COMPISSUES01 - Social Networks and their Propagation
Current Issues in Web Technology
In this lecture, we’re going to talk about the power of social
The most obvious poster child for the social networking
revolution is Facebook.
And the impact it’s having on the way that we look at privacy and
collaboration on the web.
Although it wasn’t the first.
We’re going to talk around this topic for this and the next two
There’s a lot of ground to cover.
The Power of Social Networks
Social Networking as a concept predates the internet by a good
The study of social networks began in the 30s, and
emphasised the dyadic ties between actors within a particular
An actor can be a person or an organisation
A dyad is a group of two actors
The social networking software that you encounter on a day to
day basis is an enabler of social interactions.
It only rarely creates networks that didn’t previously exist.
The first social networks began with the Bulletin Board Systems
of the 70s and 80s
Buy, download or create their own communication software
An individual would buy some modems
Open their phone lines for business
BBSes were self-contained, usually locally constrained islands
The cost of phone calls made it prohibitively expensive for most
people to call outside of local boundaries.
They were collections of discussion boards, file archives and
often primitive internal email systems.
This was before the internet was widely available.
It was one of the main ways people had to interact online.
All you needed was a phone line, a computer and a modem.
BBS owners were engaged in a scrabble for the hearts and
minds of users.
This created a continual pressure to innovate.
The BBS became the cornerstone of digital life for many
The BBS and the Internet
Easy access to the internet pretty much killed BBSes stone dead.
Those that didn’t disappear evolved into Internet Service
But in the process they lost the camaraderie that created the social
cohesion in their users.
Many tried to adopt a hybrid approach.
They disappeared, almost entirely, over the course of a couple of years.
Web based discussion forum
They never recovered the influence they once had.
The next significant milestone in the evolution of online social
networks was the web site SixDegrees.com.
It allowed users to create profiles, invite friends, make groups,
and examine the profiles of other people.
Baed on the ‘six degrees of Kevin Bacon’ game.
The set menu of a social network site.
An especially ‘in your face’ attitude with regards to promotion
meant that it managed to alienate a lot of potential users.
Driven away by the constant drive to bring in a new people.
Six Degrees of Separation
Even the idea of ‘six degrees of separation’ is an older one
borrowed by the designers of social networks.
It derives from an experiment of Stanley Milgram.
Which in turn derives from earlier experiments by Michael
Gurevich and Manfred Kochen.
Milgram formulated the ‘Small World Problem’.
Imagine the population as a social network
What is the average path length between any two nodes?
Milgram send random ‘information packets’ to people.
These packets included letters outlining the study’s purpose, and a
target destination in Boston, Massachussets.
The Small World Experiment
Upon receiving a parcel, the recipient was asked to deliver the
Or, if they didn’t know the destination, to pass it on to someone they
knew personally who was more likely to know the target.
Each time the parcel was forwarded, the person involved signed a
A postcard was also sent to the researchers so they could track
progress of parcels.
The number of signatures identified path length.
Postcards allowed for researchers to locate broken chains.
Of the 64 letters that made it to the targets, the average path
length was just shy of six.
Friendster was founded in 2002, predating:
Friendster was a model for everything that came afterwards.
But suffered from slow load times.
Growth was slowing
A general sense of ‘what do I do now’?
MySpace flared into popularity.
And then flared out.
Friendster is a case study in the importance of scaling.
Also suffered from problems managing the technical
‘Second System Syndrome’
Growth was unchecked.
The website failed to scale to demand.
As a result, it became less pleasant for everyone to use.
Looks good on paper, bad for those responsible for providing spare
Growth was unexpected.
Who woulda thunk it?
The rise of Facebook is well documented in the movie The Social
Growth was quick and constant.
Soon extended to other universities in the states.
Began with a ‘must have a particular email address’ model.
Much more so than any of the earlier organisations.
Began as an exclusive network for students at Harvard.
Although, of course, not to any necessary standard of accuracy.
We’ll talk about this more in a bit.
Scaled up via ‘partitions’
New universities were opened up when capacity was available.
Today there are dozens of social networking sites.
Some old, some new.
Many of them have carved out tens or hundreds of millions of
Google+ - 170M accounts, ??? Active Users
Twitter – 500M accounts, ??? Active Users
Linkedin – 100M accounts, 23m Active Users
Pinterest – 10M accounts, 2m Active users
Genuine stats difficult to find.
Lots of secrecy and massaging of figures.
Facebook however remains the undisputed king of social
It seems hard to deny that Facebook changed the world.
552M active users
29% annual growth rate
Not because it was the first or best
The rise of facebook as a platform has changed the way we
view the world and how we approach sharing and collaboration.
And we’ll talk about this over the coming weeks.
The Psychology of Social
Why did Facebook succeed when others failed or plataeued?
A lot of what we can learn about how it worked is transferable
to other contexts.
This entire term is going to have a lot to do with that.
There is a lot of positive feedback that drives the adoption of
A lot of it is in the psychology of adoption.
People use a social network, so other people use the social
Positive feedback drives most explosive growth cycles.
Make a note of the social networks on which you have
It doesn’t matter if you use them any more.
Rate them between one and ten for the following criteria:
Activity of your friends
How often you check
Get together in small groups of 5 or 6
And then compare and average your results.
Now, add in a thought exercise.
I am a new person in this class. I don’t know anyone here. I have,
for some reason, never used a social network. I know what they
are, but I don’t have an account.
I want to make friends, and I want to be kept up to date with what’s
Imagine your group from the perspective of a fictional extra member.
Based on my experience in this group, which social network(s)
would I join and in what order?
Discuss this amongst yourselves for a few minutes, and then
we’ll ask the audience.
