Monday, August 01, 2011

Size - not growth rate - matters for communities

Tokyo - by
I read all the claims about the rapid growth of google+ ‘use’ and I still feel unmoved.

Perhaps it’s for the reason that I put ‘use’ in quote marks: Google + feels very much in its nascent, gave it a try, walked off, may-be-back-if-enough-other-folk-find-it-interesting-to-remind-me-about-it-later, phase.

Which, to be fair, is how I started with Twitter. But also with a hundred other new kids on the block.

But perhaps my reticence is also because of a remarkable scaling effect which happens in communities. I say communities, it looks to me like this has only been applied to cities thus far, so bear with me...

I came across an interesting article by Marcus Du Sautoy at the weekend. This is the chap who has written and is presenting the current BBC series The Code (  – which looks at the mathematics which appear to govern, well pretty much everything.

Du Sautoy cites the work of British-born theoretical physicist Geoffrey West who used maths to discover fundamental laws governing cities. 
“ can be understood by a single magic number: 1.15. Each time the population of a city increases by 100 per cent (in other words doubles) the social and economic factors scale up by 115 per cent.

“So, if you compare a city with a population of one million people to a city of two million, then instead of the larger city having twice as many restaurants, concert halls, libraries and schools, you find instead an extra 15 per cent on top of what you’d expect. Even salaries are affected by this curious ratio...”
In other words the value of being part of a community (my derivation) grows by an extra 15% each time that community doubles in size.

And while Google+ has reached its first 10m users in a spectacularly fast period of time (16 days compared with Twitter’s 780 and Facebook’s 852) its value to the members of that community is similarly spectacularly limited by its relative lack of scale.

Let’s try the maths (not my strongest point so feel free to point out flaws and correct me:
Based on Facebook having 640m users and Twitter having 175m (Wikipedia August 1, 2011). Then the social/economic advantage conferred over Google + users is: approximately 200% greater for Twitter users and 230% greater for Facebook users.

Simply – Facebook and Twitter ought to prove at least twice as valuable to current users thanks to the scaling up of value delivered by the sheer size of community.

Growth rate has no impact on that.

So until we have a Google + with at least 100m users (and likely twice that) there’s little chance of it delivery the user experience either Twitter or Facebook can.

The dodgy maths bit:
How did I get to this? I took 10m as the base value (Google + users after 16 days). I doubled this, then doubled the outcome and doubled that (etc) until I reach the scale of Twitter and then Facebook (an approximate in the case of Twitter).

Taking ‘1’ as my base value for ‘social-economic factors’ generated, I multiplied by our magic number (1.15), for every time the base community doubled in size.
eg 10m users x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 640m (= Facebook).

Therefore social-economic factors multiply thus: 1 x 1.15 x 1.15 x 1.15 x 1.15 x1.15 x 1.15 = 2.3 (therefore a growth of 230% compared with original 10m strong community).

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The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?