Lately I've been watching a couple of social networks really take off. Mostly from the standpoint of how I might take advantage of their numbers for various professional reasons.
As I've been considering each of their unique perspectives, usage models, and participation, it was interesting to me how many of them really only thrive on a form of peer-pressure. They don't have to actually be valuable in and of themselves. You simply get sucked in because someone you know dragged you into it via their email address book.
Obviously someone must be finding value in these services or they wouldn't thrive. But how much energy are those who really find the services rewarding putting into them? Is this just another avenue for someone who already spends significant effort? Or does it help even the generally anti-social to become more social?
Have you been one of those lurkers who doesn't participate? You join and then forget about it. Were you at one time? What prompted your activity? Did you one day recognize some value, or have one of the sites serve some need? Did that create a turning point for you?
I can't help but think that these services are only as good as the value that individuals put into them. But then empirical evidence counters that the case must be different. Otherwise, how would any peer-to-peer technology ever take off? Surely even the sum of a bunch of lurkers must provide some value. And every time a lurker becomes involved, even if only marginally, that must increase the value of the system in a meaningful way.
Now I have to go research this. Anyone have answers they give to save me some reading?