So we have all heard, read, mused, spoken about network effects. What makes them strong, what makes them vulnerable, where they work and where they don’t (MyGuidie is an example where they didn’t). I am regularly speaking about the importance of context and am frequently borrowing the concept of object-centered sociality (never without attributing the amazing Jyri Engestrom who first made me aware of this all the way back in 2005) and the concept is so clear (or at least can be presented in a way that it makes it so clear) that most people “get it” immediately. However, there are (too) many real-life examples showing a horrific misunderstanding of it.
Now (drumroll), today, I came across a real-life example that shows you how can work. Here’s the backdrop: My rather wonderful son managed to get his hands on a work-placement at CERN (no, I don’t know how he managed either). As CERN is in Geneva and we live quite a way away from there, we needed to find him somewhere to stay (CERN’s own hostel only accommodates people over the age of 18 and he will be a shade under 17 by then, so doesn’t qualify).
What does one do? Ask a few friends who live and/or work in Geneva or have in the past. Look at Air B’n’B. Check cheap hotels. Etc. All done. Result? I now know that a) in Geneva, apartments are scarce goods, b) people I know don’t have flights of spare bedrooms available, c) hotels (and Air B’n’B places) are relatively expensive (a variation of a), I suppose).
But then one friend recommended I check out glocals.com. This is a site specifically for expats in some Swiss cities, amongst which Geneva. You have to subscribe and they will vet you before they accept you. So I did. With photo and all. Then I posted in their forum for newbies: “hey guys, here’s the thing. I am looking for a room for my son…”
12 minutes in, the first reply. Check this, check that. Hope you’re lucky. 23 minutes in: a lady (and never has the term been put to better use) offers a room. Free (I asked. Twice). She has two sons around the age of my son, thinks what he’s doing is cool and would love to support. And, oh, it would be great if he could speak a little German to her boys, that’ll be great, because they’re only bi-lingual French/English (yeah, right)… Bam!
I am still gobsmacked!
Besides that though, what made this happen, or shall we say more probable? Is it because there are angels living in Geneva (possible although it would shake my atheist convictions)? Is it because I am such a trustworthy soul (I’d rather not comment)? Or is it because this is a forum that is particularly tightly-knit, comprised of people who have a common need (they’re all expats in town) and have hence a common object? Me Ferrari (yes, she even has a cool name!) certainly is an angel but she would almost certainly never have dreamed of offering something like this on a site that didn’t have that type of context or towards people that were unvetted; she would probably not have been on such a site in the first place.
A site like glocals offers a social object (the city) to people who have similar contexts (expats). Because it vets its members, people tend to trust more. Also, the combination of context and trust makes it more likely for people to engage and help where there’s a need. Why? Well, because it could also happen to you, couldn’t it? And in a situation where you feel or have felt vulnerable (everyone who has ever moved to a foreign country knows how vulnerable you can feel there), you are more likely to offer advice, help, solutions.
And so we will go see the angels of Geneva in a couple of weeks time. How’s that for network effects in context working, huh?