Everyone uses email because everyone uses email

Who was the brave person who bought the first fax machine? Were they brave or just stupid to buy it when there was no-one else to send or receive faxes with? It turned out to be a smart move. Someone else bought one so there were two possible lines of communication. When there were twelve fax machines there were 66 possible lines of communication.

Communication tools get more useful as more people use them. This is the network effect. Metcalfe’s law takes it a step further stating that “the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system (n2)”. In other words, a communication tool actually gets more useful faster, as more people use it.

When the network effect runs its course, you have something that everyone uses because everyone uses it.

Sadly for the fax machine, its run was short-lived. The telephone is still doing pretty well. In fact there are now almost as many mobile cellular connections as there are people in the world. And then there are the land-lines.

On the Internet, some social media tools are doing well. Currently (in January 2014), Facebook has about 1.15 billion monthly users and Twitter has 115 million monthly users.

Email meanwhile had 2.4 billion active email users  in 2013 which is 90% of the 2.7 billion people on the internet.

On the Internet, pretty much all of us use it. We aren’t excited about it. In fact, we often complain about it. But everyone uses it. Because everyone uses it.

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