Metcalfe Speaks About V~N^2

After bitching earlier today about the current lack of critical thinking in the world today, Michael Hirshland of Polaris posted a long piece by his partner – Bob Metcalfe – titled Metcalfe’s Law Recurses Down the Long Tail of Social Networks – which displays an abundance of critical thinking.

Metcalfe starts out by addressing a recent IEEE Spectrum article titled Metcalfe’s Law is Wrong – explaining why he thinks the authors’ analysis is boneheaded – and then proceeds to dissect Metcalfe’s Law and then put it back together in the context of Chris Anderson’s Long Tail and the current excitement around social networking. 

It’s not an easy read (I’ve read it twice – I’ll take a third crack at it in the morning) but in between Metcalfe’s wicked sense of humor lie a couple of gems.  As someone who believes the really interesting stuff around social networking is just now starting to be worked on, V~N^2 – which has been around since I was 14 – lives on in powerful ways.

Ironically, on the heals of all of this, I saw an article somewhere today (I’ve lost it and can’t find it again) that says that the telecoms are going to have to make massive investments in the network again to support the expected demands of all the coming video and audio traffic that’s a result of all of the newly discovered Internet activity.  What was that about a bandwidth glut?  V~N^2 anyone?

  • Dave Jilk

    Speaking of critical thinking, it’s very funny that Hirshland thinks that n-squared is the same thing as exponential.

  • Dave Jilk

    And now that I’ve read Metcalfe’s actual comments, vs. just the intro:

    I think the limitations he refers to are critical for investors and entrepreneurs to look at. It doesn’t increase at n-squared forever – only up to a point. Understanding where this point is for your particular application is crucial to the economics.

  • Hey Brad, FYI the cable bandwidth thing was in yesterday’s WSJ. GigaOm and I both blogged it. I hope (for my fund’s sake) that CableLabs is right!

    Hey Dave–Amusing to see you are spending your morning going around to various blog posts pointing out that I forget 8th grade math; you’d probably find it even funnier if you saw me trying to remember 9th grade calculus ;> You wouldn’t believe it, but I actually was on my high school math team, so I think my problem might be premature Alzheimers…

    More seriously, though, your point that past a certain point the slope flattens is important. Bob M and I noodled this at length the other day, and we’d even take it a step further: in some instances, such as a social network, the value can actually DECREASE past a certain size, unless the network provides features to enable more nuanced connections that take into account things like affinity and sub-communities of interest.

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