Social networks don't get better as they get bigger. They get better based on their quality, a measure Plaxo believes it possesses and aims to exploit in its Pulse network.
For social networks, you have to throw out Metcalfe's law, which states that the value of a telecommunications network grows proportional to the number of its users—the more people using phones, the better that network is.
The value of a social network lies in the context of the social relationships and the ease with which one can organize and get access to others in the network, said Geoff Bock, an analyst at the Gilbane Group. For example, the fact that Plaxo or LinkedIn have millions of users is not as important to Bock as the ability to connect with people they know professionally and put them in context, he told eWEEK.
Click here to read more about the need for Google and MySpace to open up.
For Plaxo's Pulse network, quality equals portability. While Facebook lets millions of people connect with their friends and LinkedIn lets professionals communicate and collaborate, Pulse aims to improve the quality of users' experiences.
Pulse builds on the all-access premise of the Plaxo address book service, which imports contacts from almost any e-mail account, to let users share content from Digg, Flickr, del.ici.ous, and several other social networks.
Think of Pulse as a social RSS feed. Instead of users flitting from site to site to connect with different people sets, Pulse lets users share content from several networks without making users join each one.
Through Pulse, John McCrea, vice president of marketing for Plaxo, said he shares his blog and Twitter content with colleagues, YouTube videos with friends and some photos with family.
"It's more about quality and relevance than about shared quantity," McCrea explained. "If the people you know and care about are using something, than it's fundamentally more interesting for you to use."
Indeed, it's not just that bigger isn't better (as Metcalfe's law suggests); bigger is potentially problematic. Burton Group analyst Mike Gotta said large-scale communities realize connection issues when they grow too large.
Gotta said too many people, too many postings and too many conversations can be cumbersome on social networks. Quality, then, is the key to the social Web kingdom.
"If they only get bigger, the sites lose luster. But if they find a way to leverage the number of viewers they have and make that membership more rewarding, they're on a growth path," Bock said.
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