Awesome Content is Directly Opposed to Massive Adoption

My previous article titled Signal to Noise: Twitter, Blogging, and Your Other Crap sparked a few really great comments from folks. It seems many more people are now wrestling with the information overload. There’s now official terms even: “Email Bankruptcy“, “RSS Bankruptcy“, and “Twitter Bankruptcy” (not to mention actual financial bankruptcy because we spend all day learning and not doing). But who cares about official terms when I can barely spend 30 seconds to read the rest of this article because….. *ding* …. I just got another thing in my inbox/reader/twitter.

Yea, spend a little time here for a sec, would you? Trust me, it might be insightful (60% of the time, every time).

Last night, a few super smart people and I got together to hash some of this stuff out. What can we do about it? Can we fix it? Can we recommend changes to the companies and organizations who are creating these things?

We originally wanted to take on the goal of solving this problem for Twitter. It soon became apparent that taking on a perspective of trying to solve the issue for the meta problem (RSS, email, twitter, and other more traditional informational overloading) would be much more valuable. So, we decided it would be best to work on constructing a “best practices guide” to help direct those who are creating the tools by which we overload ourselves.

Today, however, I was talking with one of those brilliant people about this site which was purported by at least 2 out of 4 smart people at the table to be “[bleep]ing brilliant” and “the best site on the internet”. Regardless of what that site is, the interesting conversation that happened today was in direct correlation to the method by which you become a member at said site.

[puts on lawyer hat]

Let’s look at the facts:

  1. The most popular (by membership) sites are those which have open registration.
  2. A way to create buzz about your product is to have an “invite only” registration, but then give everyone enough invitations that there’s scarcity and yet at the same time you can always eventually find an invite.
  3. The most popular services/sites usually have a low signal to noise ratio when you start “following” more than just your immediate friends or contacts.
  4. The services/technologies with the lowest signal to noise ratio are those that don’t specify what you can DO with your new tool (blog about anything you want, tweet the same, email the same, etc).
  5. Everyone wears many hats. This blog, for instance, has topics that range from discussions about God to discussions about PPC advertising. No correlation whatsoever except in my brain.

Now, with all that said, what’s the correlation between a technology or site that is adopted by the world (when I say “the world” I mean “your world”, not “THE world”)?

I’ll give you a hint… no wait, I’ll give you the answer…

Awesome content (the stuff that YOU would deem awesome) is inversely proportionate to the number of uses and themes the host of that content allows.

Put another way, building an insanely awesome signal to noise ratio with your service/site means you will have to limit the potential uses and themes it allows for and then limit the number of people who can actually use it (give one invite per person, not 5, not 10, not unlimited). The aficionados and enthusiasts will use it for exactly that one use, and they will be the ones to brag to their friends (who trust them for their awesomeness in this one area) about how freaking sweet your stuff is.

Now that’s what I want…. someone to brag about how sweet my stuff is.


Nate Ritter lives in the Pacific Northwest (U.S.), popularized the #hashtag and creates web applications for a living. He also does miles and point hacking to enable cheap travel for his family. More here →

5 Comments on "Awesome Content is Directly Opposed to Massive Adoption"

  1. Erin says:

    The best site, by far, in my world, is Ravelry. Its overall theme is knitting, but it has everything for knitters on the intarweb (patterns that link to projects made according to those patterns, yarns with links to online shops to purchase them at, users and their projects, forums to discuss design/spinning/organic fibers/purveyors to avoid/shows we watch while knitting/etc/etc) and a pretty tidy (from a UI perspective, I know nothing about the back end) design. You can connect it with your Flickr account, so putting pictures of your completed projects next to their descriptions is about three clicks away from login. Since it “opened” just over a year ago (their “invite only” translates as “put your name on our waiting list and we’ll get you in, just have a little patience”) it’s gained 100,000 users, and continues to gain new features well as new members. It’s run by three people (the third only having been added to the team recently) and a dog. The site makes money, but its users believe so strongly in in that they have already organized several fundraisers which have helped Jess, Casey, Mary-Heather and Bob break even on the original startup investment.

