Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Tipping Point

Something that I've been looking at is why and how things "tip." How does a site like YouTube go from 0-60 in 3 months? Why is MySpace the premiere destination for social networking? Has Second Life "tipped" or is it still a geek's toy? Why did FaceBook grab so many users? Let's look at some thoughts into why these things happened...

YouTube - YouTube was launched by Steve Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim, exPayPal employees in November of 2005. Shortly thereafter (around December or January) the trio has no one but the copyright infringer who uploaded SNL's Lazy Sunday to thank. Traffic spiked at that point. And even more traffic came to the site when it was reported that NBC asked them to take it down. But by then it was too late, YouTube was the "it" place to be for user generated video and any kind of online content.

MySpace - MySpace was founded by the friendly Tom Anderson in November of 2003. It started as a site to share music and eventually became "a place for friends." MySpace could be attributed as one of the first successful social networks that really brought about the entire Web 2.0 revolution. However, traffic for the site didn't really tip until what I think was the entire Friendster debacle. Friendster arguably the first social network, was experiencing slowness and server difficulty. A message was sent around Friendster saying that they would start charging and that MySpace was free. Many addicted social networkers flocked to MySpace and that was all they needed. With the newness of social networking, MySpace quickly grew and that rolling stone gathered enough momentum that MySpace is a household name.

Second Life - Second Life is the avatar based role playing world. So far its received a lot of attention in the media and by brands. However, as you can see from the chart, it still hasn't tipped. I think that its a combination of things here and one of the big barriers is the user experience. Second Life for the non techy is hard to use. That's agreed upon. Secondly its a separate software download. That's a pain. Compare this with Flash based ClubPenguin who's traffic is slowly creeping up on SecondLife, and was recently offered $500 million from Sony.

Facebook - The darling of Social Networks - Facebook was rumored to be worth in the $2 billion range. How did a dorm room start up at Harvard become one of the most valuable properties on the web? The chart below shows how Facebook really hit straight up growth in the beginning of 2006, which corresponds to their high school out reach. But why did all of these high schoolers want to join Facebook? I think here the tipping point was based on what Malcolm Gladwell calls influencers. And there are many influencers at Harvard the birthplace of Facebook. Would Facebook have survived if it started at another school? Princeton? Perhaps. University of Middle of No Where? Probably not.

I think that its interesting to look at the different ways that these things "make it." YouTube had a unique piece of content, MySpace was positioned at the right place at the right time, and Facebook had influentials behind it. What will it take for Second Life or the plethora of Web 2.0 companies? Sometimes its dumb luck.

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