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In a cutthroat world, some Web giants thrive by cooperating

Psychologists have long known that commonality is an underestimated force in social interactions. Judy Olson, a professor of informatics at the University of California at Irvine, has pioneered research showing how powerful friendly chatter can be in negotiations. Banter about similarities, however superficial or unrelated to business, dramatically increases trust and the likelihood of successful negotiation.

"We tell people to get to know each other," she says. "Once you find this connection, you would start to trust somebody more because you know what to expect from somebody 'like that.' "

For Trammell, this new side project is a fascinating fun-house mirror image of his former role running "morale, welfare and recreation" on a Navy battleship. "A lot of this stuff on the Navy is certainly more top-down," he says. On the battleship, there was one activity, and Trammel more or less picked it. At Twitter, anyone can get involved or even lead the crowd.

'Win-win side of things'

Governments around the world, eager to enjoy the fruits of innovation, have consulted former Silicon Valley chief executive and Harvard fellow Vivek Wadhwa on how to foster their own tech enclaves. The key, he says, is "the people."

"The difference in thinking between Silicon Valley and others places is that you compete one moment and you cooperate the next moment," Wadhwa says.

Likewise, iTune's top podcaster, comedian Adam Carolla, hosts his competitors' radio shows for free - much to the chagrin of his corporate affiliates.

The competitive mentality, Carolla says, is systemic in radio and television. "They just don't understand the win-win side of things."

As his successful run on morning radio and Comedy Central came to an end, he saw a chance to manage his own brand online, without the corporate red tape. With more than 50 million downloads in the first year, he is creating his own podcast network, a pioneering move based on the bet that platforms are the Web's future.

"The good news is, I mentioned and the podcast about 15 times on the competition's show," Carolla says, "and we got a nice big bump."

Ferenstein is a writer who investigates the intersection of technology and society.

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