Posts Tagged Social network
“The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?”
~ David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in radio, 1920s
Maybe this title could be less provocative, but it answers to what I want to write about, which is how I have come to understand the purpose and usefulness of twitter. The quote I opened with really could have been any quote about a new technology or cultural artifact. We as humans have shown an incredible propensity to downplay just how much any given technology will affect our lives. For some reason this quote about the radio really resonated, given that twitter often seems to be about broadcasting a message to no one in particular.
Probably just as often, we believe the change to be more significant in the short term and we underestimate the long term change that the new technology represents. I don’t have a quote for that, but if you can think back to when the dot com bubble burst, you’ll get my drift. Anything internet related could return hundreds of percent in a single day, sometimes based only on an idea. Of course, if you think about how the world has changed in the past 10 years, it’s obvious to anyone that the internet really has revolutionized the way we communicate, work, interact, shop, buy things, etc. It’s not that the tech bubble craze was totally incorrect, it’s just that the value of the changes investors et al. were anticipating were 10 or more years off. We need time to absorb change. Change causes more change. It probably goes without saying that these changes that occur are non-linear and completely unfathomable 10 years prior. But all of this is relevant to twitter.1. User Growth and Network Effects. If you think back, probably only a year or so, there were a lot of news stories touting twitter and how everyone and their dog was signing up for the free service. This led to a peak in new user acquisition in July 2009 of 7.8 million users that month. This has slowed to somewhere below 6.2 million per month (I believe the last figure I found was for January 2009). However, there are conflicting reports that it the service is now growing by 300K users per day, meaning that it is acquiring 9 million users or so per month.
In any case, there are about 105 million twitter users. Depending on what measures you use to consider a twitter user active, there are probably 20 million or so active users (I’m going with the reports that 80% of users have tweeted 10 times or less. I’m calling them inactive – they may be listening but they are not sharing.) This is still amazing. If twitter were a city, it would be one of the largest, most well connected cities in the world. Much as cities grow, with each new active user twitter becomes more valuable to every other user.
2. Twitter = 1/3(Digg + StumbleUpon + Google Reader) + search + Facebook + social commentary. My equation of course depends on why and how you’re using twitter. For me it’s about navigating the web, sharing cool things, and finding cool things from like-minded people within my network. The thing I originally loved about StumbleUpon was that it would help me find things I liked that I didn’t know existed and literally could not have searched for. Twitter does that plus it comes from someone you know generally or have chosen to follow. It diggs things by retweeting them, so you have a good idea of how popular something is. Google Reader is my source for everything I follow closely, but there are not enough other people I know who use it to make it useful for me – ie, I don’t have a large enough network of Google Reader friends to find stuff I didn’t know about as well as I do through twitter.
3. The strength of weak ties. That’s the title from a 1973 paper by Mark Grannovetter that I read about in Albert-László Barabási’s How we are Linked. The great thing about twitter is that it is really a whole bunch of weak ties. What I mean by this is that even among friends in the offline world there are often not a lot of overlapping connections. The reason this is important is as follows: let’s say you and your friend are both looking for a job. Between you, you share a tightly-knit social network of friends and acquaintances. If any opportunities come up, you are both privy to them through the same sources. So first of all, that means you will compete for the same resources (in this case jobs) and you will not be able to find any opportunities through only one of you (I’ve written about this earlier on this blog).
However, if you took the same situation – you and a close friend – but instead assume that you each have a completely separate group of friends, then you have likely just doubled the amount of opportunities available to one or both of you. These weak ties are often how we find jobs. And it is this nature of twitter that makes it a great place to learn about opportunities.
For example – I took two friends (@loxyisme and @jagtianinikhil) from the offline world who are active on twitter and here is what followerwonk.com shows through its trusty venn diagram:
I’m actually quite surprised that we share no common connections on either side of twitter (despite the fact that Loxy and Nikhil have never to my knowledge met). It’s also phenomenal that we share so few common connections between myself and either of Loxy or Nikhil: Loxy and I share a fair number of offline friends; Nikhil and I both have MBAs from UBC (albeit a year apart). I don’t know the value of weak ties in dollars, but I would venture to say that finding a job through twitter is going to be a common trend in the future.
