The power of participation (Collaboration 2.0, Reed’s Law and Metcalfe’s Law)

I’ve just been reading the Web 2.0 Principles and Best Practices report from O’Reilly (this is a for fee publication – for an abridged and somewhat older piece see What is Web 2.0?). While the number of typos within it is somewhat disappointing, overall there are some interesting conclusions and insights – not sure what my company paid (I’m sure the payment info can be found with the original link), but I’ve found value in it. There are lots of things that had me scribbling in the margins, the first one that I’ve taken a bit of time to think about is the on a section titled Harnessing Collective Intelligence.Without getting into a discussion on how to actually measure the “value” of applications I have some thoughts on the contained discussion around Metcalfe’s Law and Reed’s Law. The former says the value of information is proportional to the square of the number of nodes in a network, the latter says its proportional to 2^^n, where n is the number of nodes. In this discussion the nodes are people, people who are using the application.There are lots of examples in today’s web where whatever the services offered by the application, it’s inarguably valuable because lots of people are using it. Where would Wikipedia be if there weren’t a lot of people contributing content? Of course, there are different types of useage, contributors, consumers, etc. and this report cites some interesting statistics around, for example, what percentage of the registered Wikipedia users are contributors – around 7% of one million. Okay, so here’s what I am thinking about…Wiki’s are popular – really popular. And, again using Wikipedia as an example, very successful, very valuable. There a numerous features that characterize Wiki’s and while it depends on the specific deployment, most of the time self-registration is one of the simple but most powerful features available. In fact, the whole point of this section of the report is that increasing the numbers participating is absolutely related to the value. What I am thinking about in particular is how this phenomenon changes when we move from Web 2.0 to Enterprise 2.0. Going back to the Wikipedia statistics above, even at 7% the number of people contributing is 70,000 – that is more than twice the number of people working for my employer (EMC has around 31,000 employees). Sure, my colleagues are getting paid to produce content, in contrast to the predominantly volunteer “workforce” of Wikipedia, so I would expect the percentage of active participants to be significantly higher. And sure, we are not trying to capture information about everything like Wikipedia is. The number of nodes, however, is orders of magnitude smaller (and I would argue that the problems we are trying to solve are not orders of magnitude simpler ;-)).My whole point is that the effect of the number of participants is definitely different in the enterprise than it is out on the world wide web. I’m not implying that the enterprise needs dictate different applications, but calculating value will definitely involve other variables and adjusted formulas. There absolutely is value of social networks in the enterprise, yet we have to be thoughtful about how we harness it.

February 9, 2007 Administrator web20 No Comments

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