  2. I’m not sure if you’re a member of the community, but there are some incredible discussions about how private bit torrent trackers mimic economies, signal to noise ratio (people contributing via ‘download & seed’ vs ‘hit & run’), and the need to limit the number of users on a basis as ‘bad’ users are weeded out to allow for more ‘valuable’ users.

    just one example:

    Ratio and the dynamics thereof are what enable torrenting to be considered in economic terms whatsoever. After all, economics is concerned only with scarce things: you can theoretically download an unlimited amount of data, and the only limitations on that are practical ones like storage and bandwidth. But ratio makes torrenting an activity predicated on scarcity of resources, and therefore, supply and demand do apply. Demand can be affected by anything from musical taste to rarity; and for supply, probably more practical issues, like available bandwidth, but ultimately, incentive to supply (seed) more.

    If we had to think in terms of currency, it would be bandwidth, which can be either spent on downloading, or invested through uploading giving a full return. Consider when somebody downloads a torrent from a single seeder: they increase the amount they’ve downloaded, but increase the amount uploaded from that seeder. The cost to the leecher would be the amount they’ve downloaded, but coupled with an opportunity cost: They could’ve used this bandwidth to upload to other users, which would’ve actually increased his ratio the same amount it decreased it.

    Fray, I think you have to acknowledge that this is a totally different system compared to what we’re familiar with in modern capitalist society. Torrenting, here, is actually totally egalitarian, and a zero-sum game (we must give what we take, unless we want to change our ratio). People who take too much and give too little are punished, but people who give too much are the ones with high ratio, and certainly by no means a bad thing.

    In fact, it’s worth noting that supply by far outstrips demand when we’ve got high speed connections capable of seeding faster than people actually need. The median music collection seems to be about 12,000 songs from what I’ve seen, and really, we could get more than that, but how quickly could we listen to it? For our intents and purposes and also because of the nature of the system (which definitely discourages unnecessarily large amounts of downloading), rapid growth in bandwidth used is unlikely.

    Ultimately, in order for these sites to work as they have, a huge amount of seeders vs. a small amount of leechers is pretty much necessary. People with huge ratios make the what/waffles world go around, and it’s partly thanks to the ease of which they can get a large ratio: maybe they’re already audiophiles with extensive collections, maybe it’s because they’ve got a fat fios line and leave a seedbox running. For economics students, think of agriculture: technology has put supply far ahead of demand, and it’s mostly thanks to necessity that it continues to be done, since prices have indeed collapsed. But here, on private trackers, there really isn’t a necessity: we owe it to the goodness of the seeders who actually can upload hundreds of gigabytes. Be kind to them, since they’re not ruthless capitalists, they’re the music world’s greatest philanthropists.

  3. Two other side notes that I wrote up but i’m not sure where they exactly fit:

    Think mp3s – DRM limits what you can do, yes regular old mp3s are more popular, more successful. Then take it to the next step. When you split a song into individual tracks (think Nine Inch Nails distributing Garageband files, or radiohead selling indivudal drum, bass, vocal, and guitar tracks on itunes) – the popularity soars, and more interesting popular music is made.

    Think the walled garden newspaper articles – Pay to read. Spread information/thought/ideas, vs limiting the spread. The more people talking about and creating new thoughts about the original, the greater chance of an even better thought, even better idea regarding the same.

  4. nate says:


    Both outstanding comments and points. At the risk of pissing my wife off and at the same time not giving a deserving lengthy response, I’ll just say I see your point. I am certainly not arguing that such limitations would help creativity and a broad set of ideas. In fact, just the opposite.

    My argument is simply that when the use cases of such mediums are wide open, the noise becomes greater than the signal. There’s much more that you’re not concerned with. If the purpose of the medium is narrower and yet extremely focused, then we simply use the services which feed us the greatest value (largest signal and least noise). Nobody is saying that you couldn’t have more than one service you subscribe to to gain value in different areas (and thereby getting the art and creativity of ideas that inspire improvement and new creations).

  5. nate says:

    Erin, sorry I missed your comment earlier (somehow it was caught in my spam filter, but I rescued it).

    That site looks amazing. Do you find that it is more valuable for you than other sites which have more members and perhaps do more? Obviously you find it valuable enough to talk about (and know a lot about).

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