4. What would have to be true for twitter to become a dominant form of communication? Allow others access to your API. Check. Make it run on nearly anything (computer, smartphone etc.). Check. Get an overwhelming number of users relative to similar communication options. Not yet, as I’m sure there are more people with email and cell phones than there are twitter users, but the growth rate is looking good (and accelerating if the latest figures are to be believed). Make it easy for companies to develop products that support the use of your program or product. Check. I don’t know the total number but my mind is constantly blown about every new twitter app I hear about. Make it easy to find information. Check. 600 million searches per day. Make it reliable. Not quite there yet, but there are fewer sightings of the fail whale everyday. Make it easy. Check. Make it a small change to adopt. Maybe half marks there. I feel as if I am only getting to understand twitter and its power and I’m 1.5 years and 260 tweets in.
5. Twitter teaches brevity. As a writer, I know how difficult it is to get to the heart of the matter (see: the length of this post). Any character limit would have done, but 140 is where we are with twitter, and it seems to have hit the sweet spot. It’s just long enough to get across an idea without anything extraneous. In a world overflowing with information, the ability to cut through the noise is extremely valuable.
Twitter is here to stay. Much like earlier technologies or applications, we have overstated the importance of it over the short term (it’s this fad with 100 million users that will pass) and not considered the longer term (that people are forming smaller social networks they will use to communicate and share information and that that is here to stay). Twitter is an integral part of social media – it might change, it might mutate, but the essence of it is here to stay.
Focus on Everything (subtext: another reason to use twitter)
As I plow through my Google Reader treasure trove of awesomeness, I’ve found a few related writings, at least in reference to Grannovetter’s the Strength of Weak Ties that I really must share with you. These reads of course linked to each other, but they are each worth reading on their own. First is the difference between having a purpose and having a vision, written by one of my many idols, Diego Rodriguez at IDEO. The second is by Joi Ito, who I’m sure will become one of my idols, based on the brilliance of his writing and the clarity of his thought.
@darrennegraeff, @jagtianinikhil, @loxyisme, Albert-László Barabási, diego rodriguez, digg, externality, Facebook, followerwonk.com, google reader, IDEO, joi ito, Mark Grannovetter, network effects, Social network, stumbleupon, Twitter
I recently came across Nexus, an application that can map out the connections in and amongst all of your collected friends on Facebook. The result is, I think, pretty neat.
As you can see, my friends form some interesting smaller networks, through which they are all connected to each other (at the very least) through me. It is possible there are other connections which have not been ‘formalized’ through facebook, but at present this is how it stands.
The lower right collection of nodes are mostly representative of my life in Regina before I moved to Vancouver. They are friends from elementary and high school, earlier university days and from my year there after I returned from travelling but before I moved out here.
The lower left area (two diagonal lines) consists mainly of my family – or at least, those of whom are on facebook – and (strangely) all of the friends I remain in contact with from Terra Breads, where I worked for two years upon arriving in Vancouver.
The nodes which are relatively connection free (mostly on the right side) are people who I met while travelling and working in Australia and Europe, from 2001-2003. Not surprisingly, they know few of my friends from either my past or present.
The middle node is, to me at least, the most interesting. It has in it my girlfriend, my friends who I lived with, and all of my closest friends here in Vancouver. That entire network grew out of a chance encounter I had when I was looking for a second place to live after not really liking my first place or my roommates after arriving here. In a sense, it is the reason I stayed put, and I am very glad of that because out of it came all of the happiness that I have today.
The secondary node just above it is why I started writing this post today as I reflected on a book I recently read – Linked (How Everything is Connected to Everything Else and what it means for Business, Science and Everyday Life) by Albert-László Barabási. That book would probably describe that network as being fairly strongly connected internally but with a lot of weak ties radiating away from it – and it is because of that fact, and specifically that secondary node, that I: a) became a teacher/tutor for two years, whereby I; b) re-ignited my passion for learning and the world, which led me to; c) apply for grad school whereby I; d) became a part of the very tightly connected upper network, which is a physical representation of all of my friends/aquaintances from the UBC MBA program. Many of these people are now close friends who I will almost certainly know for most of the rest of my life. The important thing to note is that each node (a person) is connected pretty well to every other node within the network.
Strangely (on the surface at least), it will probably be that central network, with its many weak branching ties to other networks, that gets me my next job and not the very tightly knit MBA network. This is due in part to concept of The Strength of Weak Ties – a research paper written by sociologist Mark Grannovetter that was published in 1973 – which of course was described in Linked and which resulted in a, b, c and d in my own life. In other words, when you’re looking for a job, as I and many of my fellow MBAs are these days, it is best to look amongst large networks with many weak, branching ties; in that way, you are more likely to come across information that is not already mutually known, for example, the job board we all look at called COOL, which stands for Career Options On Line (I call weak sauce on the name, by the way; looking for jobs is not ‘cool’ – looking for jobs sucks, and takes time, and is generally demoralizaing. But anyway, I digress.) Which is not to say that this MBA network is not worth something – in fact, I think the opposite is true – it will be extremely valuable in the future (to each of us) as we all branch out in the different directions our lives take us and remain, importantly, weakly connected to one another.
