Two paths to social: connection first or content first

An app or website that is “social” can have huge advantages over one that isn’t. Not only can social drive key growth metrics like viral acquisition and engagement, but it can create a “Matthew effect” (rich get richer) as more and more value is created in the product by the network of users.

A recent post on Andrew Chen’s blog highlights a distinction between two ways products are achieving social success.

The traditional method is “connection first”: a site like Facebook or LinkedIn wants to connect users as quickly as possible, because it is through those friend connections that user derive value from the product. For a site like Facebook, the job is to provide the tools to make it as effortless as possible to connect with one’s friends.

But a new(er) breed of sites is taking a different approach. Under the “content first” model, sites like Instagram and Genius start as a tool that provides single-user utility: it’s useful even with no one else around. That couldn’t possibly be true of Facebook. Content first sites then provide the tools that make it as effortless as possible for users to create content (Instagram: add photos. Genius: annotate lyrics). These apps acquire more and more users — and accrue more and more valuable content — without ever focusing explicitly on the connections between users.

But they can focus on those connections later, after the have a large audience and a valuable tool.

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