever suggested such hogwash.

    Guerrilla armies and terrorist cells are just as 'cybernetic' as strict hierarchies like the Israeli army - in fact they are arguably 'more cybernetic', because the feedback loops are constructed close to the problem domain, and are therefore more reflexive - rather than in the increasingly outdated theoretical domain of the western war theorists which require an inefficient 'chain of command' before anything gets done.

    More centralisation does not equal more efficient cybernetics. That's a straw man, easy points worth nothing.

    I know that Warwick guy is a nutter, but apart from him, the Reg needs to stop bashing the noble [inter]discipline of cybernetics, and recognise, perhaps even with a little humility, that we wouldn't have an internet without it. We probably wouldn't even have the GUI without those 1940s pioneers. (Not to mention James Watt's governor, Harrison's clocks and various ancient Greek and Persian precedents).

    Let's get this straight: Cybernetics is hard science (or at least as hard as economics or genetics, which are amongst its many subsets). What's next? Having a go at Gregor Mendel or John Nash? Have you got the chops?

  17. Richard Milner

    Too much information.

    The dangers of communication to military command control are a lot older than the 1990s.

    Read The Rules Of The Game.

  18. Chris
    Paris Hilton

    @ Gareth

    Agreed, most of that article was cringeworthy tosh.

    Paris, because I want to get in her loop.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    I look forward to a new series of management books and lecture tours by Hizbollah leaders...

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