Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Social Magnetism: Gravity, Guys, and Gals

I spend a lot of time working on hypotheticals, constructing "what if" questions about the future. This is part of the curse of being a political science guy - it's up to us to figure out what's going to happen in the future (I say this to anger my historian friends - Drew, that's for you). So in my latest WHAT IF, I thought about what might happen if someone quite famous, say Al Pacino or @Kofi Annan were to hop on Twitter tonight.

I refer to @THE_REAL_SHAQ to further my what if. The guy tweeted for the first time back on November 18th, largely to tell the world that he was, in fact, the real Shaq. That's less than a month ago. As of right now, he's being followed by 21,356 people. That's insane. Once we get enough case study data, I'm sure we'll be able to chart exactly how quickly big names expand their follower count. So let's say that Pacino hops on Twitter tonight and starts tweeting about whatever strikes his fancy. Within a few days he will have thousands of followers. We know that this happens, but it can't be just as simply as celebrity worship. I follow @Ban Ki-moon, but I'm more interested in what the Secretary General of the UN is up to than merely curious about a big name's daily plans.

In much the same fashion, once someone creates an especially engaging blog post/article (more than likely a list!), it circulates wildly throughout the social web. If we're not keeping up with ourselves, it is almost impossible to figure out where our content ends up. People will cut it up, give credit where credit is due, and repost, retweet, and reshare it ad infinitum. It's like casting a satellite out into space. Even if you point it in one specific direction, it's still going to be affected by the gravitational pulls of other objects, i.e. stars, asteroids, planets. Its course will be determined by the larger (and smaller) bodies that inhabit space. In the social web, the role of gravity and social magnetism cannot be ignored. If we don't pay attention, we may end up floating out into the social web alone.