Friday, August 04, 2006

Social networks and the expected implications of exponential growth

Orkut is huge - in Brazil. Nowhere else I think. Myspace is humungous, growing from nothing to everywhere in no time at all.

That's exponential growth. One day there's one lily pad on the pond, a few weeks later the pond is half full, a day later it's full. The last doubling is the big one.

It's fascinating. Why does one network take off and another founder? What makes a movie a hit, or a toy "hot"? Why do some diseases simmer in the Heart of Darkness and others make it to Hollywood? Why does one primate inherit the earth (for now) and all the others die?

There's a fascinating mixture of determinism and contingency. Sure the primate had some handy features, but evolution could have taken a very different course. Orkut in Brazil and MySpace in the US had a combination of both value and serendipity that let them grow. (Survival, of course, is another matter.)

Is LinkedIn doing the same thing? LinkedIn is a snotty "exclusive" (hah!) network that seeks to amplify and extend social networks among "executive" (double-hah) types. Believe me, any club that has me as a member is neither exclusive nor executive. What catches my attention, however, is the rapid growth.

A friend (Jacob) sent me an invitation a few months ago, and since I respect his judgment I decided to play with it. I invited my wife. Then my alma mater invited all alumni and students to join up. Yesterday I received two separate invitations to join at an address unconnected to my existing account.

Clearly LinkedIn is now past the inflection point of the exponential curve. A few more doublings and my dog will be getting invitations (hmmm. No reason I couldn't give Kateva an email address and a resume ...).

It will be interesting to see where it goes next and how the stream is monetized. At the moment it is a handy way to keep in touch. They do limit invitations but if you're a friend/family and you want one just email me ...

Life on the net is making the exponential a familiar phenomena to many people ...

Update 8/4/06: I just got my first invitation to connect from a corporate recruiter. Ok, so now I see one way they'll monetize this -- the recruiters will sign up for a lot of expensive value added services. I made the connection -- the recruiters I know are smart and careful types who don't waste time. Of course if they abuse the connection I'll remove it. It will indeed be interesting to see how this evolves. The 21st century is all about identity, reputation and reputation management. (Credit to Charles Stross from writing about this quite well in Accelerando.)

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