Facebook’s Expansion into Your Life (or how social media feeds of the social)

This is a very interesting article (hat tip to Michel) on why Facebook (and for that matter other social media platforms too) want you to have more friends.  In essence it is because more friends equals more activity which equals more content.  Keeping the content coming is the key to a living social network.  Like a shark, that must keep moving forwards to stay alive, social networks that start to run dry of content, start to die:

Online social networks are built on user-generated content. Without this content, these networks are the equivalent of dying blogs (or MySpace). That said, Facebook faces the (potentially impossible) task of keeping its users engaged and active. Account holders have lives outside of Facebook, what social scientists call opportunity costs, so these social networks need to incentivize participation short of paying people. What better way than to give us a large captive audience of acquaintances, colleagues, classmates, friends and family to share our content with.

A forthcoming American Economic Review article by Xiaoquan Zhang and Feng Zhu demonstrates the importance of group size as an incentive to contribute by using a clever natural experiment of Chinese Wikipedia blockages by the government of China. The researchers analyzed the number of article additions by each contributor — drawing only from those not directly affected by the block — before and after major blockages.

As you may guess, individual contribution falls when group size drops. This fall is especially pronounced for contributors who are considered to be “sociable,” measured by their participation levels in discussion boards and user pages. Sociable contributors enjoy the most utility from participating, so it’s understandable that their incentive to contribute falls as their captive audience falls.

There is also a multiplier effect in operation, as the more activity one individual (node) generates, the more likely people are to follow them.  This made me think of the position of theorist Tiziana Terranova who argues;

“Information is neither simply a physical domain nor a social construction, nor the content of a communication act, nor an immaterial entity set to take over the real, but a specific reorientation of forms of power and modes of resistance.”

In that the power and forms of linkages (in this case, social ones) are much more than simple communication links, they are, by definition of their form, function and impact, links of power and assemblage.  In simple terms this means that there is a power in links, that the social aspect of humans, amplified by easy means of connection and communication can boost the potential of the individual.

When I read this article, I’d just been looking at the new Twitter web interface which, as Facebook has been doing for some time now, suggests new people you might like to follow. Twitter is also looking to lever the power of the social and now we know why…

(also posted on my blog,  agreatbecoming.wordpress.com)

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