Network effects accelerate when services are accessible wherever the user is engaged. That leap has been made in many different contexts in online media from advertising (AdSense) to participation and personal publishing (Flickr and Twitter).
More mainstream publishers got close to this when they began publishing RSS feeds, but the effects of the RSS reading experience don’t come back to the publisher and add value to the wider network like they should.
A click back to the article on the source domain does not improve that article for everyone else who reads it, for example.
It may seem difficult to create network effects around content except in the form of things like reader comments and social bookmarking. But now there are some new ways to create network effects in the publishing business.
Most publishers have found some kind of social tool that makes sense as part of what they offer. It may be a forum, a friends network, or in some cases a game or contest. All those things can capture activity and engage the participants from anywhere on the Internet.
We recently launched a new fantasy football application at The Guardian (when I say ‘football’ I mean ‘soccer’), and we immediately began thinking about where else people might enjoy playing the game. The developers and product manager cranked out a very rudimentary iGoogle Gadget version of the app so that you can stay on top of what’s happening in the game directly from your browser start page.
The gadget is not yet fully functional, but when we start reflecting your activity in the game back to you through the gadget then network effects will be possible. I haven’t been a huge fan of most of the social apps out there, but I can definitely see myself using this one a lot.
In many ways, it also makes me a more frequent user of Google than I already was, but that’s a topic for another post.
At this point in the evolution of the Internet, the online product launch checklist probably dictates that a portable version of a service is a minimum requirement, must-have feature. In that model, the domain can serve as a rules engine, storage and a transaction hub, but the activity of an application needs only a lightweight container and an end-user who’s happy with the experience wherever it may exist.