A long time ago (sometime in 2006 to be exact), I got frustrated that investors and bigco's were applying Metcalfe's Law to social networks (value increases exponentially with addition of nodes). Exclusivity is important to relationships and social networks are made of people. So I wrote a brief paper arguing why valuing social networks more highly the bigger they are is incorrect.
I never bothered to speak to anyone to try to publish it or to even take it beyond a first draft. Because I couldn't figure out a way to create an algorithm or a law, just show a bell curve-like picture indicating that when stuff gets too popular it starts to lose cache, I worried that it wasn't "scientific" enough (I'm no scientist).
But I was reminded of my work on this idea the other night at an Eyebeam benefit when talking with Clay Shirky, a great mind and presenter about Internet trends and author of Here Comes Everybody, about his next topic for study. I wanted it to be this exclusivity idea. Because, let's face it, that hip downtown club that the models and rock stars used to go to? Here Comes Everybody, and those hipsters are GONE faster than you can sneeze at the dust they leave behind.
Let's take a quick example. Facebook has been getting dumped on by the Internet's coolest hipsters for awhile now. A quick Google search for "why facebook sucks" brings up over 24 million results. As one of the top ones from MidwestSportsFans.com (chosen at random) says:
"At one time it was a nice, organized, relatively private and controlled way to keep in touch with friends and family, share photos and events, and – in a much less garish way than MySpace – create your own little personal shrine to yourself on the web. (Narcissism rules!) It is not that anymore."
In fact, this concept is such a truism that I think the only people who don't see that social networks top out at a certain point when the crowd becomes too huge, are the people who are trying to make money off those networks. They are always the last to "get it". I'm not saying they don't make money. But is MySpace worth what it was a few years ago? Uh-uh. Tools like Twitter are good - Clay pointed this out in our conversation - because they don't let people spam or pester you asking to be friends.
My paper (warning - Unedited since 1996 and just my first draft!) is here: Isabel's Theory for Social Network Value. Please contact me if you'd like me to keynote your next event.