Zuckerberg's Second Law
November 08, 2008
There's something about the crisp autumn air that brings out the philosopher in Mark Zuckerberg. At this week's Web 2.0 Summit, the Facebook founder mused, according to Saul Hansell of the New York Times, "I would expect that next year, people will share twice as much information as they share this year, and [the] next year, they will be sharing twice as much as they did the year before."
Hansell dubs this Zuckerberg's Law. But I believe it's actually Zuckerberg's Second Law. Zuckerberg's First Law, enunciated on another fall day almost precisely one year ago, took this elemental form: "Once every hundred years media changes."
Zuckerberg's Second Law is certainly superior to Zuckerberg's First Law, if only because it is not quite so obviously false. If you're going to make up big laws, it's always best to make them up about the future rather than the past.
And the Second Law has, as Hansell notes, a nice Gordon Moore kind of ring to it: "The amount of information we disclose about ourselves will, like the number of transistors on a slice of silicon, double every year." I'll buy that.
I'm troubled, though, by the implications of this exponential growth in our release of intimate data. I mean, aren't we all pretty much tapped out already? Think forward a few years, and imagine the kind of details we're all going to have to disgorge just to satisfy the demands of Zuckerberg's Second Law. Shall no fart pass without a tweet?
That reminds me of a Science-Fiction story, where there's a job that's basically lifecasting-prostitute - the idea is the performer puts up every intimate aspect of their body for someone else to watch remotely - heartbeat, blood pressure, sugar levels, everything.
I can just see it becoming a reality someday. Probably evolving out of the remote-monitoring of medical conditions.
Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at November 8, 2008 12:45 AM
Letting it come out as an answer to the last question of the post: I think the main point is will anyone ever give any importance (personal or commercial importance) to your fart?
That thought works for me demolishing the worry of a 100% tapped society and at the same time making the image of it a sort of dystopian and, more importantly, typical anglo-saxon fantasy.
Call me a light-hearted or even light-minded italian young boy, but I think no one will ever really care about my farts, at least until they are not sensorially deprivated in everything else than smell.
Titter titter! or should that be twitter twitter?
Posted by: Bruce Lewin at November 8, 2008 06:11 AM
@Fabrizio - Using your logic, why do 99% of the posts on twitter exist, even now? We haven't devolved to fart level yet, but it's close.
This reminds me of a pretty good penny arcade comic. Might be juvenile for this audience, but oh well.
This excerpt from the corresponding news post is what really explains why we'll hit some sort of plateau in terms of life sharing:
"... The last 'tweet' I ever did really explains it all, for me. I was up in Vancouver, and I put up a message saying so, and what kinds of activities I was engaged in. After I did it, I heard a voice - my own voice - saying, 'Who the fuck do you think you are? Who are you that you can force your Goddamned minutia on other people, your stupid bullshit, your stone-ground artisanal condiments? How dare you. You should be ashamed.' And I was."
Sooner or later people have to hit that wall of common sense.
Might be juvenile for this audience, but oh well.
Kind of a funny comment for a fart-joke post.
Posted by: Nick Carr at November 8, 2008 12:53 PM
Seth is referring to John Varley's great short story, 'Blue Champagne', inside the 'Blue Champagne' collection.
Posted by: ivank at November 8, 2008 02:18 PM
Great post Nicholas. You inspired me to do a little photoshopping depicting what Mark's glorious info-overload future may look like.
Keep up the good work.
Posted by: JohnJorg at November 8, 2008 05:26 PM
I didn't think of Varley, but of John Barnes' Mother of Storms.
But I think Zuckerberg's Second Law is more obviously false on its face than the first, because an exponential increase in shared personal information clearly requires an exponential increase in the amount of total personal information.
Now, if he's said instead, "The amount of information people reserve will be half as large next year, and half as large the year after that," that I might buy. Maybe. I suspect the bound isn't zero reserved information, though. It'll be interesting to see.
(Of course, that statement wouldn't been so relevant to his business plans.)
Posted by: John A Arkansawyer at November 8, 2008 08:13 PM
"The amount of information people reserve will be half as large next year, and half as large the year after that."
Yes, that's much more interesting.
Much as I hate to defend him, maybe he meant people in aggregate. That is, twice as many people sharing the same amount of information would qualify too.
Posted by: tom s. at November 9, 2008 12:06 AM
Tom, I was guided by Hansell's interpretation (he was there): "Mr. Zuckerberg pinned his optimism on a change in behavior among Internet users: that they are ever more willing to tell others what they are doing, who their friends are, and even what they look like as they crawl home from the fraternity party." But you may be right. Nick
Our attention is just one and doesn't double over time. Keeping up with growing information can be done only by weakening our attentional skills and presense even more.
Posted by: Ivo at November 9, 2008 05:59 AM
As usual, you're technically right, but only because you pick on the literal meaning of what Mark said, rather than thinking about what he meant.
