Sometimes Size Doesn’t Matter

In his now famous video, “Did You Know?,” Karl Fisch starts with a slide that states, “Sometimes Size Does Matter!”

A Network of People
This photo shows a small group of educators, networking at the EduBloggerCon at NECC in June.  The picture was taken and contributed by Steve Dembo.

Last week (or maybe it was three weeks ago) I was delivering a breakout session at a conference.  I think that the audience was school librarians.  Anyway, to demonstrate the powers of social networking, I told the audience about my Social Networking for Teachers wiki, which I’d started on Wikispaces on November 13. After seeding that wiki page with four prompting questions, I announced the site on Twitter and through my blog, and requested assistance in building out the site. As a result, it was contributed to 40 times in the next three hours, and 120 time in total, since that announcement.

Then one of the librarians, sitting by the isle, about five rows back, raised her hand with a smile and said, “But David, you’re famous.  Certainly your network of readers can accomplish this.”

After gaining control of the coughing spasm that this comment induced, I smiled, allowing that she may have a point.  But then it occurred to me, that those edits were not performed by 40 people, or 120 people, or 500 people.  In the first three hours, 17 people made changes.  This is not an unimpressive number.  But I do not believe that it is the size that accomplished this task.  I do not believe that it is a size that makes the difference.  In total, the wiki was contributed to by 28 people who identified themselves and others who made edits as guest

Again, not an unimpressive number.  But I still believe that the size of your personal learning network is not nearly as important as its quality.  Who do you connect to in your social networking — through your blog, blog readings, Twitter, social networks, social media, and social bookmarks — and what is their value to you?  How do they help you do your job?  What do you look for?

Do you really have to wait until you have 500 readers to start tapping into your network?

It might be an interesting study, to compare the amount of content generated within Ning social networks to the number of members.  In general, do the larger networks create more content per member?  What’s the critical tipping point?  Is there one?

Image Citation:
Dembo, Steve. “PIC-0025.jpg.” Teach42’s Photostream. 23 Jun 2007. 27 Nov 2007 <>.

7 thoughts on “Sometimes Size Doesn’t Matter”

  1. The reason why ‘size matters’ is that a collaborative process like a wiki benefits from the diversity of its contributors. You need a certain number of people in order to ensure diversity.

    Because of this, you actually need a significant number of contributors. Each page (or topic) will actually require a number of contributors, to gain from diversity of perspective. And if each person contributes edits only to a few pages, which is how wikis normally operate, it is pretty easy to see that even a wiki of only 10 ages may require dozens of contributors.

    Viewed from this persepctive, the ‘quality’ of the contributors is largely irrelevant. If all the contributors come from the same perspective or world view, their input will be less effective, no matter what the quality of their contributions.

    Yes, you can always gain points saying nice things about your readers. But this won’t make wikis work differently than they do, and suggesting that you can run a successful and sustainable wiki with only a small network is, in the vast majority of cases, simply wrong.

    1. Stephen! Can’t say I wasn’t expecting you here. You certainly know more about networks than I do, as I do read your blog from time to time. However, I suspect that you fudge a bit, for reasons I can only suspect, when you say that quality is “..largely irrelevant.” At one point in the editing of this entry, I was talking about a variety of perspectives when looking for quality.

      I finally settled for going back to the central point of this morning writing, which is in the next to the last paragraph, a single line, “Do you have to wait for 500 (adoring) readers to tap into human networks?”

      I hope not!

  2. Quality vs. Quantity is an interesting topic in the social networking arena. I believe it takes both. I would agree with Mr. Downes that diversity is a very important part of analyzing ideas and information. Responses from only those who are already on the same page does not broaden the perspective.

    However, quantity without quality will provide you with loads of useless, often poorly constructed ideas. Quantity can become counterproductive after a while. I do not want to read the same ideas over and over and I can only keep up with so much.

    There is a balance that is a challenge to achieve.

  3. David,

    You touched on something that has been sitting in my head for a while.. selective responsiveness from your “network.” There are the rock stars and the minions (as someone recently stated). It amazes me when, at times, a “rock star” will put a question on Twitter (much like the example you posted above), and then others start falling and tripping over themselves to make a poignant or significant response. Why is that? Is it to get themselves noticed in a self-promotional frenzy? In many cases, I think that’s true. Fishing for professional validation from the edtech heavy hitters…your edtech groupies if you will. I don’t think that is the overwhelming norm right now but I’m seeing more and more of it every day.

    On the other hand, I’ve seen several lesser-known folks (with plenty of followers) post intriguing questions on twitter and get absolutely NO responses. Why is that?

    I’m starting to think that name recognition, hob-nobbing, and coat-tail riding is rearing it’s ugly head in our little world. And that’s a shame.

    I still get value from Twitter, RSS, Skype and the rest. But the social aspects I’m seeing, with Twitter especially, is troubling.

    How many of you reading this feel like Twitter “outsiders”? Somedays, I do.

  4. I am a new blogger and sometimes feel discouraged because my network is small and sometime inexistent! But today I presented at a conference and realized that I need to reach out to people in order to gain members of my social network!

    I don’t think the size matters, as long as you have people who are contributing and and inspiring you and your readers.

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