Saturday, June 27, 2009

Metcalf's Law and IM

This, like many other "laws" of science, is really crap in that it is impossible to quantify the value of an incremental user. It is directionally correct, however. If only two people in the world have a phone, each can only call one person. If one more person gets a phone, there are now three people who can call two people each. The increase in utility is exponential.

Metcalf's Law has suffered a serious breakdown in the instance of my instant messaging (im).

I was a pretty early adopter of instant messaging for business purposes on Wall Street. It was probably around 1999 or 2000. At that time my assistant had a list of people who, if they called, I wanted her to interrupt me and get me off the phone. This worked fine but had her running around a lot. Somebody told me about im and that changed everything.
At first, only a select few people had my im address. They would routinely ping me something like "Big call on AAPL. Call me." It was very efficient. One interesting fact is that as far as I know, there is no directory or Yellow Pages equivalent for im. It is the ultimate "opt in" network so to a point you only get contacted by those who you want to hear from.

Sounds perfect, right? It was until everybody got im, and everybody wanted and got everybody else's im addresses. Blast im's to multiple (hundreds of) im users were happening. Users had so many message windows popping up that it was impossible to treat each one as a time-sensitive, important missive.

Not only did Metcalf's Law stop working, the incremental utility was negative in that most of it became noise. Or all of it became noise even though some of it wasn't. Now I routinely get an email saying something like "hey. sorry i missed your im last week. what's up? call me." Sigh. It ws good while it lasted.


Playng a very good track at 10:00 today. Too bad my game sucks lately. Enjoy the weekend.

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