[Air-L] Musing on the Rise and fall of Social Networking - the CBradio example

Ronald E. Rice rrice at comm.ucsb.edu
Mon Dec 17 12:20:04 PST 2007

It certainly is an interesting paradox of popularity killing off things. 
This is an example of, among other things, the tragedy of the commons.  For 
instance, good, free highways between dense areas get filled up because they 
are well, free, and they link dense areas, until everyone suffers the 
freeway-as-parking-lot-syndrome (those living around Los Angeles, or most 
anywhere between Boston and Washington DC, around Tampa, etc., know this 
feeling).  These material commons, as well as some kinds of 
information-based commons, can suffer this fate when there are limited 
alternatives.  That was certainly the case with CB, because there were only 
a limited number of fixed frequencies.  A study of desktop videoconference I 
did with Kraut, Fish and Cool showed that one form of social influence was 
just this kind of limiting the value of a new technology as one version 
finally superseded and extinguished the alternative in the organization 
(because critical mass and network externalities must favor one over the 
other, especially those with larger initial clusters of salient users (see 
my 1990 article on online critical mass and online network data 
approaches) - reflecting what has been recently called the "power law" of 
blog links) but then, due to all the other users coming on to the one 
system, pushing up against the bandwidth limits.

Cell phone technology has pretty much avoided that because it keeps creating 
more powerful local cells, so that a given region can support more and more 
low-range frequencies.  Internet discussion lists, support groups, etc., can 
also avoid this problem as people can just create offshoots, and 
packet-switching helps (but does not prevent) clogging up of the network 
arteries.  So, for instance, my dissertation research (1982, and 1985 - yes, 
some folks were studying online networks before Facebook and blogs) showed 
that not only do people within online groups (as opposed to discussion 
lists) have to provide some minimum level of interaction and response to 
messages, but also don't have the time and energy resources to maintain too 
high a level (that is, we each have our own, varying, bandwidth constraints, 
except seemingly Barry Wellman), so the participants who maintained an above 
average flow of communication exchanges had to converge into that window of 
above minimum but below maximum amounts of interaction.  Sudweeks et al.'s 
book also includes some great studies on the factors influencing the growth, 
competition, and decline of online groups.  Linton Freeman, and Partick 
Doreian, among many others, have also studied the evolution of and 
competition between online group networks.

Some of these principles may also apply to individual Facebook participants, 
and, until college-level Facebook systems were opened up to outsiders, there 
was a tension between local clusters, minimum and maximum levels, and 
bandwidth limits.  Relating both to the NYT and WP articles, and much of the 
discussion about these and other entries on the AoIR list, there is a lot of 
prior work on online networks from a lot of people, before the era of blog 

Barnett, G. & Rice, R. E.  (1985).  Longitudinal non-euclidean networks: 
Applying Galileo.  Social Networks, 7(4), 287-322.

Kraut, R., Rice, R. E., Cool, C., & Fish, R. (1998).  Varieties of social 
influence: The role of utility and norms in the success of a new 
communication medium.  Organization Science, 9(4), 437-453.

Rice, R. E.  (1982). Communication networking in computer-conferencing 
systems: A longitudinal study of group roles and system structure.  In M. 
Burgoon (Ed.), Communication yearbook, 6 (pp. 925-944). Beverly Hills, CA: 

Rice, R. E. (1990).  Computer-mediated communication system network data: 
Theoretical concerns and empirical examples.  International Journal of 
Man-Machine Studies, 32(6), 627-647.

