Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Inverse Ratio of Web 2.0 Technologies

As a term to describe technology, Web 2.0 appears to be fading in popularity very quickly -- 'tis the nature of buzzwords and spin. But regardless of the fashion status of the buzzword, many of the technology ideas that have been mapped to 'Web 2.0' still hold true -- and will continue to shape our software technology into the future.

One of those Web 2.0 concepts that is an aspect of web software is "the more people that use the software, the more useful it becomes." Take LinkedIn as an example. As a employment social network, if LinkedIn only had 100 users, few people would find much use for it -- there wouldn't be enough of a user base to attract job posters, to build community discussions, or really anything to get you to use the software. If you've ever received invites for 'Yet Another Employment Social Network Site', you've probably experienced this. The question you ask yourself when you debate about whether to use it or not is, why is this worth my time?

The flip side of this principle and one that I haven't seen as much discussion about is a sort of fashion corollary -- the more people use a service, the less exclusive it becomes and the less useful it is. While it's not frequently discussed -- fashion and exclusivity are things that many 'Web 2.0' sites take into account. Consider the 'membership strategy' -- invitation-only memberships are used to help market to the fashion-exclusivity factor.

My question -- and the thing that started me thinking about this over the weekend -- how many users does it take for a given service to 'jump the shark?' Or, phrased in a more traditional way, did Facebook become less effective when it opened up from invitation only? Do you have a more exclusive window into a job opportunity using LinkedIn if everyone and their dog uses the service? To paraphrase Woody Allen, would you really want to be in a club that I'm in?

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