What is a potential promise? Itâ€™s the observable/unobservable, direct/indirect, understandable/perplexing, â€¦ factor(s) that create an expectation of personal value for a network. This expectation of personal value, this potential promise, must be present before a network has any chance of building mass.
In our changing world where weâ€™re witnessing a â€œfundamental inversion of mass media economicsâ€, potential promises are keystones of network value.
Step back for a second for some required reading,
From now on Iâ€™m going to call this idea the â€œDel.icio.us Lessonâ€. This is the lesson that personal value precedes network value: that selfish use comes before shared use…
Personal value >> Network effects >> Personal value
The problem with relying on network effects is that if the first few users donâ€™t get value, thereâ€™s no way youâ€™re going to get 10,000 to form substantive network effects.
Personal value comes before network effects and potential promises create an expectation of personal value – which in turn helps develop network effects (which incidentally create and nurture further potential promisesâ€¦ completing the virtuous cycle).
Sometimes the potential promise is clear and easily equates to personal value: del.icio.us offers the potential promise of personal web content organization; personal value is obtained whenever I find that page that I tagged but couldnâ€™t remember; and network value comes from del.icio.us/popular, subscribing to the tags of others, â€¦
In other cases a potential promise is convoluted and does not equate easily to personal value: MySpace offers many potential promises (the case with huge networks). Letâ€™s examine one. For some, MySpace offers the potential promise of popularity â€“ more friends on your page, increased chance of being perceived as popular. The personal value isnâ€™t popularity – itâ€™s being able to talk with friends, discover new music, etc. MySpace canâ€™t make you cool, but it can offer the potential of becoming popular.
The difference between potential promises and personal value can be anywhere from subtle to considerable. Regardless, a network must develop and nurture a potential promise in order to create personal value. And without personal value there wonâ€™t be network effects.
[bonus: weâ€™ve seen that potential promises can help de-commoditize your product â€“ does it also influence the purchase of publishing companies?]