Sudweeks, F., McLaughlin, M., & Rafaeli, S. (Eds.) (1988). Network & 
netplay: Virtual groups on the Internet. Cambridge, MA: AIII Press/MIT 

Ronald E. Rice
Arthur N. Rupe Chair in the Social Effects of Mass Communication
Co-Director, Carsey-Wolf Center for Film, Television, and New Media
President of the International Communication Association 2006-2007
Dept. of  Communication, 4840 Ellison Hall
University of California
Santa Barbara, CA 93106-4020
Ph: 805-893-8696; Fax: 805-893-7102
rrice at comm.ucsb.edu
----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Alex Randall" <Alex at islands.vi>
To: <air-l at listserv.aoir.org>
Sent: Monday, December 17, 2007 8:31 AM
Subject: [Air-L] Musing on the Rise and fall of Social Networking - the 
CBradio example

> Yes.
> I just used the CMC issue as cannon fodder for my CMC class.
> despite the snarky article, We are on a hot topic.
> I reviewed the article that Barry Wellman raised ...
> ::"An Unmanageable Circle of Friends: Social-Network Sites Inundate Us 
> with
> ::Connections, and that can be Alienating." Washington Post, August 26,
> ::2007, p. M10.
> ::http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/24/AR2007082400481.html
> ::
> I am struck with a thought and wonder if anyone has examined this...
> Will Social networking suddenly fall out of favor...?
> Is it a fad that will soon clog up and be useless...
> I had to ask if there is a parallel phenomena from the past that might 
> shed
> light on the eventual demise of Facebook, MySpace and other social
> networking sites. And the clogging up of the channel reminded e of the 
> rise
> and fall of CB radio
> Back in the 1980's (aye, I am old enough to remember) there was a short
> lived enthusiasm for CB radio.
> A set of converging events led to a burst of use and then as sudden a
> decline.
> NB: This is pre-cell phones, pre-computers, pre-wireless era. There was a
> fuel crisis that jacked up the price of gasoline virtually overnight...
> meanwhile the FCC liberalized the process of getting a CB license, the 
> units
> became less expensive and there was a surge of enthusiasm, the fuel
> shortages of that era contributed because as drivers worked collectively 
> to
> avoid speed traps so they could beat the 55 MPH limits...
> It started with truck drivers and the pop culture of truckers spread the
> phenom to non-truckers and pretty soon millions of ordinary drivers had
> installed CB radios.  In this pre-Cell Phone era, having a way to
> communicate from a car was perceived as useful and tens of thousands of 
> the
> CB radios were installed each month for a few short years. A surge in pop
> culture around CB radio was entwined with the growth of its use... hit
> songs, hit movies with CB radio themes and many people memorized the 
> "Ten's
> Code" with rhyming phrases cropping up in pop culture... "10-4 Back door"
> "What's Yer 10-20 good buddy"  Popular magazines carried stores and TV 
> shows
> came into mainstream with CB themes. In short, a convergence of events led
> to a surge of use and enthusiasm for a communication tool that captured
> widespread enthusiasm.
> The phenom sputtered just as quickly as it started.  Too many people all
> using the same channels clogged it up and in short order the utility of 
> the
> CB radio diminished by dint of overuse. It was hard to get a clear 
> channel,
> the upsurge of use meant many users were clumsy and did not follow the
> etiquette and the channels became unusable.  truckers switched to other
> radio forms and within a few years all the CB radios seemed to be gone. In
> the 90's they were garage sale items (though I admit I am nowhere near an
> Interstate and can't see if cars still carry CB antennas or if there is a
> cluster of ardent users still on the roads.)
> There is a lesson here: "Too dense a population all using the same channel
> makes that channel unusable."
> A Clog principle  I wonder if social networking will suffer from this kind
> of Clog phenomena.
> Will is suddenly fade when too many people have too many friends to manage
> anymore?
> I wonder if Social Networking will parallel this course. Are we soon to 
> find
> that so many people have so many friends that the lists are unmanageable?
> The density of use makes the whole channel clogged with chatter.  More and
> more flow with less and less content?
> Related: "If everyone is bogging, who is left to read any of it? "
> Musing
> Alex Randall
> Professor of Communication
> University of the Virgin Islands.
> _______________________________________________
> The Air-L at listserv.aoir.org mailing list
> is provided by the Association of Internet Researchers http://aoir.org
> Subscribe, change options or unsubscribe at: 
> http://listserv.aoir.org/listinfo.cgi/air-l-aoir.org
> Join the Association of Internet Researchers:
> http://www.aoir.org/

More information about the Air-L mailing list