Category Archives: technology

Theory behind the Social Media explosion

I mentioned in the last post some of the history behind why Social Media is in an absolute boom at present. Mostly this is to do with human interaction and the our social nature which leads us to find ways to communicate and collaborate over long distances. There has also been a business cultural shift towards embracing these social tools to open up a dialog with customers which is perhaps due to the changing generational mix in the workforce as Andreas Kaplin & Michael Haenlein point out:

“The growth is not limited to teenagers, either; members of Generation X, now 35-44 years old, increasingly populate the ranks of joiners, spectators and critics.” – Kapaln & Haenlein, Users of the world unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media.

I suspect this push will go even further as more and more Generation Y enter the workforce and expect these tools and computing experiences.

However, I would like to explore a more empirical approach and theory as to why there has been this explosion of Social Media adoption. I would like to bring up an interesting theory that I read about in an excellent book by Juliette Powell called “33 Million People in the Room”.

I was also lucky enough to meet Juliette at a creative media conference and workshop a few years ago see her video from X:Media:Lab.

In her book, Juliette brings up Reed’s Law which essentially mathematically models the exponential growth in value of a network based on the number of participants in the network. This goes a long way to explaining the huge growth Social Networking sites such as Facebook have had recently.

No doubt you joined Facebook because your friends or family were on Facebook which made it valuable to you; just as your friends and family then also joined because you are on Facebook which had value to them and so on…Ad infinitum.

It is suggested in Reed’s Law that every new addition to the network doubles its value and taking the example from the Juliette’s book, it is easy to see this in action.

“…you have a network of 25 individuals. According to Reed’s Law, the amount of possible connections and subgroups within your group of 25 individuals is an astonishing 33 million” – Juliette Powell, 33 Million People in the Room.

And if we apply the maths…

  • Lets say N is the number of people in the network… in this case N = 25 people in the network.
  • The number of possible sub-groups available is modelled as 2^N (2 to the power of the number of people in the network).
  • So, 2^25 =  33,554,432 possible connections and sub-groupings within that network!
  • The growth in value is exponential, as mentioned each new member doubles the value of the network for example: 2^N+1 in this case is 2^26 = 67,108,864 connections and sub-groupings!!
Now apply that theory and logic to the vast number of users on Facebook, the mind boggles!
Looking at the infographic below by Ben Foster (@benphoster on twitter) it does indeed show a very exponential style growth of users on Facebook, perhaps there is some truth in this model of growth?

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Our connected past and future

It seems that all throughout history, human beings have been trying to utilise the latest technology of the times in order to connect, communicate, cooperate and colloborate (the 4 C’s!). When I say technology it might not always be the computers and social networks of today (but I will get to that shortly). Just think of smoke signals, carrier pigeons, the horseback mail courier, the telegraph service (morse code), through to the telephone, finally entering the computer era. The important thing here is really that humans are social creatures and we are pretty clever when it comes to finding ways to communicate even over long distances.

This continues on into our modern computer driven era, if we look at some of the ideas and innovations in communication and collaborative technology dating back as far as the 1940’s.

From Niall Cook’s book “Enterprise 2.0”, in 1945 Vannevar Bush, who was then the Director of the US Office of Scientific Research and Development, published his article “As we may think” with these visions of the future of communication:

“… a future device for individual use, […] a sort of mechansied private file and library.” which he called a “Memex”.

“…stores all his books, records, and communications […] consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility”

“…an enlarged intimate supplement to his knowledge”

It is just me or is his “Memex” referring to the explosion of computers and later smart-phones/tablet computers today some 60+ years later?
I know I certainly use my iPhone for many of the very purposes he describes above in my everyday communication and collaboration with friends and colleagues.

Later on in the late 50’s and 60’s ARPA and the ARPANET evolved funded by the US Defence Force and used by Universites as a way for scientists and researchers to share information over a geographically long distance via packet switching using the already existing telephone wrie; a technology that still forms the basis of our modern Internet today.

The Internet we use today again evolved from scientific research purposes, most notably in the 1980’s through the pioneering work of Tim Berners-Lee a student at CERN and his idea of a “web of notes with links” which we now call the world wide web and hence the reason for the “www” at the start of many website addresses or to use the correct terminology – Uniform Resource Locators (URLs).

In a recent TED talk video (included below and well worth a watch!) Tim again explains his vision like this:

“…imagine that that link could have gone to virtually any document you could imagine.”

Further on in this video he moves on to explain his vision for the future of the web, which he is calling “Linked Data” the idea that raw data is available for anyone to use, share and combine to create new data and insight. Which has a lot of “unlocked potential” in terms of scientific research, enterprise and society.

The more data our scientists across disciplines can access, share and cross-pollenate, perhaps the better cooperation and collaboration can take place and maybe, just maybe, we can start to solve the problems we are facing now and in the future on our planet.
The use of social media and social data in our personal and work lives will be key to making this happen as we become a more open and transperant society, much to the horror of the old guard in government and business!

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