The "chicken or the egg" problem in social web applications – is it real?
I keep hearing this phrase describing the problem in the way for social networks and services success.
What is the “chicken or the egg” problem in the context of social web applications?
- The chicken: people will only be able to see the true value of the web site when there is a large user base
- The egg: till people see the true social value of the web site they will not use it
*Since the order between the chicken or the egg is still in question we can replace and call the first condition egg and the second chicken.
Examples: Digg (web-site) is not worth a Digg (verb) if there are not enough participants. Delicious will not be able to bring great knowledge to the surface without having enough people submitting their bookmarks (same case for any other social search engine). Technorati can’t rank blogs without the vast majority of the blogsphere claming their blogs over there.
The problem that I have with using the chicken or the egg logic explaining why a web site is not growing is, if that was completely true there was never a chance to any social media web site. If I can’t understand the true value of the web site right away why should I recommend it to my friends. This contradict entirely the virality phenomenon.
I understand that there is a cold start phase. I realize that not everyone can get on Techcrunch radar (it is not that hard though). In the first pre-alpha phase when your mom, cousin and the good old friend are the entire user base not much is happing. Yet, there are few things that goes for you these days.
There are lots of free self PR opportunities. Your blog, Twitter, Jaiku, FriendFeed, StumbledUpon, tones of social networks, and many “the very next things bloggers” (like me) and more.
What that is common between the examples that I mentioned above (Digg, Delicious, Technorati) is that they were first of their kind. They came in with a new original approaches and “somehow” people dug their value quickly, with enough excitements going telling their peers about it.
I once heard that the difference between smart man and wise man, is that wise man does not get into the troubles that a smart man knows how to deal with. One option is not to get into this so called catch 22. Leave the social features to be the icing on the cake and not the initial driving force joining in. First, focus on the message. What is the value? What can be done here that could not be done elsewhere? For instance in the case of delicious – saving bookmark on the web so one can access them wherever they are: @work, @home and @yourFriend’sHouse was good enough. Having lots of bookmarks shared, saved by others, and tagged so you can find great content – priceless:)
Make your initial value as clear as possible. Make it not socially dependent.Then find a way to bring data and people from the outside. People could exist in the system without registering. Content could be available without manually submitting it. Later data and profile could be claimed. Having people and content around will make the web-site not looking like an empty store. Leverage search engines API like Yahoo BOSS to augment the web-site dull content with live data.
There are other cases like listing web sites that the Chicken or the Egg problem applies. You need to brings both demand and supply almost at the very same time. It took craigslist some time to catch fire but this is not a social network web-site (yet).
Finally, as it takes time to farm a chick out of an egg it will take time to grow the community. In the meantime it is best to find a way not relying on heavy social use as the single way for growing the community. Focus on the value proposition for the individual instead.