The Power of Network Effects: Unveiling Different Types and Strategies for Success


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Sep 21, 2023

5 min read


The Power of Network Effects: Unveiling Different Types and Strategies for Success


In the digital age, businesses are constantly seeking ways to build defensibilities that set them apart from competitors. Among the four remaining defensibilities, network effects have emerged as a powerful tool for success. This article explores the various types of network effects and their impact on businesses. Additionally, we will delve into unique marketing strategies employed by successful companies, including Netflix, and examine the lessons we can learn from their failures.

Direct Network Effects:

Direct network effects are the simplest and strongest form of network effects. They occur when the value of a product increases with its usage. Within a larger network, smaller, tighter networks can form, leading to deeper commitment and value for users. There are five types of direct network effects: physical, protocol, personal utility, personal, and market networks.

1. Physical (Direct) Network Effects:

Physical networks create value through increased usage and are often accompanied by scale effects and embedding. The more users a physical network has, the more valuable it becomes. Additionally, embedding the network into other defensibilities, such as scale effects, further enhances its value.

2. Protocol (Direct) Network Effects:

Protocol networks arise when a standard communication or computational protocol is established. The success of a protocol network depends on marketing, social engineering, and the choice of a niche market. Maintaining ownership or central control over addressing, identity, wallets, and prioritization can shift the distribution of value within a token-enabled network.

3. Personal Utility (Direct) Network Effects:

Personal utility networks tie users' personal identities to the network and are vital to their daily lives. Users' commitment to these networks stems from practical utility and private communication. The more users rely on the network for essential tasks, the more valuable it becomes.

4. Personal (Direct) Network Effects:

Personal networks differ from personal utility networks in that they are less vital and focus on building interpersonal connections. The social graph in a personal network reflects real-life relationships and strengthens users' commitment to the network.

5. Market Networks (Direct) Network Effects:

Market networks combine identity, communication, and transactional aspects. They are different from two-sided marketplaces and exhibit direct network effects. The relationship between nodes in a market network is direct, resulting in increased value for all participants.

Two-Sided Network Effects:

Two-sided network effects, also known as indirect network effects, involve two classes of users who provide complementary value to each other. However, users on the same side often subtract value from each other. Three types of two-sided network effects are marketplace, platform, and asymptotic.

6. Marketplace (2-Sided) Network Effects:

Marketplaces, such as eBay and Craigslist, rely on the network to provide value for both buyers and sellers. Breaking apart successful marketplaces is challenging, as a better value proposition for both parties is necessary. However, multi-tenanting can weaken marketplace defensibility.

7. Platform (2-Sided) Network Effects:

Platform networks have users on the supply side (developers) and the demand side (users). The platform itself plays a significant role in creating value for both sides. Compared to marketplaces, platforms offer greater utility through their features and benefits. However, multi-tenanting remains a vulnerability for platforms.

8. Asymptotic Marketplace (2-Sided) Network Effects:

Asymptotic marketplaces, such as Uber and Lyft, exhibit diminishing value to users beyond a certain point. More drivers benefit riders up to a certain threshold, but the value decreases steeply afterward. Asymptotic marketplaces are vulnerable to competition and susceptible to multi-tenanting.

Data Network Effects:

Data network effects occur when a product's value increases with more data. Aggregated data enhances the product's value for each user. However, if data is only marginal to the product, the network effect is limited. Yelp is an example of a data network with asymptotic effects.

Tech Performance and Social Network Effects:

Tech performance network effects improve as more devices join the network. Social network effects leverage psychology and interactions between people. Language, belief, and bandwagon effects are the three main types of social network effects.

9. Language (Social) Network Effects:

Language network effects rely on the tendency for people within the same social and economic units to coalesce around one language. Startups can leverage language network effects by creating business category language and utilizing company or product names that become synonymous with a specific category.

10. Belief (Social) Network Effects:

Belief network effects stem from humans' desire to be part of the "in group" and share common beliefs. People are more likely to stick with beliefs that others hold, making beliefs more valuable as they gain widespread acceptance. Contradictory information often fails to sway individuals with strong belief network effects.

11. Bandwagon (Social) Network Effects:

Bandwagon network effects occur when social pressure drives individuals to join a network to avoid being left out. Early stages of network aggregation are critical for bandwagon effects. Slack serves as an example of a product that gained popularity through bandwagon network effects.

Marketing Strategies: Lessons from Netflix's Success and Failures:

Netflix's success is attributed to its ability to capture engagement across various touchpoints and convert it into positive engagement. However, examining the failures of other companies that faced bankruptcy provides valuable insights into successful marketing strategies.


Network effects are a powerful tool for businesses to establish defensibilities in the digital age. By understanding the different types of network effects and incorporating them into marketing strategies, companies can enhance their chances of success. Three actionable advice for businesses seeking to leverage network effects are: 1) Identify the most suitable type of network effect for your product or service, 2) Focus on building strong connections and value for users within the network, and 3) Continuously innovate and adapt to changes in the market to maintain and strengthen your network effects.

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