In any case, I encourage you to have a look at the nexus friend application and examine how all of your friends and aquaintances are connected to you and each other. You can find it all here.
Easy Lesson 1: Know why you are doing it and how it will enhance the user experience.
Companies and brands use a wide variety of social media and networking tools such as twitter, facebook, and blogs; not all companies should do this. A Seth Godin witticism elaborates: sundae toppings are great, so long as they go on top of ice cream. If you’re taking a product or service like detergent, adding all kinds of ‘treats’ like twitter and corporate blogs is like putting gummy bears on a meatball – at best they add nothing, at worst they clash. To most people, detergent is detergent and talking about stains online does not build brand nor enhance the experience of using Tide (Tide Facebook Fan page has 429 members – the affect on P&G’s last year sales of $76.4 billion is indeterminate.)
Easy Lesson 2: You need to have support and resources.
If you are going to turn detergent into a community, make sure you have support and resources. A quick and dirty perusal of the Tide forum boards shows a relative ghost town. For Example: a Tide Team Member responds 40 days later to a complaint about the lack of scent in a product and offers a coupon – not sure if this is exactly the way you build support for any community, large or small.
Easy Lesson 3: Make participation so simple that anyone can do it.
Web 2.0 is one of the few places where the pareto 80/20 rule does not hold – in its place is the 1/9/90 rule, where one percent of users contribute 99% of all user-generated-content (UGC), nine percent contribute the other 1%, and 90% lurk in the background surfing and reading and thinking about what the information means to them. If it takes more than one minute or requires too much personal data, you can forget about reasonable participation rates.
This article from eMarketer shows that social networking usage has nearly doubled in the last two years. As a relative newcomer to social networking, it is easy to see some of the great things about it: it is easy to reconnect with old friends, share events and photos and simply stay more connected. I wonder if these college students are spending more time online (ie. twice as much) or if they are spending less time doing other things online and now mostly just social networking? Your thoughts?
My name is Darren Negraeff - I'm the Marketing Director for Zafin Labs - we create pricing and billing innovations for banks and financial institutions. When I'm not at work you can find me throwing a disc for my dog Sally or staring in wonder at my tomato plants. Or poring over a book - I love to read. These days I read mostly non-fiction, but I have an extensive library of fiction as well.
I'm interested in theory of the mind and cognitive science, how ideas spread through society, behavioural economics, advertising, internet marketing, and the rise of microcredit. I will try to keep to these topics, though wandering is inevitable.
Find me at:
- Analysis of a typical Facebook debate - 22 WordsPublished: June 25, 2011Source: twentytwowords.comMy Note: Hilarious and perfect all at once. There is no room for debate on that.Like it? Please share… Thanks!
- ARE YOU FAMILIAR WITH SQUIRREL TECHNIQUE?Published: June 18, 2011Source: Animals Being DicksMaster will be so pleased with our progress.
- Ten apps is all I needPublished: June 22, 2011Source: Signal vs. NoiseNokia’s new N9 phone based on MeeGo looks wonderful and according to Engadget, it’s a delight to use as well. But supposedly it’s dead...
- Tech journalists who make no sensePublished: June 23, 2011Source: Signal vs. NoiseI’m sure all fields have terrible reporting, but the shit that’s coming out of the tech world must be eligible for some sort of cake. Ta...
- Japanese Researchers Create Swimming EndoscopePublished: June 22, 2011Source: GeekosystemAdding to a long line of fascinating and generally horrifying things to be created by the Japanese, which includes artificial meat made fro...
- See all shared items
- Plugin by C. Murray Consulting
- Analysis of a typical Facebook debate - 22 Words
- Can Entrepreneurship Be Taught? | enFocus South Bend on The importance of T-shaped individuals
- R2DX | Quais São os Conhecimentos Necessários para Ser um Bom GP? on The importance of T-shaped individuals
- renovation on Four quotes to live by
- Zane Calamari on Life in a startup: five lessons learned three weeks in
- Ruth on There is learning in repetition: what cover letter writing has taught me about myself