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Social network convergence and private/public networks

Jeremy Liew just blogged about a great topic:
Viral marketing, randomness and the difficulty of controlling growth in social media.

Stop and read the post before you read the rest of mine.

Anyway, I wrote him a quick e-mail after, with slight edits below:

The gist is that viral marketing often leads you astray, heading into countries like Brazil or Turkey or India, where you don’t plan to be.

Part of what seems to make these sites like Orkut start to "converge" in certain languages, demographics, and localities has to do with the fact that they all offer various types of "open browsing" like the type that MySpace has. This makes the entire social network a "public space" that ultimately makes newbies auto-select themselves into or OUT OF that tribe, based on language, content, etc.

So when a huge group of Brazilians invades Orkut, even people in mountain view feel it, when they get a bunch of invites, and all the comments for stuff happen in Portuguese.

One of the things I’ve been fascinated with in regards to "private" social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook, where it’s much harder to browse globally, is that the network right around you is less likely to be affected by changes elsewhere in the network, and a huge influx of Brazilians or Canadians might not impact the experience much.

This sorta implies that a closed network is likely to grow more slowly, yet have some strong ability to be resilient to demographic changes elsewhere on the site – except for all those old people in your region joining FB ;-)

So for the people who are interested in not having their networks completely converge, you should make it REALLY REALLY hard for people from one region to see people from a different region. That means not having public displays of things like:

  • Featured users
  • Featured pictures
  • Featured content
  • Featured comments
  • etc

… as they are all things that make people self-select either in or out of your social network. They are all "public space," which results in convergent results. Instead, you want to segment and target all of your content to wherever the user is coming from.

As a corollary to this, you end up needing to collect some personal information about the user’s network before showing them any content on the site. In Facebook’s case, they were smart enough to use the ".edu" namespace to automatically carve out college students into their own segmented areas, where they found other similar people easily.

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