Nuclear Theories of Social Networking

A good friend of mine claims he’s invented a “Universal Theory of Parties”. I can’t dispute this, because he and his roommate consistently managed to throw the best college parties ever, twice a year. Fourth of July (“red, white, and blue drinks”) and Pearl Harbor Day (“come and get bombed”). In this article, I’ll attempt to illustrate some of his theories and try to connect them to the realm of Inet social networking.

Critical Mass

Rule: People won’t stay if you don’t give them what they want. There were really only three reasons to show up for college parties. In no particular order, they were friends, drinks, and attractive people. If you didn’t find all those in abundance, you moved on.

This brings us to the concept of critical mass. This is similar to the critical mass of nuclear fission. Basically, this is the point at which a party actually looks like a party. Here are the properties of critical mass:

  1. There are enough people to make the space seem full. This is what physicists refer to as the “cross-section”. Basically, this means that all the atoms (people) are likely to interact. Typically, this is more likely to be centered around the kitchen, or the keg(s)
  2. The people are actually (sustainably) engaged. This is the actual release of atoms (interaction), but it must be sustained. This can be helped along by:
    • great conversation
    • good beer
    • music (or TV)
    • attraction (sexual or otherwise) between attendees
    • gregarious hosts or hostesses

Okay, okay. So, people aren’t really breaking into fission fragments and kicking off atoms at each other. What we are doing is sending out vibrations that keep the party going. This brings us to “sustainability”

The Time Factor

So, somehow you’re expecting around 60 people to show up for your little soiree. Does it matter when they show? Sure it does. You can’t get critical mass if they show up in dribs and drabs. Check this out:

fig1.jpg

What went wrong? Remember, this is a reaction. There was nothing to keep the party people engaged. They showed, saw a bunch of folks sitting around, and stayed long enough to be polite. The place was dead by 2am. The nuclear physicists would call this a “subcritical reaction” That’s great, if you had low expectations. Let’s try another one:

fig2.jpg

Better. The problem here is that even though we had enough people, they left early. Were you running a train station? Do you have boring friends? Let’s try again:

fig3.jpg

BAM! Now we’re talking. The eggheads call this “exactly critical”. What went right? Well, you managed to get your atoms (guests) reacting early, and you managed to keep them there so that when new material was created (new guests arrived), the party was in full swing. Things got hot and stayed hot.

Tip: Don’t fake the heat (but stay in the kitchen)

Basically, nothing can save your party if you don’t get the fun people in quickly and keep them there. Let’s face it: extroverts make the world go round. They bring out the party animal in all of us. You can’t fake the heat, though; there’s nothing worse than a host who tries to force the guests to have fun. Remember the DJ at your best friend’s wedding? Didn’t you want to strangle him?

fig4.jpg

Critical Mass And Social Networks (“Tom has joined your party”)

So what does this have to do with anything? Well, social nets basically rely on the same principles:

  1. Start off right. Get the extroverts in early, and keep them there so they engage the rest. Hint: Myspace Tom does not count; he’s as artificial as that wedding DJ.
  2. Engage. All the beer and music in the world won’t help you if you’re a dull host. Mingle. Know your guests. Introduce them to each other. Maybe they’ll hit it off, maybe not. Don’t leave them to their own devices, but don’t push them, either. Just do your best.
  3. Reward. Maybe an award or two for that MVP (Most Volatile Particle) and the atom that spawned it. What I’m trying to say here that recognition among one’s fellow guests is nice, but when the host throws you a beer, you know you’re loved.
  4. Okay, so there’s no beer on a social net, but there is music, video, tagging, and all that. Keep it coming, and keep it spontaneous.

Above all else, remember that even the big party has to make way for something bigger. You hear that, Tom?

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