Friday, April 11, 2008

The importance of critical mass in social networking

I came across this graph on the preferred use of social networking sites from Le Monde, courtesy of O'Reilly Radar. You probably need to click on the image to see it in full size to be able to read it, but it shows which networking sites are the biggest in different countries.

MySpace is the biggest in the US, Venezuela and Italy, while Hi5 is the most popular in Central America, Portugal and Mongolia. Like most Norwegians I prefer Facebook and so do the Canadians and the Egyptians. Orkut is most popular in India and Brazil, while Bebo is most popular in Ireland and New Zealand

In most cases there is no pattern, like language, connecting the countries with similar preferences. In stead I suspect it is all about being the first to reach critical mass. When you consider which social network to join you are obviously most likely to join the ones where you friends already are, creating a snowball effect that benefit first movers in the area.

I believe there is a lesson in this for us as well; if we want to succeed in building something similar inside a company, you need to get the snowball rolling...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Time for a performance check-up again

Click on image to enlargeIn my view performance is one of the – if not the – most important "feature" of any web site. It's something you must have at the back of your head whenever you make a change, but I still find that every now and then you need to step back and look at performance as such. The small "improvements" you make in every release may still add up to damaging the users experience over time. The content itself is rarely an issue, that's most often only 5–20 per cent of the total, it's all the overhead it generates that really matters.

While working on this lately I've come across a very useful tool that I'd like to share. It's a Firefox add-on called YSlow, developed by Yahoo. Once installed (You have to install Firebug first.) it gives you a very good overview of issues that affects performance for the end user. Just go to the page you want to look at, open Firebug, then Yslow, and you see an analysis of all elements on the page.

In one view it displays a long list of action that could improve performance of the site, including advice on moving CSS and JS in the page, elements that would benefit from using a Content delivery network (CDN), components that lack expiry header and page parts that could be gzipped.

The Yslow application also references the Best practices for speeding up your web site from the Yahoo developers network, and I wish I had found it sooner. In one glance it sums up many of the issues we've spent weeks and months figuring out. It also taught me quite a few things I was not aware of...