metcalfe's law, its limitations, and the next wave of facebook exodus

metcalfe’s law “states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system (n^2)” (wiki). when i first heard about this law on some blog post curtis wrote, it made intuitive sense to me. later, when looked up the official definition, the image below clarified what my intuition told me.

phone's in a network illustrating metcalfe's law

when i heard about this law, i thought first about cell phones and then about facebook. in the early days of my usage, both of those tools had some coolness factor or basic intrinsic value. over time, though, as more and more friends got them, the experience and utility of each became even better.

however, lately i’m wondering if it’s possible to be too connected. i’ve though this out before and i very much believe it’s possible, but it’s showing up in a new way right now. right now, i have 2-3 friends a week telling me they’re mostly over facebook. several folks have put up statuses saying that they’re not going to use it and why. other friends have just told me in person why facebook has become just a timesuck and a tool that drains them more than it brings them happiness or joy from connecting with friends.

visual of idealized version of metcalfe's law overlaid on a bell curve

i feel like facebook, as it is eventually (if not also initially) with all things capitalism touches, is going in a bad direction. it’s becoming bloatware (too many features) as well as just falling into the common trap of not thnking through the full implications of what happens when your intervention in society is too successful. this is a hard thing to foresee, for sure, but it happens. facebook was great for me when it was a tool i used to connect with the college friends. of course, over time as its userbase grew, it was cool to also connect with teachers and friends from elementary school and conferences/convenings and whatever. but now that original use value has changed.

and that’s just one example of how it’s changed. i think at this point, it’s changed so much that it’s not actually clear what value facebook provides for most people.

anyway, i’m rambling. my point is: i think metcalfe’s law has some limitations. maybe, like many things, it’s actually a bell curve situation. maybe at the beginning the value of the network grows with its square, but eventually it tapers off and even begins to diminsh…

ps - the question is, will i be a part of this exodus?

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