July 24, 2007

"hugh's law"

Hugh's Law: "All online social networks eventually turn into a swampy mush of spam."

Which explains why early adopters are always fleeing online social networks [e.g. LinkedIn], only to join a new one [e.g. Facebook]. They're fleeing the spam.

[For a far more learned and authoritative thought on the subject than my own, go read Clay Shirky.]

Posted by hugh macleod at July 24, 2007 1:56 PM | TrackBack


Thanks for the comment on my blog. There is a very good chance that Hugh's Law could be a definitive turning point. With VC funds throwing money at application development, over enthusiasm has allowed a lot of garbage to pollute a previously useful medium. There was once great value in social networking; what went wrong?

An even better question-- can we drain the swamp?

Posted by: Chris Miller at July 24, 2007 2:16 PM

I've never really experienced spam on LinkedIn and I still consider it to be a good, if not frumpy, business-only networking site. Did I flee from Friendster, to Tribe, to MySpace, to Facebook etc. - yes, but those interfaces, in the spirit of being "open" were easily exploited by spammers. I don't know if you are familiar with Orkut, but despite being somewhat limited on exciting doohickeys is much more permission-based the way Facebook is, and it's been around for years and serving people very well - it's huge with Brazilians for some reason go figure.

Posted by: tomdog at July 24, 2007 2:27 PM

Do you think Hugh's Law applies if you restrict and actively police your membership? Or does that invalidate your definition of a social networking site? I am thinking specifically of asmallworld.net, the super-elite's social networking site.

Posted by: Robin at July 24, 2007 2:44 PM

not sure i agree, hugh. i suspect they leave because of progress-- someone will eventually create something newer and shinier, causing them to jump ship. that is what early adopters do, after all-- adopt, early and often.

Posted by: julien at July 24, 2007 2:58 PM

The problem with all online social communities is that not everyone shares the same philosophies about how to use them, and thus they lose their "community-ness" once the masses jump on board.

LinkedIn works great for some, but those who are "link collectors" muddy the waters of who is a REAL contact. If you are only a digital link, and not a real friend, there is a HUGE difference.

In the real world, communities tend to keep out the rif-raf, in part because to belong to a group means you have to invest real time and emotions to participate and cultivate your relationships. AKA, you have to show up in person and talk to people. On-line social networking communities take away some of that, and thus everyone can jump in and play (and bend the rules). .... Thus making Hugh's Law a fact, and one that will continue to exist.

Posted by: Thom Singer at July 24, 2007 3:23 PM

Hugh - it's the Dunning-Kruger effect - no known antidote.


Posted by: Peter Ralph at July 24, 2007 4:18 PM

It depends whether people want social networks or social networking - the latter are I think more likely to be abandoned because individuals on them are likely to have more contacts and thus are more vulnerable to the network effects of spam.

Posted by: John Dodds at July 24, 2007 4:28 PM

That's the challenge for us content creators. When you see something become popular then you know it is old hat - and try to do the opposite. Never an easy life.

Posted by: Tim Clague at July 24, 2007 5:01 PM


Your headline 8 days ago said, "Sign up to Facebook or consign your career to the dustbin of history etc etc."

This, after Kottke dubbed Facebook the "next AOL." I was inclined to agree with Kottke on this one; social networks are like indie rock bands - cool until everyone else thinks so ...

After today's post it looks like you would agree, too. Or am I missing something?

Posted by: Jon Matejcek at July 24, 2007 7:16 PM

I don't mind relative spam but get tired of the high school shout outs. The main problems I see with Social networks is that they attract too wide an audience (as stated above).

They need to be more thematic, much the way niche forums are. I'm looking for the over-40 over-weight, frelance web developers network, without high-school "entrepreneurs".


Posted by: Eric Searing at July 24, 2007 7:53 PM

No it's not, it's the Tragedy of the Commons. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons

Posted by: Andy Polaine at July 24, 2007 9:01 PM

Does this mean that relationships forged in the virtual world are doomed not to last? Does this mean that we simply cannot build a long-lasting and effective global village in the virtual web of networking?

Posted by: Viola at July 25, 2007 6:02 AM

LinkedIn works fine for me, though I don't care for its attractiveness to "connection whores" who simply want to connect to me to access my network. Therefore I was happy to find out how easy it was to fire a connection (who happened to be a recruiter, as many of the CWs seem to be).

