How asymmetry scales

Bokardo predicts that Facebook will go asymmetric. He calls out two key reasons why: asymmetric networks are a a good fit for anyone with micro-fame, not just organizations, brands and bands. Asymmetric networks help people manage their attention – you don’t need to pay attention to every update from everyone following you.

There are a couple of other key reasons why asymmetric networks scale better. In Twitter there are a number of ways where asymmetry in a public network provides good returns to scale, as noted in yesterday’s post on premature predictions of peak Twitter
* Retweets get you information that was first posted by someone outside your network
* Searches let you find information outside your network
* Visible replies, like the lovely feature in TweetDeck that shows when someone mentions you even if you’re not following them, allow you to hail and engage people in conversation, and have others start conversations with you, even if you’re not following.

These features mean that the more people who join the network, the more interesting information will be amplified through it, and the more potentially interesting people you may discover. The level of context is fairly high – you can see what someone else has been Twittering, and see if they are interesting and relevant to you. And the level of obligation is low (you can follow someone without giving them the burden of accepting or rejecting you).

In Facebook, I can see when someone that I don’t know has commented on the update of someone I do know, but then I need to friend a stranger in order to learn more about them. Facebook’s mostly-symmetrical, mostly closed network makes it hard to learn new things and meet new people outside your existing network.

So, the reasons for asymmetry aren’t just about supporting fame, but enabling discovery with low social expense.

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