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The Network Effects Manual: 13 Different Network Effects (and counting)The direct network effect was the first ever to be noticed, back in 1908. The Chairman of AT&T at the time, Theodore Vail, noticed how hard it was for other phone companies to compete with AT&T once they had more customers in a given locale. He pointed this out in his annual report to shareholders, writing that: “Two exchange systems in the same community, cannot be… a permanency. No one has use for two telephone connections if he can reach all with whom he desires connection through one.” Vail noticed that the value of AT&T was mostly based on their network, not their phone technology. At the time, it was a revolutionary insight. It showed that even if a new telephone was clearly superior to their old phone on a technical level, no one would want the new telephone if they couldn’t use it to call their friends and family.
Innovation gets smaller before it gets biggerThis hints at a larger concern: that the energy and creativity used to create new content management systems and layouts and ways to display news and information will be redirected to a narrower—or, at least, externally determined—purpose: getting an edge within the arbitrary confines of a platform. This kind of media innovation is everywhere. It’s screenshotting important paragraphs into a tweet, and creating an app to streamline this process. It’s figuring out how to make videos for Facebook that don’t need sound to get viewers’ attention. It’s a curiosity gap headline. It’s shooting videos vertically instead of horizontally so they look better on Snapchat.
Platforms demand differenceThe first thing you notice when you spam your content across platforms is that it’s rare, in 2015, for one thing to do extraordinarily well in more than one or two venues without significant modification. The next thing you learn is that the best way to succeed on a given platform is to write/film/record/aggregate with that platform explicitly in mind. The next thing you learn is that doing so makes that content extremely weird when taken out of context, which makes it incompatible with other venues. A Vine video might work on Facebook, if you’re lucky, but a Facebook video probably won’t work on Vine. Quizzes that explode on Facebook seem strange on Twitter. A tweet might seem powerful and informative in the Twitter timeline, but look small and pathetic embedded in a website; a tweeted joke might do decently on Twitter but function better as a screen-cap on Tumblr, if at all. The article or video or object that functions well across all contexts is either transcendently newsworthy or shocking—and therefore rare—or extensively adapted.
An alternative approach – the one I’ve built my company around – is the idea of an open platform. HootSuite is the core of an ecosystem that integrates with dozens (soon to be hundreds) of leading marketing, social media and productivity apps. Clients aren’t locked into a single, defined suite of services; instead, they can incorporate the tools they are already using and familiar with into the HootSuite platform. This includes everything from Marketo’s marketing automation tool and customer experience apps from Nimble and SugarCRM to project management software like Trello, analytics utilities like Statigram, social networks like YouTube and Instagram, and more. The ecosystem is exhaustive, not exclusive: If there’s a best-of-class tool out there, HootSuite finds a way to work with it.