Single User Utility In A Social System

I always wondered about this: if your service is designed to be most valuable with multiple people then how do you get the first ones? The quintessential example is the telephone. Doesn’t do any good if only one person has a phone. The fax machine had the same problem. So did Twitter and Facebook.

Fred Wilson talked about this issue in relation to the bookmarking service delicious:

The first users of delicious were barely aware of and rarely used its social aspects. They just wanted to store their bookmarks in the cloud instead of in their browser. And they liked the tag based classification system. And they liked being able to use their links from any device. That was the single person utility delicious was built on.

But because bookmarks were public by default which resulted in most links being shared with others, a large social system developed. The delicious popular page was an important web destination in its day and most of those visitors never posted a link to delicious. They consumed others’ links.

As we’ve been working on new stuff here, we’ve wanted to make sure that it is social naturally. Sharing stuff, after all, is very human. But in order to get the first person to use it, it must also have utility for a single person. Or, as Fred puts it, social systems must have single user utility, too.