Segmentation of social news sites

Giles Bowkett: Summon Monsters? Open The Door? Heal? Or Die?

I have to admit, I almost stopped reading after the first couple paragraphs justifying himself being jerk-ish, but he does have a healthy dose of good points towards the middle.

The underlying assumption of ‘wisdom of the crowds’ is that people make independent decisions, and they have the same amount of time to do it. Neither are true in social news sites. The former being untrue because you can up vote stories that are already on the front page. That just makes it into a positive feedback system that blows up and amplifies small signals. It’s ok when the community is small, but as it gets larger, the more likely that noise will make it.

The second point I didn’t think about until Giles pointed out explicitly–that since votes come for free, that people that spend their time on the sites are the ones that influence it the most.

Combine the two effects, you have a recipe for amplification of noise. The problem is, you need the amplification mechanisms like up voting on the front page in place when the site is small to grow it, and then when it reaches a certain size, the mechanics of social sites need to change (to what, none of us exactly figured it out yet) to protect the users from themselves.

I’m venturing to guess personalization and fuzzy segmentation to be one solution. As Paul Buchheit mentioned earlier about how twitterers hardly get any spam, it’s because if anyone’s saying stuff you don’t want to hear, you can just unfollow them. Twitter works in this regard because there is a built-in small world network with a relatively low transmission rate between nodes (as opposed to facebook which has a small world network, but high transmission rates of information between nodes…which results in lots of unwanted invitations to bite zombies and vampires). Social sites like Digg, reddit, and hacker news, don’t really have a network. It’s just one single “place”, where what happens on it affects everyone, and small perturbations get amplified.

However, I don’t think such a strategy would work well in the beginning. The very thing that helps a small community in the beginning hurts a larger community, and the very thing that would protect a larger community from itself would stunt the growth of a new smaller one.

I think this would be an interesting topic and ripe for research. It actually reminds me of ant colonies, where younger ant colonies will act like teenagers, taking more risks, focus on growing, and experimenting. Older ant colonies are more about taking less risks, maintaining the brood, and surviving. There’s some sort of decentralized mechanism that kicks in for ant colonies to do that, or maybe once they reach a certain size. I think looking into the literature for that might yield some clues into how to design community sites so that they can grow in the beginning, and not implode when they get bigger.

Make it easy for users to let others know how awesome they are

I recently got an email from Amy of Blogged.com, as many of you probably have about how she rated your blog. The editorial list seems pretty spot on, as she did her homework. However, I think it would have been more useful if the listing was filterable by the different criteria that she used to rank the blogs, such as quality of updates, frequency of posts, etc.

This blog got an 8.1, as I don’t post all that often. I try to post only when I have something to say. But in reality, while 8.1 might sound hot, it puts me way back at beyond page 10 of her list, which I’m sure no one really looks at.

But this got me thinking about how word of mouth might work. I suppose one way is to tell people how awesome they are, and encourage them to tell other people how awesome you think they are. In essence, I guess that’s what great products do, right? They let you get stuff done, quickly, easily, and with a bit of fun, so that you feel like you’re awesome. If you’re awesome, you’d like to tell other people how awesome you are.

This this limited scope, I think something similar for mobtropolis would make a lot of sense. One way for people to feel awesome using mobtropolis is if they’ve had a sense of accomplishment by completing something. Or, they get a validation of that accomplishment simply by friends commenting on it. I need to make it easier for this to happen, and I suspect the more it does, the more people will feel good about themselves.

What about your product or app? For any particular application, and especially if it’s a tool, if you can make a user feel awesome, make it easy for them to let others know how awesome they are. It can be stats on their accomplishment, or a limited feature only they can access. Either way, it has to be limited and unique to them, and yet publicly accessible to others.