Positive Feedback Loop
One of the forces that has the biggest driving effect on
explosive growth is the positive feedback loop.
A feedback loop is a response to an action.
Negative feedback loops are corrective.
It’s cold, you turn up the heater.
It’s loud, so you turn down the speakers.
You like the way the loud beats make you feel, so you turn up the
noise turn up the funk
The action taken has the result of lowering the impact of the
Positive feedback loops have the opposite effect.
Positive Feedback Loop
If a positive feedback loop has no upper or lower bounds, it
spirals out of control.
‘It’s cold, so I should make it colder’ – the last words of Frozen
McIcicle. The temperature dial in his house was a touch off of
Adoption rates for social networks are driven by this kind of
This network has a lot of users, so I should join it.
Thus, the network has more users.
This doesn’t impact on everyone the same way.
Some people will naturally avoid what’s popular.
Positive Feedback Loop
However, in the context of a social network, bigger is more
More content means more sharing
More sharing means more activity
More activity means more comments
More users means more content.
More comments means more users
Google+ for all its installed user base, is a ghost town
compared to Facebook.
Your mileage may vary here.
Facebook continues to dominate because it has achieved several
Facebook builds a relationship with its users that is hard for others to
It generates explosive growth
Will that continue? It’s hard to say.
People return to the site.
And they return often
Visitors stay for a long time per visit.
During which time they are consuming or creating content.
And we will talk about that too in a little bit.
Following graphs from
In social networks, content is driven by users.
Content creation is a core activity of all users.
In this sense, content is a like, a status update, a link, a photo.
And it drives engagement. Why check a site if nobody is updating?
Google+ shows a somewhat sombre picture of engagement:
Average post has <1 reply, reshare and +1
15% attrition rate for users with five posts
Average time between posts is 12 days
Average number of posts per user declines steadily every month.
On average, users spend 3.3 minutes on the site every month.
By comparison, for Facebook is 7.5 hours per month.
How did it happen?
So, how did Facebook manage these impressive feats?
To begin with, facebook adopted an ‘exclusivity’ model for
You had to have a Harvard email address to join.
This creates a kind of ‘exclusive club’.
If you put barriers in front of membership, people will value
If people can’t get access, it creates a demand for that access.
Psychology of Exclusivity
Exclusivity creates a psychological pressure.
We have a natural tendency to want to ‘belong’
Social networks capitalise on that tendency.
However, it’s not useful by itself, and not in certain contexts.
Gmail achieved explosive growth by combining exclusivity with an
illusion of scarcity.
Google+ employed the same tactic, but it didn’t work.
Limited invites per person.
Novelty, utility and ‘coolness’ play a role.
Models of Diffusion
There are several theories that drive an understanding of
Two step hypothesis.
We tell the media, the media tell opinion leaders, they tell the rest
Trickle Down Effect
New technology is expensive, and thus it achieves a kind of
cachet as a trinket of wealth until it becomes affordable.
Marketing driven – identify the next target group, using existing
groups as the baseline.
Technological Acceptance Models
Driven by ease of use and perceived usefulness
Models of Diffusion
Evertt Rogers Diffusion Theory
Based on five categories of adopters
Those ‘in the know’
Leaders in social contexts, popular, well respected
Deliberate, conscious of value and worth
Driven into adoption by social saturation.
Another model focuses on ‘tipping point’ mechanics.
The point at which a trend becomes a social epidemic.
Based on ‘three laws’:
The law of the few
Three types of people who drive rapid diffusion
Connectors (the socialites)
Mavens (the experts)
Salespeople (the convincers)
The stickiness factor
How worthwhile an idea or tool is
The law of context
Geographical locations, current mental state of populations
The Right Idea at the Right Time
Hard as it may be for some to believe, Apple did not invent the
The tablet PC failed then.
Microsoft has a working tablet PC in 1999.
And Microsoft were roundly mocked for thinking it was worth
First generation ipad released in 2010
‘Changes the face of computing’
‘Killer of the desktop PC’
What’s the difference?
The Right Idea at the Right Time
A lot of it has to do with the perception of the companies.
Microsoft were a stodgy, business focused company.
Apple are cool and groovy
Some of it had to do with technological limitations.
Which were more marked in those days.
Some of it had to do with the context.
People just weren’t ready for mobile computing.
Mobile computing devices weren’t as ‘useful’
The services to make use of them weren’t there.
Linking it Back
Social networking software is tightly related both to technological
adoption and social psychology.
Six Degrees shows roughly how ‘interconnected’ we are.
They large codify existing relationships and permit new relationships to
From person to person, there are roughly six degrees of separation.
I worked with Sting’s brother in law, and he was related to Sting, who
worked on the movie Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels with Jason
Flemyng, who worked on X-Men first Class with Kevin Bacon.
And you all know me.
Social networks let us define and explore the clusters and
stickiness of those interconnections.
And we need to know how we can explore them.
Class Exercise (1)
In small groups.
Think of the following products:
Analyse the following:
How it became popular
How it spread influence
What was the context of the technology?
How you have encountered it in your own lives.
Class Exercise (2)
Again, in small groups.
Come up with an idea for some awesome technology.
Make an elevator pitch for that idea.
It has to be feasible, but you don’t necessarily have to know how to
30 seconds pitch you could give someone in an elevator.
Decide on a process by which you would get the word out there
using the resources you have personally.
Who would you contact?
How would they help?
Adoption and Diffusing of technology is a complex, many
Technologies and concepts succeed as much from adoption as
they do from value.
It’s difficult to unpack it from context.
Many valuable and useful technologies were beaten by technically
inferior, but more marketable alternatives.
Understanding the way technologies are adopted is important.
Because at some point you may well have to sell your own ideas to