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Conclusion

To conclude, we have shown that while a plethora of terms are used to describe critical mass and network effects, for hypertext applications the problem can be clearly phrased in terms of a missing hero-/collective-type social fence: users are needed to make it useful, but there will be no users unless the application is useful already. Among the conceptualizations of critical mass, the threshold and core-group conceptions were here found to be most useful.

For exploring a critical mass threshold it is important, first of all, to know whether the production-function of the application is decelerating, and whether the application tries to tip a meta-stable state. In these cases critical mass might come naturally. If critical mass is a challenge, as it will be for most applications, then targeting early adopters or an existing community are good strategies. Attracting people with a diversity in motives and means might also work, because the thresholds, and local network effects of (potential) users will vary.

In addition to a web-savvy audience, controversial seed-content and good usability are important. Interactivity is another determiner, especially as it can pull people into using an application continuously. Besides these, sociability is central as well: a clear purpose, the right community culture, and clear, agreeable policies. The final two important factors are credibility and rewards. Rewards make it worthwhile for the best contributors, and keep everybody motivated. While credibility creates trust, and can make critical mass a self-fulfilling prophecy. Though if credibility is undermined by competing applications that have a near monopoly (as journals do), it makes for the hardest factor to overcome.

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