A Reflection on Scale

As networks scale  distance between people increases

The end and beginning of each year bear prediction gifts. But our beginnings never know our ends. Calendars are conventions. The work is in the middle. For that, reflection is more useful: pre-mortems, reviews, activity, and observation are tools for the job to be done.

There's tremendous upside to building and creating. But the existing technologies and paradigms are solutions with problems non the side. Take for example micro- or niche communities. Sari Azout shared a note about scale#. I'd like to emphasize and sharpen it.

She says:

Scaling intimacy is the million-dollar question for digital micro-communities. I’m surprised by how under-discussed this is.

We talk about digital communities being the next big thing, but rarely about how the community software options we have today make it impossible to retain the feeling of closeness and empathy at scale. 

Over and over I’ve seen the signal-to-noise ratios of these communities suffer as more people join. It’s network effects moving in the opposite direction — as more people join, the experience worsens.

All of this has me thinking about what happens when we focus so much on disruption, and not enough on preservation, on building products and services that can withstand and improve with the passage of time. 

Maintenance is not the same as status quo. Evolution should be part of it. Because there's tremendous upside in figuring this out. You see it all the time with creators. The conversation is nice and cozy when there's a core group. Then more people join, and all of a sudden, you kiss any chance at a reply goodbye. You're just one more member or subscriber. 

It's a similar problem companies face, isn't it? You work hard to get new customers and then need to figure out how to keep them happy when they're too many for the white glove approach. I'm in awe of any small business that figures it out. Because the answer for them is often not to throw money at it.

But why aren't the platforms doing more heavy lifting? Could all the tech innovation-speak be holding us back here? As I said in More agent, a little better conversation:

Our focus on innovation leads us to under-invest in maintenance, which in turn makes innovation harder to sustain. Remember the pace layering diagram that shows how lower levels sustain the ones above?

The other strong point is around empathy. Social media favors the fly-by, in fact that's the whole point to keep you producing content for their digestive systems. But, this method is often a short shoot to the intestine. Yes, I remember the conversation around filter failure. It's even more relevant today.

We can do better work. Some things don't scale as quickly as technology does, but their role in building and maintaining infrastructure is critical, not just as valuable. As Sari says in her next point on maintenance, it's worth reflecting on the trade-offs: What do we want to preserve? 


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