Fertilized Core Value and Rhizomatic Social Expansion

At CommunityNext yesterday, Fred apparently talked about networks having a Core Value that attracts and expand its membership.

In the case of Delicious, it’s Core Value is offering a place to store your bookmarks; with Flickr, it was photos. The social networking components were then activated by people creating and adding content out of self interest.

This theory makes some good sense and is one that, in scientific interests, is reproducible.

However, Tara asked Fred to explain Twitter, which seemingly has no obvious Core Value. Stumped, he promised to think on it and get back to her.

As a proponent of Twitter, I’d argue that it’s got a couple things going on — and a Core Value that only emerges after a certain critical mass is achieved. This is similar to IRC and will be something that Tangler and any other live communication vehicle has to address, since it’s Core Value is couched in a) active concurrent users and b) facility of access.

Twitter has succeeded without obvious Core Value of its own by being planted firmly in the rich soil of infrastructure products like cell phones and instant messaging networks that have strong Core Value of their own.

Specifically, Twitter started out as a way for bike messengers to answer the question “what are you doing right now?”. The obvious tool to create and send this message was the cell phone, and the easiest way to receive and consume these messages were as short text snippets — clearly as SMS’s delivered to those phones.

It was Twitter developer Blaine Cook‘s prepaid wireless plan that forced him to develop Jabber::Simple as a way of getting and sending updates using a lower cost and wider spread infrastructure (instant messaging). But again, this would not be possible if it weren’t for the last 10 years of soil preparation that lead him to build this. And it was also thanks to open source that he could build the simple extension to leverage the Core Value of the existing network.

Finally, the Twitter web interface and API, almost afterthoughts these days, cemented the geographic accessibility of the network for newcomers to explore and experience how Twitterers communicate with each other, and how social norms are developed and negotiated (for example, the addition of the @ reply convention), essentially exposing the derived Core Value of the constituents.

Now, I might also add that there’s a different kind of Network Effect going on here. It’s similar to the Bandwagon Effect, but smaller and more niche.

It’s what I might refer to as the Rhyzomatic Effect (named after rhizomes).

Hell, I even dreamed up a whole web service off this idea (except when I originally scoped it out, it was primarily for individuals, but now that I think about it, there’s no reason why the same utility couldn’t be made to work for small tribes of 2-3 people at a time. Hmm.)

My premise is that, in the case of projects that have no obvious innate Core Value for individual use, they can still grow in the rich soil that previous infrastructure has cultivated (Web 2.0 manure?) so long as that soil is rooted in social connectivity (like the biomorphic analogies? Yeah? Get used to it.). In such an environment, it’s simple for one or two members to venture beyond the conventional borders or uses of given tool or infrastructure device and gain additive value once they evangelize the tool to their social peers and get them to adopt the new use.

And, contrary to Metcalfe’s Law, it’s not necessarily true that every new member will benefit every other member equally, adding constant value the more who use it; it’s only when members of the same tribes join that others members of the same tribes see value, and only when there is a desire to explore socially that those other members begin to offer cumulative value to the network.

If I had time, I’d throw up some pretty graphs comparing Delcious, Flickr and Twitter’s Core Values shown over given time horizons, and then map that to different size social clusters or tribes, since, again, not every Twitter member wants to be connected to every other Twitterer or every new Twitterer who joins. Therefore, Core Value must be measured both from the traditional perspective of personal economic advantage (i.e. convenience in saving my bookmarks or storing photos online) as well as from the tribal/communal-cumulative advantage.

Author: Chris Messina

Head of West Coast Business Development at Republic. Ever-curious product designer and technologist. Hashtag inventor. Previously: Molly.com (YC W18), Uber, Google.

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