The Last Days of Myspace
Social networks are prone to sudden collapses
I hated Facebook from the start and couldn’t wait for it to die. That was a pretty reasonable thing to expect. After all, I’d watched social networks from SixDegrees on crash and burn as the network effects that drove their growth also drove their precipitous collapse.
A system enjoys “network effects” if it increases in value as it adds users. Social networks are all about these effects: You join Facebook because your friends are there, and once you join, others sign up because you are there.
But there’s a hard corollary: Systems driven by network effects lose value when users leave. Your blender doesn’t get better when someone else gets a blender of their own, but it also doesn’t get worse when someone else throws theirs away.
Social networks are prone to sudden collapses, in part because of the double-edged sword of network effects, but also because of the intrinsic dynamics of social networking. Social networks insist that we articulate our relations to one another, pinning down the way we feel about the people in our lives.
The problem here is that the most important part of our relationships is hard to pin down. The opposite of “love” isn’t “hate” — it’s indifference. It’s surprisingly common to feel a mixture of emotions towards the people who matter the most in your life. Pinning down an emotion that fluctuates from moment to moment is difficult.
Actually, it’s worse than difficult. It’s anti-social. Your partner or your bestie knows when you’re pissed off at them, but that doesn’t mean you should create a world-readable sign that says “I hate this person (right now).” That’s a recipe for staying mad.
And those are the easy cases. Because at least the people you love and who love you care about your happiness. But there’s a whole universe of people — like your boss, or a creepy co-worker — who seem to sincerely think they’re your pal, even though you loathe them. When those people friend you, you have to friend them back.
This dynamic is so common that I wrote an article about in 2007, entitled “How Your Creepy Ex-Co-Workers Will Kill Facebook.”