Thursday, 15 March 2007

Tale of two networks

I think I'm getting slightly obsessed with this topic of web-based social networks, so I solemnly swear this'll be my last post on this subject. For a while, in any case :)

Some people believe that it takes a maximum of six people to link up any two people in the world. This is a familiar theory called the six degrees of separation. Mathematically, this makes sense. Let's say every person on earth knows 500 people. I don't think 500 is too high a number - I have 472 people on my orkut list, which include seven people I haven't ever met (they could be fake for all I know), but I think I know more people who don't have an orkut account. The 500 number means that through six other people, I could theoretically form links with 500^5 = 31250000000000, which is definitely greater than the population of the earth. Yes, there might be repeats, but there's a good chance I could cover everyone. At least that's what the theory says. But here's where I disagree -- there might be some clusters of people which are so remotely connected from the rest of the world, that they might not have a link. This is especially true with tribes that have been untouched by other civilised humans.. so it's difficult for me to believe in the Six Degrees theory outright. Nevertheless, if you keep increasing the degrees - from six to eight to maybe 15 - you are bound to connect most humans on the planet. For me, the more interesting fact about the "Six Degree of Separation" theory isn't in the number six but that most of us are connected to each other, most of us know each other. At least indirectly.

Let's draw a parallel to this in the Internet space - quite arbit, but please bear with me. Let's say that email addresses are the equivalent of humans. Well, they are born, they live and then they die. And while they're living, they contact other email addresses. How many degrees separate any two email addresses in the world? Maybe six, maybe more, maybe infinite (you do have closed loop intranets where all email addresses are internal to the network - pretty much like the tribes that have been left in isolation). If I assume the equivalent of knowing another person is an email sent from on email address to another, how many degrees would separate any two email addresses on the Internet?

Here's what I'm getting at. There are two networks - one of humans and one of email addresses. These two networks are separate, they are distinct, and they should not be confused for each other. If I am serious about Web 2.0 in any form, I have to draw a distinction between Internet users and the means they adopt to communicate on the Internet.

What orkut & yahoo! 360 and Linked in have done is to differentiate between the two networks. On Linked in, you don't invite an email address to hook up with you, you invite a person to join your circle. Even on orkut, if I ignore the malicious bots created by crackers (crackers, not hackers), it is people that I am connecting with. When the programmers behind this system forgets that he's trying to connect people and not email addresses, you end up getting a system like The website starts trying to find more and more email addresses to send spam invitations to in the vain hope that viral marketing will work. Well, sir, it doesn't. If were to get hold of my addressbook and sent invitation to everyone on it, they'd send invites to email addresses like that of the placement office at ISB. They won't be inviting the people working in the placement office, but the placement office itself - now what kind of a social network is that?

Lesson for running a web 2.0 site that bases its growth on viral marketing - let the users decide whom to invite and whom not to. That would be social; cracking through users' addressbook is not.


Enakshi said...

I think our prof would have been glad to see someone talking of web 2.0 even outside class hours!

chiranth said...

hmm.. that gives me an idea.. maybe i should submit this and a few other articles as our project :-) what say?

Anonymous said...

Your stand about viral marketing in is a clear stupidity. It's still at your own discretion whether you want to send invitation to the list in your addressbook.

Haven't you wonder that it just makes easier for you to send invitation to your friends. If you think about blogging something , think twice before posting it.