The Network Effect as a Bell Curve

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Social media sites depend on the Network Effect, or Network Externality. Obviously Twitter, Facebook and so on would be useless if you were the only person to ever login or publish information. I would argue that the usefulness of a transparent social network as a place to share personal information with friends or others declines as the population increases.

Network Effect as a Bell Curve

  1. Populated by purported ‘social media gurus’ or bored IT staff. That’s it.
  2. Early adopters can find their immediate circle of friends.
  3. That guy who made primary school miserable for you wants to become your friend.
  4. Ignoring your coworkers’ friend requests becomes harder to sustain.
  5. Boomers are commenting on their kids’ party photos, thanks to friends tagging them.
  6. Traditional media is reporting on all of those off-colour pages your profile links to, as funny as they were at the time.

The graph charts a hypothetical relationship between the population size and the level of engagement in a transparent social network. The points on the curve are more illustrative than literal.

As the number of people in a social network increases, the amount of control an individual has over their profile erodes. The causes can range from a lack of understanding of privacy controls, progressive loss of privacy due to changes in the site’s settings or even incidental information posted about you by others in your network.

In this environment people learn to hold more of themselves back. They share less and start to use social networks to project a controlled image of themselves for social and professional purposes. Sometimes they move their more open interactions to a different, more controllable platform, like Diaspora promises to be.

Leaving a densely populated social site is not the answer; changes in behaviour are far more likely than abandonment of established networks. Do you think this is the case? Are your habits changing as more people become a part of your extended networks? Or do you continue to share?

9 responses to “The Network Effect as a Bell Curve”

  1. Great post! Until now I hadn’t an idea about Diaspora… looking forward to see what they create. They seem to be at the right place, at the right time, with the right product.

    • Anthony says:

      Glad you enjoyed the post. Diaspora does look pretty cool, and it’s interesting in the way it will create a price point for privacy in a social network, as the user is covering the running cost.

  2. That too! I’m more thinking about the similarity about how both Facebook and Diaspora were birthed out of a college room!

    Sort of kills the whole idea that all that happens at those colleges are drinking and partying. Good to know these four guys are applying their head knowledge.

    It makes me think it’s going to be like the WordPress of Facebook. Odd link, but it makes sense (at least in my mind).

  3. Anthony says:

    I see what you mean by the the wordpress analogy. Especially with it being run off turnkey servers.

    Given the angst you see on the internet whenever a social media platform tries to create revenue to cover costs and return something to the investors, I am interested in see what will happen with a user pays model, where the user has far more control over the platform too.

  4. It’s definitely one to watch.

    Well, once again in comparison to WordPress, here they have created an amazing blogging platform (now practically full CMS), and give it away totally for free. No questions asked. AND what’s more, they continue to invest time and money (man hours) to develop it more and more to make it even better. And still for the price of nothing more than $00.00.

    How is Automattic (company behind WordPress) making their money? Enterprise level solutions*.

    I believe similar will happen with the team behind Diaspora.

    *amongst other services / products.

  5. Anthony says:

    Certainly. Diaspora seems to be on track to provide customer service and hosted installs as a paid service as well. At least that is the impression I get from their kickstart page http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/196017994/diaspora-the-personally-controlled-do-it-all-distr (Wow, the money has doubled since last night).

    Looking at their offers for funding of $50 or more have tech support and a month’s hosted service added.

  6. Exactly! After all, just like us, they all have bills to pay! It’s great to see these things sprout up. 🙂 Really very exciting!

  7. […] scale, at least until things move forward some more. Whatever the reasons, I am still left on the wrong side of the network effect and with the question of whom to give one of the ten […]

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