Monday, April 07, 2008

Hoarding data can seriously damage your wealth

When you aggregate personal data in profiles (eg facebook) you risk imposing structural limitations on the conversation and on the way groups form. This leads to severe restrictions on value and growth creation in your network.

How so?

I was just chatting with JoshuaMarch in twitter about the ratio of followers/followed we maintain. I try to keep mine at 1:1 to enable conversation.

When you have more people following you than you are following, you run the risk of broadcasting to those who can only listen to what you say.
Listening of course has great value. But its greatest value is in the way that it acts as a precursor to your engaging in a real-time human conversation. It's why conversation (two-way flows) trumps broadcast.

Joshua mentioned how good facebook's new chat looks (my self-forming network of trust acting as an excellent newsfilter once again!). At first look, it seems a powerful and overdue play from facebook. Facebook has finally enabled the conversation. A bit.

But twitter still has the edge because the hurdles you have to leap over to become a friend in facebook are greater than those in twitter.

The facebook rules-of-engagement-bar is much higher than twitter's. And that bar must remain high because of the amount of private data you would otherwise have to share wshen you connect in facebook.

There are therefore structural reasons why nodes cannot be as free to connect in facebook as they can be in twitter. No wonder facebook is working on allowing people to connect without sharing all their data (ie degrees of friendship)!

It seems then that if your model relies heavily on aggregating personal data in a profile then you inevitably risk leaning towards conversation and group inhibiting models.

In twitter the process of becoming a friend is as simple as clicking that person's 'follow' button. Once you've done this you have the opportunity to see every microblog micropost from your new 'friend' in real time.

Assuming the followed follows you, every new post you see is a potentional conversation starter shared with every one of the conversation starter's 'friends'. Any person who you follow can instigate that conversation.

This has a powerful and positive impact on how groups of passion, purpose and intent can self-organise and evolve (see Reed's Law and Group Forming Network Theory).

In twitter groups of followed and followers aggregate themselves around shared passions and interests. No one leads. No one is in charge of deciding whether or not the next person is allowed to join. No one sets the agenda. We all do.

Each group has fuzzier, faster-reacting edges than facebook's do. A friend's mention of @twitterpersonB might raise your interest in twitterpersonB. You might end up following them as a result. Your group now has an additional node, a new shape and a subtly reformed character and purpose. The group is therefore faster to evolve by amplification than can be the case with facebook friends. Its synchronous nature makes real time amplification of purpose, and therefore evolution of action, real and fast.

In facebook chat you have to go looking for a conversation. You have to pick one with one selected other friend*. The conversation isn't at the heart of its model. Privacy and closed networks have to retain their dominance for that structural profile-reliance reason referred to before.

And it looks like facebook chat will be for one-to-one conversations only (*please correct me if I'm wrong about that). If so, it means the potential for growth in value will follow the shallow curve of Metcalfe's Law.
Twitter's enables many-to-many so follows the exponential growth of Reed's Law.

Hey Twitter: Beware the Groups!
Why Twitter will beat Facebook

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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?