Category Archives: popularity

the web is like high school

Social networking software is breeding a new paradigm in web publishing. The exponential growth potential of group forming networks is shifting the way we assign value to websites. In paper entitled “That Sneaky Exponential–Beyond Metcalfe’s Law to the Power of Community Building” Dr. David P. Reed, a computer scientist, and discoverer of “Reed’s Law,” a scaling law for group-forming architectures, says: “What’s important in a network changes as the network scale shifts. In a network dominated by linear connectivity value growth, “content is king.” That is, in such networks, there is a small number of sources (publishers or makers) of content that every user selects from. The sources compete for users based on the value of their content (published stories, published images, standardized consumer goods). Where Metcalfe’s Law dominates, transactions become central. The stuff that is traded in transactions (be it email or voice mail, money, securities, contracted services, or whatnot) are king. And where the GFN law dominates, the central role is filled by jointly constructed value (such as specialized newsgroups, joint responses to RFPs, gossip, etc.).”
Reed makes a distinction between linear connectivity value growth (where content is king) and GFNs (group forming networks, like the internet) where value (and presumably content) is jointly constructed and grows as the network grows. Wikipedia is a good example, the larger the network of users and contributors the better the content will be (because you draw on a wider knowledge base) and the more valuable the network itself will be (since it has created a large number of potential connections). He also says that the value/cost of services or content grows more slowly than the value of the network. Therefore, content is no longer king in terms of return on investment.
mean girls.jpg
Does this mean that the web is becoming more like high school, a place where relative value is assigned based on how many people like you? And where popularity is not always a sign of spectacular “content.” You don’t need to be smart, hard-working, honest, nice, or interesting to be the high-school “it” girl (or boy). In some cases you don’t even have to be attractive or rich, you just have to be sought-after. In other words, to be popular you have to be popular. That’s it.
SO…if vigorously networked sites are becoming more valuable, are we going to see a substantial shift in web building strategies and goals–from making robust content to making robust cliques? Dr. Reed would probably answer in the affirmative. His recipe for internet success: “whoever forms the biggest, most robust communities will win.”