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Dr. Petroski
Dr. Petroski
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Join date : 2018-05-16

Law of Accelerating Returns

on Thu May 24, 2018 8:58 pm
Author and futurist Ray Kurzweil has suggested that one way in which technology innovation is often misunderstood has to do with the linear manner at which we assume the world to operate. In this, Kurzweil suggests that many individuals tend to overestimate the immediate and short-term influences of a technology (leading to disappointment and rejection of many innovations) and they also tend to underestimate the lasting and longterm influence (leading to rejection of older technologies that are in fact still quite relevant).

We might apply Kurzweil’s law to understand the evolution of Facebook and de-evolution of MySpace. Today, Facebook and its one billion users have more or less supplanted MySpace and its shrinking user base as the “go to” social media platform, which tends to lead many to discuss how Facebook “won” and MySpace “lost” the social media battle. However, re-examining the evolution of both programs reveals a logic completely in line with Kurzweil’s thinking. Launched in 2003, MySpace is considered by many to be one of the first large-scale, open-access social media platforms in the world and enjoyed early success as a novel approach to the Internet—for the first time, Web users could own (for free) a personal and persistent presence on the Internet without having to learn any computer programming language. From their 2003 launch, the platform swelled to over 100 million unique visitors in 2006 before declining in the face of a new platform: Facebook. Indeed, the potential “death knell” for MySpace came when the Facebook platform expanded from a college-only audience to consider anyone over the age of 13 (the same audience as MySpace). As Facebook eventually swelled to its one billion user accounts, the MySpace platform continued to shrink down to only a few million active users.

So, was MySpace a failure, and did Facebook “kill” it? Kurzweil might argue that if not for the invention and widespread adoption of MySpace as the first mainstream social media platform, there would have never been a Facebook. After all, prior to MySpace, the notion of having a personal profile on a persistent network space was more or less a foreign idea, reserved largely for a small segment of computer-savvy individuals building Angelfire pages (a web hosting service in the 1990s) or posting comments in bulletin boards. In other words, it took a MySpace to introduce consumers to the notion of social networks, and only then was another company (Facebook) able to improve on the original technology to make it more desirable to users.

What do you think? Are there any examples of communication technology that seem to fit the same pattern as the MySpace-Facebook relationship? Are there any specific technologies you see gradually fading from popular use?

Dr. Petroski
Department of Communication
Southern Connecticut State University
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