It sure felt good to reduce my network by one.

Regards, John

Posted by: John Caddell at July 25, 2007 4:41 PM

It's all about how you use these tools, isn't it? Whether you are online or offline or up a gum tree?

Think business cards: some people walk up to you and stuff them in your hand. You never speak to them again. Others will converse with you and, when it's deemed worth it, you exchange cards...

I classed myself as a relatively un-sociable curmugdeonly character in response to the first wave of all this when having millions of friends was important (which is still going on clearly in facebook, it's just the justifications have changed a bit). I still do class myself this way, and have concerns that the 'E' type (MBTI) behaviour is dominant in many of our understandings of the who/how/what/why/when of online communities - e.g. "we must make the lurkers come out and say something". Anwyay, that's a soapbox for another day.

Obviously intimacy and understanding of eachother is more important than quantity for anything of any long term use, so I never make friends with anyone I don't know - particularly on linkedin which is an excellent professional recommendation and references engine... so if it's full of gack, I can't show that page to potential clients, ergo I don't relate myself to people I don't care about...

Maybe this is why I don't get any spam (apart from the relentless new group invites from those who I know who set groups up almost psychopathically)...

It's a tool. People use it in different ways. Use it in the way you lead your life, and it will reflect that back at you (?)...

But I know this is curmudgeonly.. an

Posted by: Ed at July 25, 2007 4:55 PM

Right now, the Web 2.0 digerati are moving to Facebook because it's more technologically interesting. A few non-techie very early adopters are checking out Facebook because all the Web 2.0 digerati SAY "everyone is moving to Facebook". When they get there, they find that for the most part, that's not true, and there's only much business conversation on there if your business is Web 2.0 stuff.

The reality is that LinkedIn is still an essential business tool for a whole lot of people who don't read blogs, who don't follow Web 2.0, and who wouldn't find any substantial value in Facebook if they went there right now.

And it's the typical fishbowl problem when we talk about this in the blogosphere, because we're all the Web 2.0 digerati and early adopters. It's the height of self-importance for Web 2.0 bloggers to think that your immediate circle of friends is representative of the general internet population, or more specifically, the general LinkedIn user base.

Posted by: Scott Allen at July 25, 2007 6:13 PM

Leo Laporte said something about this yesterday.

Charging as little as $1 to join a social web2.0 service almost totally eliminates the bozos who have nothing to contribute. It also eliminates spam and underage people.

The Web desperately needs a real micro-payment system. It needs it more than it needs HTML 5.0

Posted by: lone gaffe at July 25, 2007 7:03 PM

I agree with the comment that what threatens Linkedin is the prevalence of "open networkers" who promote networking connection without really knowing each other. That leads not so much to spamming -- which I don't think is a major problem with Linekdin, unlike MySpace -- but to a dilution of the value Linkedin offers because you can't count on the relationships for certain things. I still like the formality of Linkedin, though.

Posted by: Dennis McDonald at July 25, 2007 8:02 PM

Amazingly I've managed to avoid spam on LinkedIn, but I've had one instance of spam on facebook to date. Otherwise though I think that law of yours holds true...

Posted by: Iain at July 26, 2007 9:45 AM

too much of a coincidence - after leaving a message on a cartoonist's facebook entry and then reading a blog about it here. for a brief second, i was a spammer.

Posted by: vikram at July 26, 2007 7:08 PM

WOW! What a great discussion topic! So many great points from everyone; in one way or another I agree w/ almost everyone.

Greatest cause for early adopter exodus? Just that, they are early adopters looking for the shinier new thing. Social media has to figure out how to reward early adopters for staying; beta testers?

There are some at the end of the early adopters, who are really at the front of the pack of sheep, that leave b/c the lack of acceptance by social media masses.

I think in the case of LinkedIn there are two major problems:

1. One there is NO real way a creating valuable relationships w/o significant interaction and collaboration. LinkedIn doesn't really facilitate such action.

2. Malcolm Gladwell in his book Tipping Point believes you truly have a limit to the number of relationships you can manage. Social media probably extends that number by 15%, but you are still limited.

Is social media a swamp? Only because we can't see the total benefit yet, so naturally we become skeptic of its success and durability.

Posted by: Clint Gordon-Carroll at July 30, 2007 6:50 AM