Scale in Community and Social Media: Bigger is not Always Better [en]

In his blog post Defriendization is the future of social networks, that I commented upon in Defriending, Keeping Connections Sustainable and Maybe Superficial, Laurent Haug mentions his previous article Openness is difficult to scale, about how the kind of community involvement that worked for Lift in the early days just did not scale once the conference became more successful. This is a rule we cannot get escape from. Scale changes things. Success is a double-edged sword, because it might bring you into a country where the very thing that made your success is not possible anymore.

Clive Thompson explains this very well when it comes to the number of followers on Twitter, for example, in his Wired piece In Praise of Obscurity. Even if as the person being followed, you don’t really care about the size of the community gathered around you, the people who are part of that community feel its size and their behaviour changes. Bigger is not always better. More people in a community does not make it a better or even more powerful community.

This is one of the reasons it annoys me immensely when people try to measure the value of something by measuring its size. More readers does not mean I’m a better blogger. More friends on Facebook does not mean I’m more popular. More followers on Twitter does not mean I’m more influential.

I think that this is one of the things that has happened to the blogging world (another topic I have simmering for one of these days). Eight-ten years ago, the community was smaller. Having a thousand or so readers a day already meant that you were a big fish. Now, being a big fish means that you’re TechCrunch or ReadWriteWeb, publications that for some reason people still insist on calling “blogs”, and we “normal bloggers” do not recognize ourselves anymore in these mega-publications. The “big fish” issue here is not so much that formerly-big-fish bloggers have had the spotlight stolen from them and they resent it (which can also be true, by the way), but more that the ecosystem has completely changed.

The “blog-reading community” has grown hugely in numbers. Ten years ago, one thousand people reading a blog felt special because they were out-of-the-mainstream, they could connect with the author of what they read, and maybe they also had their own little blog somewhere. Nowadays, one thousand people reading a blog are just one thousand people doing the mainstream thing online people do: reading blogs and the like. The sense of specialness has left the blogosphere.

If you want to keep on reading, I comment upon another of the links Laurent mentions in Log-Out Day: Victims of Technology, or a Chance to Grow?

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