The title question is an apt one. There was a time when MySpace was the dominate social networking site. But it never reached a mass large enough to shift the social landscape. Yet everyone and your grandmother are on Facebook. Why? Because everyone else uses Facebook.
Bear with me know, I can see those skeptical wheels turning. You want to accuse me of circular reasoning. How can a site’s popularity be the cause of its popularity? The reason for this is the network effect.
The network effect is when the more members a network has, the more valuable membership in the network is. In the Facebook example, the goal is to “friend” as many of your friends as possible. Thus the ideal place to go is the one with the most friends. This then raises the total potential friends for any other person looking to join a social network.
MySpace was less focused on the interaction between friends, and more on each person’s individual pages. This created “islands” of isolated content. MySpace couldn’t successfully tap into the network effect as effectively as Facebook, and thus lost the battle of popularity.
I have talked about the network effect before, though not by name. Early this year, I talked about why I have an Xbox 360 over the other current gen consoles. In much the same way as Facebook, joining the system that others had joined has all sorts of benefits. We can share games, play online together, and have similar experiences to talk about. It has value beyond the mere system itself because of the network effect.
Interesting enough, Twitter has been successful at rivaling Facebook by tapping into the network effect in a different way. Facebook is generally a closed network: you have to accept friends for them to interact with you. By default, Twitter is open. You can follow anyone you want. You can read their comments, send them comments, etc. without their implicit permission. Because everyone in the world is now a potential friend, the collective critical mass was less to gain momentum. You don’t need to have personal friends use Twitter for it to be useful. You could simply find actors, authors, bloggers, politicians, etc to follow. Thus Twitter has boomed without eliminating Facebook.
The network effect is why more people use Windows over Mac OS or Linux. Why VHS beat out the superior Betamax. Why the mp3 is the dominate music format. Once something gets the critical mass of users, the network effect makes nearly impossible to dislodge them.