The Evaporative Cooling Effect: How it Affects Social Software and Life Priorities

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Sep 08, 2023

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The Evaporative Cooling Effect: How it Affects Social Software and Life Priorities

In the world of social software, there is a fundamental principle that is often overlooked – the people who most want to meet others are often the ones that the least number of people want to meet. This phenomenon, known as the Evaporative Cooling Effect, can be detrimental to the success and quality of a community.

The Evaporative Cooling problem occurs when high-value contributors to a community start to disappear. This leads to a drop in the overall quality of the community, causing the next most valuable members to find the community underwhelming. This downward spiral continues as each layer of disappearance further reduces the average quality of the group.

Eventually, the community reaches a point where it consists mostly of unskilled individuals who are unaware of their own mediocrity. This is what Groucho Marx referred to when he said, "I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member." The most skilled and knowledgeable individuals no longer want to be a part of a community that lacks excellence.

One major driver of the Evaporative Cooling Effect is openness. When anyone can join a community, it often attracts individuals who are below the average quality of the community. These newcomers have the most to gain from joining, but unless contained, they end up harming the long-term health of the community.

Social Gating is another factor that contributes to the Evaporative Cooling Effect. It refers to mechanisms that allow participants to self-select out of a group. Unequal roles of participation can help shift the power dynamic and mitigate the cooling effect. In small communities, social mechanisms like recognition and reputation can manage this process effectively. However, as communities scale, these mechanisms often break down, leading to dissatisfaction among high-value members and accelerating the cooling effect.

Interestingly, Facebook has been successful at scaling while maintaining quality. This is because each user only sees their own corner of Facebook, giving them direct control over their experience. The platform incorporates both "plaza" and "warren" designs. Plazas are central spaces where every person's interaction is seen by others, while warrens are smaller spaces where users can only see the warren they are currently in. Facebook's profile, friends, and newsfeeds represent warrens, while fan pages, groups, and events are plazas.

Plazas and warrens each have their unique tradeoffs. Plazas are more visible and easier to understand, making them ideal for new users. On the other hand, warrens allow communities to grow without sacrificing quality, as they can scale almost perfectly. In the online world, plazas are more prevalent, while the real world naturally functions as warrens.

This understanding of the Evaporative Cooling Effect can also be applied to life priorities. In his book, "The "Big Rocks" of Life," Dr. Stephen R. Covey emphasizes the importance of identifying and prioritizing the significant aspects of our lives. He uses the metaphor of filling a jar with rocks, pebbles, and sand. If you don't put the big rocks in first, you'll never fit them in at all.

The big rocks in our lives represent the things that truly matter to us – projects we want to accomplish, time with loved ones, personal growth, and our values and beliefs. If we neglect these priorities and fill our schedules with less important tasks (the pebbles and sand), we risk never making time for what truly matters.

To combat the Evaporative Cooling Effect in our lives and social communities, here are three actionable pieces of advice:

  • 1. Prioritize the big rocks: Identify and prioritize the significant aspects of your life. Make time for projects, relationships, personal growth, and your values. Put these big rocks in first before filling your schedule with less important tasks.
  • 2. Implement social gating: In social communities, create mechanisms that allow participants to self-select out of the group. Establish roles of participation that give recognition and reputation to high-value members, which can help maintain quality and prevent the cooling effect.
  • 3. Embrace the plaza and warren design: Consider incorporating both plaza and warren designs in your social communities. Plazas provide visibility and understanding for new users, while warrens allow for scalable growth without sacrificing quality.

In conclusion, the Evaporative Cooling Effect can have a significant impact on the success and quality of social software and our life priorities. By understanding its causes and implementing strategies to mitigate its effects, we can create thriving communities and lead fulfilling lives where the truly important things are given the attention they deserve.

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