Life Of Navin

Random Musings, Random Bullshit.


Network effects and social media

Wikipedia defines Network effect as:
[...] the effect that one user of a good or service has on the value of that product to other people. When a network effect is present, the value of a product or service is dependent on the number of others using it.
What this basically means is that a network becomes more valuable to each individual user when the overall number of users of the network increases.

Unfortunately, for social networks, there tends to be a disturbing trend of having signal to noise ratio diminish almost exponentially when the number of people using it increases. The fact that most networks these days follow the "acquire them first, charge them later" strategy of expansion, makes it almost impossible to stick with a social network past it's nascent growth stage.

I personally have seen this effect in action quite a few times over the last few years.

Twitter: I was one of the early Indian community users on twitter and have fond memories of the close-knit nature of the network. There used to be a time when Twitter was actually seen as a voice of change. Today, twitter is reduced to an unedited stream of constant, random banter. The fact that news channels make use of snippets from Twitter has led to an army of loud noises, most of whom use twitter to blow steam rather than have a discussion, which is what I always saw Twitter as. The amount of vitriol on Twitter is toxic. The irony is that the quality of stuff has degraded on Twitter even though the number of people I follow has not really risen by much. Voices of reason are now replaced with comments of fanaticism, life experiences are replaced with silly oneliners. Sigh.

Facebook: I never really have been a fan of Facebook, even having quit the site for some time, and never really having completely gotten back to it since then. I'm much more of a commenter on the site than a sharer (My last status update, if they're still called that, dates back to mid 2012), except for some college groups. Facebook has never really helped me "stay in touch" or "get in contact" with people. Maybe I'm using it wrong, but I honestly prefer just using mail or phone or in-person meetings. Facebook has always had a content problem, and it's personalisation seems targeted to depress people. As the quote goes:
The problem with Facebook is we compare everyone’s highlight reel to our behind-the-scenes
My mentor at Dreamworks had warned that Facebook goes through 2 major events. All your friends getting married (followed by their honeymoons), followed 2-3 years later by baby pics. I laughed at this back then, but my current Facebook feed is eerily flooded by the former.

HackerNews: OK, I admit, I'm a HN addict. I just can't get enough of the site. I use hckrnews as a proxy to ensure I get only the best content on the site, and I'm pretty blown away by the quality of stuff that makes it to the homepage. But if I ever visit the actual discussion on the actual HN site, there's so much elitism on there. The problem I see with HN is a trend that's disturbing amongst developers and the tech community at large: Pointing out fault in everything. Doesn't matter if it's a hobby project or something that someone spent the last 3 years of his/her life on. The moment it hits HN, there will be a upsurge of "That's stupid" or "That would never work" type of comments, usually addressing a completely different context than the original post. Just see the comments Dropbox got on it's launch. And then we wonder why the tech community doesn't have a more diverse community. Baah. I've been blessed to have some amazing people mentor me directly and indirectly over the years I've played with computer systems, and I can promise that this attitude problem with the tech community at large would lead to disaster if not fixed ASAP.
Everyone on HN... All the time
Quora: The biggest offender of the lot. Oh Quora, my Quora, why did you abandon me so? Quora's biggest USP was the quality of content on the site. And then one day, Quora decided to make questions free to ask. Boom. Headshot to Quora post quality. The day I knew Quora was, for all practical purposes, dead, was the day I was A2A "If Pakistan kidnaps Sachin Tendulkar, what will India Government's response be?". Personally for me, Quora has 2 problems: Firstly, Quora content has taken a turn from the factual to the experiential: "How did China become a dominant manufacturing hub?" is replaced with "How does it feel knowing your phone was made by child labourers in China?" and so on. Experiential content is very subjective. For eg. I love some of the answers given by the San Quentin inmates, as it helps me understand the mindset of people whom society considers dangerous, but honestly most content is a blatant mockery of the goal of the site. A2As of interview experiences, being smart, GATE preparations et al, are commonplace and extremely irritating. Which brings me to the second point: The Indian problem. Quora has steadily become a place where Indians (specifially, Indian Engineering/MBA students) ask and discuss Indian problems. Questions about JEE, CAT, Career Advice, Personal experiences, company comparisons etc have practically reduced Quora to a exam prep site. I blogged about this before, and unfortunately the problem has just gotten worse. And don't even get me started on the meme-ification of the site.

All in all, no social network seems to have any silver bullet solutions to this problem of the masses. This problem, for some reason, is very reminiscent of the tragedy of the commons. While HN lacks diversity due to overt  moderation, Twitter and Quora seem to suffer from too much banality due to the cost/punishment for banter being negligible. I don't know if it's too much to ask for, but my hunt for an online community which is self-moderating, intellectually interesting and diverse across multiple axes continues. 



Finally after all these years, here's to the beginning of what was there, what is there and hopefully what will remain!! So here are my thoughts & words -Online!!

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