Four Geeky Laws That Rule Our World

There are laws and then there are geeky laws. Read more about four geeky laws rule the world of technology and social media:

1. Amara's Law: "We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run"

Roy Amara is an engineer and futurist (long before that term became trendy) at the Institute for the Future think tank. Amara's law is probably best illustrated by the "Hype Cycle," a term coined by Gartner Group to characterize the hype or "Peak of Inflated Expecations" and subsequent "Trough of Disillusionment" before reaching the "Slope of Enlightenment" and "Plateau of Productivity".

2. Brooks' Law: "Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later"

Fred Brooks, the author of "The Mythical Man-Month ," explains Brooks' Law as follows: First, it takes the new guy some time to learn about the project before becoming productive. Teaching him takes resources that could otherwise be put into the project itself. Second, communication overheads increases as the number of people increases - sometimes, they spend more time talking to each other to keep the project in sync, rather than working on the project itself.


Image: The Mythical Man-Month by Frederick Brooks - via iraknol

Perhaps Brooks summarizes it best: "Nine women can't make a baby in one month."

3. Thackara's Laws: "If you put smart technology into a pointless product, the result will be a stupid product"

In 2005, critic John Thackara wrote a book called In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World, in which he pointed out the tendency of designers to incorporate technology into products just because they can (tweeting refrigerator, we're looking at you!) without asking whether they should.

Perhaps it's a natural response against the onslaught of pointless technology, but humans have developed a defense mechanism that Thackara dubbed LODA or the Laws of Diminishing Amazement. "It states that the more fancy tech you pack into a product, the harder it becomes to impress people with its benefits."

Comedian Lewis C.K. puts it simply "Everything is amazing and nobody is happy." Watch:

4. Reed's Law: "The Value of a Network Increases Dramatically When People Form Subgroups for Collaborations and Sharing"

In 1993, Robert Metcalfe noticed that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of users of the system. For example, two people with telephones can only make one connection. Five telephones can make 10 connections, and twelve telephones can make 66 connections. This is now famously known as "Metcalfe's Law" or network effect: The value of a network is proportional to n2, where n is the number of users.

In 2001, computer scientist David P. Reed published a paper called "The Law of the Pack," in which he described three different types of networks: one-to-many (broadcast network or Sarnoff network, like TV and radio networks), one-to-one (transactional network or Metcalfe network, such as emails and instant messaging), and a group-forming network (GFN or many-to-many).

Reed realized that Metcalfe's law actually understates the value of the third type of network. GFNs actually increases exponentially with the number of possible sub-groups. The value of this network is roughly 2n, where n is the number of participants.


Illustration: Serge Bloch - via Thoughts-Illustrated

Both Metcalfe's Law and Reed's Law have been used to explain why social networking sites like Facebook become more valuable the more users it has (hence the saying "everyone's on Facebook because everyone's on Facebook.")

Reed's Law is particularly useful in explaining the value of reddit, the social news website where users can form sub-groups (called sub-reddits). Founded in 2005, reddit more than tripled its pageviews from 250 million in January 2010 to 829 million by the end of the year, cracked 1 billion pageviews a month two months later in February of 2011, and doubled that again to 2 billion pageviews served every month by December. The number of sub-reddits grew to over 100,000.


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