Network effectsAlso known as Metcalfe’s Law, or network externalities. When the value of a product or service increases as its number of users expands. are sometimes referred to as “Metcalfe’s Law” or “network externalities.” But don’t let the dull names fool you—this concept is rocket fuel for technology firms. Bill Gates leveraged network effects to turn Windows and Office into virtual monopolies and in the process became the wealthiest man in America. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google, Pierre Omidyar of eBay, Andrew Mason of Groupon, Evan Williams and Biz Stone of Twitter, Nik Zennström and Janus Friis of Skype, Steve Chen and Chad Hurley of YouTube, all these entrepreneurs have built massive user bases by leveraging the concept. When network effects are present, the value of a product or service increases as the number of users grows. Simply, more users = more value. Of course, most products aren’t subject to network effects—you probably don’t care if someone wears the same socks, uses the same pancake syrup, or buys the same trash bags as you. But when network effects are present they’re among the most important reasons you’ll pick one product or service over another. You may care very much, for example, if others are part of your social network, if your video game console is popular, and if the Wikipedia article you’re referencing has had prior readers. And all those folks who bought HD DVD players sure were bummed when the rest of the world declared Blu-ray the winner. In each of these examples, network effects are at work.
The term “network” sometimes stumps people when first learning about network effects. In this context, a network doesn’t refer to the physical wires or wireless systems that connect pieces of electronics. It just refers to a common user base that is able to communicate and share with one another. So Facebook users make up a network. So do owners of Blu-ray players, traders that buy and sell stock over the NASDAQ, or the sum total of hardware and outlets that support the BS 1363 electrical standard.