Sunday, October 16, 2016

Another Example of a Seneca Cliff: the Demise of Friendster

The results of a Google Trend search for "Friendster", an old social network. It is a nearly perfect "Seneca Shape," where decline is faster than growth.

"Friendster" was a social network that, in many ways, pre-dated Facebook. Friendster collapsed rapidly, starting in around 2009, providing us with an impressive example of a "Seneca Shape", a curve where decline is much faster than growth, or, as Seneca the philosopher said long ago, "ruin is rapid". 

The demise of Friendster has been studied in at least two recent papers. One by Garcia et al, (2013) "Social Resilience of online communities" and another by Yu et al., (2016) titled "System crash as dynamics of complex networks" These papers interpret the collapse in terms of the dynamic evolution of a network, whereas, earlier on, I had proposed a model where this specific shape could be derived from system dynamics.

Basically, there must be more than one way to skin a platypus: both the studies cited are based on collective feedback effects, which is the crucial factor that makes collapses occur. So, network theory is more detailed, system dynamics is more aggregated, but we are describing the same phenomenon, although from different viewpoints.

In both cases, anyway, we find that ruin is rapid. As long as it occurs to an obsolete social service, it is not a big problem. But if it were to occur to something massive and vital for civilization, such as the oil industry, then we could see something like this.... ouch.......


Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)