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Bifurcation points

A bifurcation point (Philip Ball, but a notion from physics) is a point at which a process can seemingly randomly go into one of two directions. The bifurcation point is unstable, while the other two extremes of zero users, and full coverage are stable (self-reinforcing). Competing web-applications that display network-effects and have similar market-shares can be considered to be at a bifurcation-point. This makes that early leads in take-up can be very important.

When people think about critical mass, often a virgin market is assumed. That is; no product of its kind exists yet, and as one or more new products race to the market, one achieves an entry-deterring monopoly as the bifurcation point is left behind. In most cases however, the ground of a newly introduced application is at least partially covered by something already (for academic hypertexts, by journals, and blogs for example). We also see that network monopolies are overcome in practice (the growth of initially tiny Facebook versus MySpace is an example).

For overcoming monopolies it is important that the new application offers a genuine advantage, and preferably also has one or more core features that make it useful on its own, before critical mass is attained. A good example of this is the tagging site Delicious, the main feature of which was that it allowed individuals to organize their personal links in one place, and access them from multiple computers. Only later it became a community.

Next on read-path: Meta-stable states
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avatar by: Anonymous ...

It's wnoedfurl to have you on our side, haha!

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