Monday, January 19, 2009

Of course it's social!

Last week I talked about how the Internet Economy is fundamentally different to the traditional economy. When some people thanked me, the light went on - there are people who really don't "get it", and who need simple explanations. This time, I'd like to explain why social media are both a natural and inevitable development, and a "must-do". I'm using what I call my "Brian" approach, out of deep respect for an old friend of mine who taught me that simple is better than smart(arse).

Step 1: First, you have to accept that the Internet is real. It's not made up, and man really did land on the moon. But the freaky thing is that everyone is connected to everyone else.
Step 2: Next, you have to understand the size of this thing and how connected people are already . See the paragraphs after the Thought for the Day for the math, but trust me ... it's pretty big. Like 500,000,000,000 big!
Step 3: I'll wait while you try to imagine that number of possible conversations in your head ... you can't, can you? Oh, and no, you're not paranoid. They really are talking about you.
Step 4: Accept that you can not manage, let alone control, something this big. You need space in your togetherness with those billions of others.
Step 5: But how do you stay in touch? Only social media solutions make sense. The old one-way mass media models for marketing are like spears compared to lasers.

I like to think of messages in social networks as a bit like a nuclear chain reaction (the maths is very similar). If you get it right, you get a lot of cheap energy over a long period. But when it goes out of control, the damage can be thermonuclear. Assume that each node (person) could re-transmit each message to 1 other - this monster gets pretty wild, pretty quick. It only needs one person to re-transmit one message, and suddenly it's an epidemic (... or is it a pandemic? That means it's infectious...).

Social networks emerge naturally from a heterarchical network like the Internet. And sure enough, once they do people will invent a better mousetrap. So, from the time some-one sent some-one else the first e-mail back in 1965 this whole thing has been inevitable. Social media like FaceBook and Twitter are just more efficient and more multifunctional ways of doing the same thing that ARPANET did 50 years ago.

Thought for the Day: Faced with the fact of the Internet and the looming reality that soon every human could be connected to each other, old-school business models look more like atom bombs than power stations. You need to think about what changes you are going to make before the whole thing goes critical!
One way to measure the speed of the growth of the Internet is to track the number of devices connected to the network. In 1984, there were 1,000 such devices. We hit 1,000,000 in 1992, blew through 600 million in 2006, and reached 1 BILLION last year. After more than twenty years, growth is still nearly exponential.

Now, Metcalfe’s Law about the value of networks says that the number of possible connections between devices is proportional to the square of the number of connected users. For the really geekie types: The number of nodes n = n(n − 1)/2.

Let me do the math for you - for 1 billion devices the result is about 4.9 x 10^17 – or a little greater than the life of the Universe in seconds. That's a pretty big number. Actually it's a seriously large number ... think of the number of stars in 10 million Milky Ways. And don't sweat the numbers - I don't mind being out by a couple hundred million when we talking these orders of magnitude.

No comments: