Andrew Chen Archives

Subscribe · Featured · Recent · The Cold Start Problem 📘
Dear readers, I have moved to Substack and I will be writing here from now on:
In the meantime, I will leave up for posterity. Enjoy!

Social network convergence and private/public networks

Jeremy Liew just blogged about a great topic:
Viral marketing, randomness and the difficulty of controlling growth in social media.

Stop and read the post before you read the rest of mine.

Anyway, I wrote him a quick e-mail after, with slight edits below:

The gist is that viral marketing often leads you astray, heading into countries like Brazil or Turkey or India, where you don’t plan to be.

Part of what seems to make these sites like Orkut start to "converge" in certain languages, demographics, and localities has to do with the fact that they all offer various types of "open browsing" like the type that MySpace has. This makes the entire social network a "public space" that ultimately makes newbies auto-select themselves into or OUT OF that tribe, based on language, content, etc.

So when a huge group of Brazilians invades Orkut, even people in mountain view feel it, when they get a bunch of invites, and all the comments for stuff happen in Portuguese.

One of the things I’ve been fascinated with in regards to "private" social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook, where it’s much harder to browse globally, is that the network right around you is less likely to be affected by changes elsewhere in the network, and a huge influx of Brazilians or Canadians might not impact the experience much.

This sorta implies that a closed network is likely to grow more slowly, yet have some strong ability to be resilient to demographic changes elsewhere on the site – except for all those old people in your region joining FB ;-)

So for the people who are interested in not having their networks completely converge, you should make it REALLY REALLY hard for people from one region to see people from a different region. That means not having public displays of things like:

  • Featured users
  • Featured pictures
  • Featured content
  • Featured comments
  • etc

… as they are all things that make people self-select either in or out of your social network. They are all "public space," which results in convergent results. Instead, you want to segment and target all of your content to wherever the user is coming from.

As a corollary to this, you end up needing to collect some personal information about the user’s network before showing them any content on the site. In Facebook’s case, they were smart enough to use the ".edu" namespace to automatically carve out college students into their own segmented areas, where they found other similar people easily.

PS. Get new updates/analysis on tech and startups

I write a high-quality, weekly newsletter covering what's happening in Silicon Valley, focused on startups, marketing, and mobile.

Views expressed in “content” (including posts, podcasts, videos) linked on this website or posted in social media and other platforms (collectively, “content distribution outlets”) are my own and are not the views of AH Capital Management, L.L.C. (“a16z”) or its respective affiliates. AH Capital Management is an investment adviser registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Registration as an investment adviser does not imply any special skill or training. The posts are not directed to any investors or potential investors, and do not constitute an offer to sell -- or a solicitation of an offer to buy -- any securities, and may not be used or relied upon in evaluating the merits of any investment.

The content should not be construed as or relied upon in any manner as investment, legal, tax, or other advice. You should consult your own advisers as to legal, business, tax, and other related matters concerning any investment. Any projections, estimates, forecasts, targets, prospects and/or opinions expressed in these materials are subject to change without notice and may differ or be contrary to opinions expressed by others. Any charts provided here are for informational purposes only, and should not be relied upon when making any investment decision. Certain information contained in here has been obtained from third-party sources. While taken from sources believed to be reliable, I have not independently verified such information and makes no representations about the enduring accuracy of the information or its appropriateness for a given situation. The content speaks only as of the date indicated.

Under no circumstances should any posts or other information provided on this website -- or on associated content distribution outlets -- be construed as an offer soliciting the purchase or sale of any security or interest in any pooled investment vehicle sponsored, discussed, or mentioned by a16z personnel. Nor should it be construed as an offer to provide investment advisory services; an offer to invest in an a16z-managed pooled investment vehicle will be made separately and only by means of the confidential offering documents of the specific pooled investment vehicles -- which should be read in their entirety, and only to those who, among other requirements, meet certain qualifications under federal securities laws. Such investors, defined as accredited investors and qualified purchasers, are generally deemed capable of evaluating the merits and risks of prospective investments and financial matters. There can be no assurances that a16z’s investment objectives will be achieved or investment strategies will be successful. Any investment in a vehicle managed by a16z involves a high degree of risk including the risk that the entire amount invested is lost. Any investments or portfolio companies mentioned, referred to, or described are not representative of all investments in vehicles managed by a16z and there can be no assurance that the investments will be profitable or that other investments made in the future will have similar characteristics or results. A list of investments made by funds managed by a16z is available at Excluded from this list are investments for which the issuer has not provided permission for a16z to disclose publicly as well as unannounced investments in publicly traded digital assets. Past results of Andreessen Horowitz’s investments, pooled investment vehicles, or investment strategies are not necessarily indicative of future results. Please see for additional important information.