Will people grow accustomed to the release of information that today is controversial? Absolutely?
Joe Trippi made this point at Web 2.0 Summit this week, arguing that Conrad Burns lost his seat in part because of a YouTube video showing him falling asleep in a committee meeting. But, Trippi pointed out, this is far from uncommon. The next video will have less impact, till we all get used to things that once seemed shocking.
Mark was putting his finger on something meaningful, and you trivialize it in order to build a blog post around a clever putdown. Mark didn't say it was a "law" - you did. Yes, perhaps he was demonstrating a bit of hyperbole, but you are not immune to that yourself!
I know you like to be contrarian, and that is a useful role, but I'm often disappointed when you set up a straw man, and then pride yourself on knocking it down.
Posted by: Tim O'Reilly at November 9, 2008 10:56 AM
As silly as it sounds, there are some ways "Z's 2nd law" might actually work.
* More sharing of rich media: A picture is worth 1K words. It will get easier to share non-text media, and therefore the overall amount of information shared will grow exponentially.
* Quality metrics: Growth in quantity does not mean quality will also grow. We need the ability to identify quality metrics, and to isolate low-quality, hostile, and false information.
* Attention-based consumption: Growth in attention-based consumption technology is needed to ensure the information will be useable. This includes filtering, search, and data mining, in addition to improved delivery mechanisms. Eventually we'll be able to stream information into our brain, while now we need devices like the iPod.
* Knowledge is power: Information needs to be transformed into knowledge. If this transformation process is improved, then there will be an exponential growth in demand for information.
I'm not sure you described an 'exponential' function in your example ( 2 x 2 ). But I get your point.
So, the main series of events in this discourse would seem to be:
Your organization brings in Zuckerberg to give this key address. He's one of the main attractions at a high-ticket-price show you are putting on. He's a young guy who's been given a lot of money and who is not infrequently called upon to "say something smart."
This time he said the bit about doubling the amount of information that people "put out there" each year. It's a comment that was interpreted by Saul Hansell at the NYT as (a) a stab at fashioning an economic rule-of-thumb similar in form and implication (if true) to Moore's law; (b) a proposal for an economic rule-of-thumb that would, if true, suggest that Facebook and similar businesses are in a growth position.
(We can already notice something interesting about the discourse: the form and function of the conference here seems to demand that the main speakers try to say something profoundish. What is a profoundish statement? It's one that has truthiness and sounds like it must be very important. If none of the speakers exactly succeed we can look forward to a profoundish summary from conference organizers in the aftermath, the profoundish statements being what the rest of us are supposed to "take away" and discuss until the next conference. Ideally, the profoundish ideas that emerge will be cited in various business decisions, social policy decisions, etc. to help prove the worthishness of the conference itself.)
Enter Nick who points out both the -ish in the profoundishness of the statement and it's vacuous irrefutibility. Being a civil debator Nick, of course, says: "So, let's stipulate. Let's assume the statement is true. Let's assume that at this leadership conference, leadership was given and predictions of the leader are true -- this is what will happen. Let's pretend we agree, for the moment, that the statement is not profoundish but profound.
What does that imply?"
Per Nick, it implies a new set of problems and questions. How comprehensive and all-encompassing is this new "voluntary submission to surveillance" going to be? Down to every fart, perhaps?
The reader can connect here: the absurd or at least palpably undesirable outcome ("universal fart monitoring") seems plausibly to follow directly from our stipulation -- that Zuckerberg was profound, not profoundish.
Nick stopped there. What reaction is elicited from his readers is up to them. One of my reactions is to want to further make clear the -ish in the profoundish nature of Zuckerberg's comments and to draw attention to the economic role of the conference as an engine for generating profoundish statements.
I don't see how you got your reaction, though. Your reaction is to attack Nick's (of all people in this discussion) intellectual honesty and to re-interpret Zuckerberg's quip with some odd comments about people becoming accustomed to seeing photos of officials falling asleep during committee meetings. Huh?
Posted by: Tom Lord at November 9, 2008 02:34 PM
I was going to say something snippy in response to Tim's comment, but Tom wrote something intelligent instead, so I'm going to do the smart thing and bite my tongue.
Heh. I wasn't sure I wouldn't be read as snippy (though I don't think I was). Just to toss some salt on that wound for disinfecting purposes, I think the exchange with Tim here also serves as a late case-study example when considering Tim's long ago call for a "code of conduct" in the blogosphere.
Posted by: Tom Lord at November 9, 2008 08:36 PM
I think the 'implosion' of Facebook might soon happening. Many has come for a quick 'nostalgia' on Facebook, then what after that? A plateau i think will formed.
With that, I am not so sure whether people will share more out of it, or they'd use more out of what has been shared.
Posted by: Arvino Mudjiarto at November 10, 2008 09:34 PM
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