Moon, Planets, and Stars

While doing a SXSW talk with Chris last week I stumbled upon this analogy for channels and popularity.

Here’s how it works. Everything has gravity, but most objects don’t have enough gravity to bring in other objects. Likewise, the web is filled with personalities that have a kind of social gravity, where some are dragged to others, and others pull others to them.

If you are a moon, you get dragged into other people’s orbits and it’s hard for you to develop something of your own. If you’re a planet, you have enough gravity to drag smaller masses into your own orbit. If you’re a star, you’re the most powerful of all– stuff happens around you without you having to do much at all. You pull others to you.

We could continue this analogy in both directions (asteroids, black holes, etc.) but I think you get the point.

The larger your mass + gravity, the more things happen around you. Things become easier, and meeting people does too. Everything falls into place in a much easier way. People who are at these stages understand this instinctively.

Why do we even use metaphors like this in the first place? I’d argue it’s because our world is increasingly digital and, with that, we need real-world metaphors to ease understanding of things which we cannot hold in our hands or see with our eyes. Just like Mark Hurst’s argument from Bit Literacy about todo’s being easier to understand if they are physically represented, giving ideas metaphors gives them handles, making them easier to grasp for most people.

So it isn’t about popularity, it’s about gravity. Be a planet, not a moon; be a star, not a planet. Increase your gravity and things will start to happen around you instead of you having to work so hard to bring them in. Get it?





13 responses to “Moon, Planets, and Stars”

  1. Tamsen Avatar

    A good friend of mine in high school identified this concept as “Social Density.” The greater your social mass, the greater your social pull.

    Seems prescient, especially since we were all of 16 at the time…

    1. Julien Avatar

      Wow, Tamsen… great expression that is. I think I might start using it, too good to pass up!

  2. Cindy Black Avatar

    Fortunately the web, like the universe, continues to expand, making room for more and more stars.

  3. John McLachlan Avatar

    I think that metaphor is a really good one. I just have to turn my moon dust into dirt, add water and see if I end up looking anything like a planet.

    One thing I do know, I don’t want to be a star. I’d be fine just being a happy little planet. 🙂

  4. Khaled El-Hage Avatar

    Nice metaphor Julien. Metaphors are great tools to make us understand very complex subject matters in a glimpse.
    But a metaphor works only along a choosen axis of comparison. Change the axis and it all stops working.
    As much as I like this metaphor, I hate to think of myself as a moon for the rest of my social life.

  5. Scott Webb Avatar

    Freakin’ sweet metaphor! As I was reading, ideas started to fire like comets across the sky.

    @Tamsen Love Social Density…. very interesting!

  6. Tamsen Avatar

    Glad you like the phrase! It’s always been a cornerstone of my “physics explains” everything” belief….

  7. Allan isfan Avatar
    Allan isfan

    Where the Astronomy analogy breaks down is that stars don’t become moons, an moons don’t become planets.

    The question in my mind is this: are the tools and the environment we’re in better set up than ever for someone to transition from one to another. I think so and what blows my mind us how the speed of his transition is accelerating. Where wil things be in 5 years and how will the game change?

  8. Jose Albis Avatar
    Jose Albis

    Tamsen, your friend’s expression is my favourite.
    The planet analogy helps illustrating Julien’s point and yet can be broken down at many levels as per Allan’s route.
    But the density concept is the great: density=mass/volume and its gravitational forces.

  9. Martyn Chamberlin Avatar

    Julien, do me a favor. Enable RSS via email in feedburner. I’ll subscribe if you do.

  10. Lisa Yallamas Avatar
    Lisa Yallamas

    So this is where I go wrong then. I keep believing that planets and moons and stars, black holes even, are made of the same dust. Carbon-based life.

  11. daulton Avatar

    dear nasa, your mom thought i was big enough,
    love, pluto

  12. Jonelle Avatar

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