Google+ and the bridges of Königsberg


Brand strategist Gunther Sonnenfeld brought up a classic mental puzzle this week. Look at the bridges above; now, find a walking path through the city that crosses each bridge only once. This is an actual map of the city of Königsberg (now Kaliningrad in Russia), and the problem vexed mathematicians until Leonhard Euler solved it in 1735, doing this:

The answer was “no,” you can’t cross each bridge only once. Euler showed if you reduce the problem to a simple graph, with dots or nodes representing the land and the lines the bridges, you can mathematically determine that every entry into a bridge is canceled out by an equal exit (+1 then -1), so the number of bridges touching a landmass must be even for a walker to get on and off (because, if you can only cross a bridge once, the +1 and -1 entry and exit effectively vaporize that bridge behind you when you are done crossing it). Since all possible land connections in the Königsberg map end up odd, not even bridge links, trotting across each bridge only once is impossible.

Sonnenfeld suggests this logic scenario is like Google+ creating better standards for sharing information (crossing bridges, if you will, represents the links between our human nodes). We agree. At first, we’ve been annoyed by the hoopla over Google+ and the constant posts over there about how great this or that feature is. But now, we’ve realized Google has solved a simple problem:

1. People like social media because they can pause, reflect, and think more deeply before sharing. The few seconds it takes to write something allows us to compose our thoughts more cleverly, funnily, or wisely.

2. Yet all this typing and passing of links, photos and videos creates enormous information clutter.

3. So we all need better filters. We want to share more, and yet ironically need to consume less.

Google+ has solved our mental “sharing path” problem by simplifying our bridges, and helping us filter out the city-like noise. This new solution may not stick; all communication networks eventually grow, attract spammers and silliness and eventually a tide of data pollution that causes users to move on to the next new thing. We’ve seen this with fax machines (remember fax marketing?), telephones (telemarketing killed by the Do Not Call list), email (spam vs. spam filters), Facebook (and annoying FarmVille game updates) … and for now, Google+ remains clean. There’s a clear path ahead. The challenge for Google will be to not add too many new bridges and muck these paths up.

(Sonnenfeld takes the issue deeper, his post is worth a read.)

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.


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