The Logic of the Network

I just finished listening to the audio version of “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell. This book, which was written several years ago, has some great insights into how viral movements begin. One observation he makes about networking comes from the invention of the fax machine. He says that the first fax machine cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to create and cost somewhere around $2,000. The irony is that this machine was worthless until a second one was sold. And, in fact, the more fax machines that were sold the more valuable they became (and ironically the cheaper to buy).

That is the nature of a network. It’s value is derived by the number of people in the network. Gladwell goes on to mention that when he first got email so few people had it that he would only get a very few emails on any given day. As email became more popular (the more people in the network) it became a more valuable communication tool.

However, what inevitably sets in is what he calls the “Time and nuisance Factor”. When the network grew large, suddenly he was inundated with hundreds of emails in a day. At that point, it loses some of its value. He began spending less time on any individual email, and deleted many of them. We’ve all been there.

His book was written before the days of Facebook. This social network has changed the world in ways we would never have imagined. The overthrow of the government in Egypt has been referred to as the “Facebook” war because social networking allowed for coordination of this loosely nit network of protesters to maximize their efforts.

Of course Facebook suffers from the “Time and nuisance Factor” since the more “friends” you have, the more useless information that comes your way. But we shouldn’t discard the power of this social networking tool to communicate with and mobilize people instantly. I am constantly amazed when I speak to pastors about Social Networking, only to have them tell me they don’t waste their time on things like that. And, surely, you can waste a lot of time on Twitter and Facebook! They are ignoring powerful tools that can be used in ministry – and not just for reaching people under 30. Statistics show that the fastest growing demographic for Facebook is people in their 50’s.

Just as in Gladwell’s “Logic of the Network” thought, a church page on Facebook becomes more valuable the more people who connect with it. In the church where I am a member, the vast majority of the people now get church news first from Facebook, and only later through email and almost never from “snail” mail.

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