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September 30, 2011

Network Effects and the Power of Recommendations

In the world of social networking, there is little more valuable than a trusted referral from a friend. Whether it be Twitter's "Follow Friday" phenomenon, where users point out accounts that have value once a week, or bloggers creating lists in their blogroll (at least back in the old days), it is a good rule of thumb that someone you trust probably has good insight into more new people who you would like to know, but haven't found yet.

As people have expanded their online interactions beyond those who they already know offline, the barrier to adding new people to lists, groups and circles is reduced. And if a respected cog in the network sees their recommendations pushed further downstream, the network effect is something to behold indeed. Popular social networkers can drive dozens, hundreds or even thousands of new connections in a single day. Whether its driving pageviews, like the Slashdot Effect, or mentions, like the Scoble Effect, a big push from a major participant can have ripples downstream that last for days.

Yesterday, I took some time and shared a list of women who interact with tech and media who I follow on Google+. Working on the Google+ team, I think a lot about how I consume content and want to make sure other people have the same opportunity to see the updates I enjoy. So I made a quick post highlighting about 200 or so women from the service, and said the circle would make your stream more "diverse, engaging and smart". That's my belief, and I'm sticking to it.


Felicia Day's share of Veronica Belmont's list, building from a circle I shared.

As the shared circle made its way through the stream, from person to person, share to share and comment by comment, it reached the view of Tekzilla's Veronica Belmont, who thoughtfully added on a few dozen more to the circle and shared it herself. With 100,000 or so people following her, this expanded the number of people who could see it dramatically. But it got even better when The Guild's Felicia Day shared the list. Felicia has almost twice as many connections as Veronica and so, again, the velocity of discovery and following was accelerated.

For years on this blog, I recommended new blogs to follow each month, and during FriendFeed's heyday, I shared new accounts to follow. I think doing this made sense as it helped solidify the community and help bring visibility to many people who were doing great work, but possibly not getting the awareness they deserved. There's little more exciting to me as a participant in these networks to help give a boost to high quality people. That doesn't mean that everyone following will agree with my recommendation, but putting somebody on the list puts a stake in the ground and ties my personal reputation to theirs. By endorsing someone, I am saying that I personally vouch for their content, and hope you will see value.

The Web gives us amazing potential, good and bad, for content to zip around the globe quickly. Seeing how the network shares information and builds on it in real time, is incredible. So when you are participating online, don't just think about yourself and your numbers and how you are being seen, but instead of how you can pay it forward and bring value to everyone else. This knowledge is power.

Disclosures: I am on the Product Marketing team at Google working on Google+, of course.