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What does critical mass look like?

The cornerstone of Web 2.0 is community: collaboration among users. And in order to have a community, you need users. Lots and lots and lots of users.

And when you get enough users, you achieve critical mass: “a size, number, or amount large enough to produce a particular result,” according to m-w.com. For the purposes of this conversation, that “particular result” is market domination.

Luckily, alexa.com can give us a great idea of what critical mass looks like in terms of number of users. I plugged in the URLs for two human-compiled reference sites: About.com and Wikipedia. Here’s what the “reach” graph, which measures number of users, looks like.

About.com was happily chugging along reaching something on the order of 1 percent of all Web users, and essentially still is (although it appears to be in a downward trend). The bump in traffic in 2005-06 can probably be attributed to its sale to the New York Times, which substantially increased About’s profile, as well as its marketing budget. But along comes Wikipedia in late 2002 and surges past About by mid-2005. Is Wikipedia directly responsible for About’s decline? We can’t say for sure. But let’s take a look at some other cases of more direct competition: Friendster vs. MySpace, and Flickr vs. Everyone Else.

If you were under 25 in 2004, you had to have a Friendster page or your social life was over. It was the first social-networking site that really cracked the code in a space where so many other companies had failed. But in early ’05, MySpace — a carbon copy of Friendster — simply trounced it. Much smarter people have weighed in on all this, but the bottom line is that MySpace rules and Friendster, well, drools.

Photo hosting was a hotly contested space: Ofoto/KodakGallery had decent traffic, as did Snapfish. But Flickr came along and routed the competition by applying Web 2.0 principles — tagging, sharing, rating, and more — to online images. Whereas the Web 1.0 sites encouraged you to lock others out of your personal photo albums, Flickr embraced openness, and crushed the competition in the process. Here’s the graph for proof. KodakGallery and Snapfish are both DOA, and Flickr, while in a downward trend, still boasts 10 times more traffic than the other two.

So that’s what critical mass looks like. If you can achieve it, the success of your community-based website is assured. Now if I could only figure out how to make it happen, I could quit my day job and pursue my dream of doing nothing all day long. ―Ian Miller, managing editor


April 11, 2007 - Posted by | Ian Miller, Multimedia, Web Content

1 Comment »

  1. The other during their mother, malibu strings competition a twohour sail, as i think.

    Comment by string | March 18, 2008 | Reply

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