Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Quorum Sensing

I attended a lecture last night on Biomimicry - studying and emulating natural systems to find sustainable solutions to design problems. In one of her examples, she talked about how bacteria commune with each other.

The phenomenon is called "quorum sensing". A few bacteria will land on a surface and immediately begin emitting a chemical that attracts other bacteria. If no others join them, they'll move on.

I was already thinking about mySpace, having just read this interesting Chartreuse post on the subject, but the obvious connection between the way a bacterial colony grows and the way a social networking site gets hot made me realize something:

The users that flock to mySpace and before that to Friendster may be fickle, but that doesn't mean that their behavior isn't predictable.
Our communities mimic natural systems that biologists have been studying for generations.

It also made me realize that being new isn't the only way to attract some bacteria to a networking site. As long as you can figure out the right core users to keep happy, they'll go right on emitting their chemicals.

By the way, if my brain wasn't so shamefully ensconced in this stuff, I probably would have written about the natural ventilation systems they're building based on termite mounds or the glueless tape they're developing from the technology on salamanders' feet. Pretty cool...


Blogger Amanda said...

Is one of us bacteria in this scenario?

I guess both of us are. Ah, the life of a conformist. I never thought I'd apply that word to myself, much less you.

But how do you explain the popularity of Myspace over Friendster. Wasn't Myspace a simple copy of Friendster?

Nope, I'm going to answer my own question. Myspace added music pages and other interesting features. They got the numbers and those social sites only work with numbers.

Okay, I'm done arguing with myself. Interesting topic.

9:35 AM  
Blogger Adam Elend said...

Friendster and mySpace are the conventional wisdom. I'm talking here about why conventions don't always prove out.

The conventional wisdom is that social networking "customers" are fickle. It's difficult to build a business around them because they flock to what's new.

My point is that people don't flock to what's new, they flock to whatever other people are flocking to. They behave like lots of communities in the natural world behave. And that means that they're predicatable.

12:19 AM  
Anonymous Gregor Clark said...

Advertising agencies trying to impact teen consumer behavior have for decades sought out "influencers" - young people who can convince their peers to buy things. Scary. So maybe you need to assess what you mean by "core" users here. It might not be so pretty!

11:38 PM  

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