What Is a Network Effect?

What Is a Network Effect?

The network effect is paramount in determining cryptocurrencies' value and utility. These effects arise from the phenomenon where a product's worth escalates proportionately to the number of individuals utilizing it. A pertinent example of this concept is the defunct social networking platform Orkut. Its demise was precipitated by a dwindling user base, as the diminishing number of participants eroded its significance as a service.

While various factors contribute to the success or failure of a digital currency, the influence of network effects cannot be understated. Cryptocurrencies essentially serve as mediums of exchange and employ blockchain technology to foster organization within communities. Consequently, as more individuals engage with a particular cryptocurrency network, its potential as a service amplifies, thus augmenting its overall utility.


Determining the market leader within a specific sector of cryptocurrencies is multifaceted. While one might assume that the best solutions naturally rise to prominence over time, the reality is far from straightforward. Numerous factors intertwine to shape this outcome. Even if developers introduce groundbreaking technologies, their success hinges on a favorable market fit at the time of launch. Without aligning with market demands, these innovations might struggle to gain traction. Interestingly, there are instances where technologically inferior projects manage to seize a substantial market share simply due to their time availability. This phenomenon underscores the pivotal role of network effects.

What Is a Network Effect?

Network effects denote an economic phenomenon wherein the value of a product or service escalates with each additional user integrated into the network. When a network effect prevails, the participation of new users augments the product's worth by fortifying the network. Subsequently, this entices more users to join, further enriching the network's value, and perpetuating an iterative growth cycle.

The telephone stands as the quintessential exemplification of network effects. In its nascent stages, only a select few possessed telephones in their residences, necessitating physical connections between households to facilitate network utilization.

As technology advanced and affordability widened its reach, an increasing number of individuals could procure telephones. This expansion, in turn, augmented the comprehensive value of the telephone network. The high influx of users engendered exponential growth, instigating a positive feedback loop whereby increased participation led to greater value accumulation, ultimately enhancing the network's utility as a whole.

Distinguishing Direct and Indirect Network Effects

The realm of network effects encompasses two primary variants: direct and indirect network effects.

Direct network effects, as previously explored through the telephone analogy, manifest when increased usage amplifies the value for all existing users. Each new participant contributes to the overall worth of the network, generating a virtuous cycle.

On the other hand, indirect network effects present a more nuanced definition. This term denotes the supplementary benefits arising from a network effect's mere existence. An illustration of this phenomenon can be observed in numerous open-source cryptocurrencies.

Projects fortified by strong network effects attract a multitude of skilled developers keen on auditing the code, given the substantial value at stake, including their interests. This amalgamation of talent enhances the intrinsic value of the network. As this effect compounds, it culminates in the emergence of dominant frontrunners, harnessing significant network effects that outshine their rivals.

Diverse Instances of Network Effects

Various instances of network effects permeate several product categories in the modern era. Notably, social media platforms exemplify this phenomenon, wherein users gravitate towards services embraced by their existing social networks. This fosters a cascading effect, compelling individuals to join these prevalent platforms, ultimately consolidating monopolistic positions by a few select services.

Embarking on a new social network endeavor poses formidable challenges for emerging companies seeking to amass critical mass. The substantial network effects amassed by market leaders endow them with a notable competitive advantage.

Ridesharing platforms offer another compelling example of network effects. Over time, the extensive networks cultivated by Uber and Lyft present formidable barriers to entry for newer services boasting a limited user base.

Similar dynamics prevail within online sales, epitomized by eBay and Amazon, internet search dominance exemplified by Google, online renting facilitated by Airbnb, enterprise operating systems pioneered by Microsoft, and the iPhone ecosystem curated by Apple. Nevertheless, network effects are not exclusive to for-profit entities with well-defined business models. Wikipedia is a remarkable illustration of an open-source initiative that has engendered a substantial network effect.

The Significance of Network Effects on Cryptocurrencies

Cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology intertwine with the profound implications of network effects. A prime illustration is Bitcoin, which boasts highly coveted attributes alongside a formidable network effect.

Miners play a crucial role in ensuring network security while benefiting from substantial liquidity to sustain their operations. However, envision an alternative network emerging to cater to a comparable use case as Bitcoin. While this new network might offer miners higher rewards, it lacks the same level of liquidity for them to transition their positions seamlessly. Faced with this dilemma, miners must weigh their options. They could gamble on the potential future improvement of liquidity or opt to continue mining Bitcoin with relative certainty, assuring their business continuity. This exemplifies the intricate workings of network effects, as even if the alternative network were technologically superior or offered greater rewards, the logical choice would still lie in sticking with Bitcoin.

However, it is crucial to acknowledge that Bitcoin's commanding network effects are not solely the product of its superiority. Due to its fair launch, Bitcoin possesses inherently unique properties that render replication exceedingly arduous. Therefore, the example mentioned above serves as a thought experiment rather than a realistic scenario.

Moreover, network effects wield significant influence within Decentralized Finance (DeFi). Should a product, service, or smart contract amass a substantial advantage, it becomes a formidable hurdle for rival projects to overcome. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that DeFi is still in its nascent stages. As of yet, no product has achieved a network effect of such magnitude as to secure a victorious position definitively.

Negative Network Effects

Mitigating the consequences of negative network effects assumes paramount importance, particularly in the design of blockchains. Optimal design principles mandate that each new user contributes value to the network to facilitate scalability. Conversely, if each user diminishes value, it culminates in network congestion.

Consider Ethereum's gas mechanism, operating on an auction-style system where users competitively bid on gas fees paid to Ethereum miners. As user numbers surge and network utilization intensify, gas fees tend to escalate. The bidding process evolves into competition among users, triggering an unsustainable escalation. Eventually, as gas fees reach exorbitant levels, certain users cease to engage with the network altogether, deeming their activities unworthy of the inflated costs. This exemplifies a negative network effect.

Fortunately, measures are underway to address this concern. EIP-1559 proposes a comprehensive overhaul of the gas system in Ethereum. Additionally, a series of upgrades in ETH 2.0 has the potential to significantly augment the Ethereum network's throughput capacity. These developments offer potential solutions to alleviate the issue of exorbitant gas fees during periods of heightened network activity.


Network effects permeate diverse facets of the economy, extending their influence to the realm of cryptocurrencies. The fundamental concept revolves around the notion that each new user bolsters the value of the network upon integration.

In the context of blockchain and cryptocurrency networks, designers and developers stand to reap substantial rewards by delving into the intricate mechanisms that underpin network effects. By skillfully incorporating these mechanisms into their design process, emerging coin and token projects can unlock the ability to achieve accelerated scalability and growth.

Network Effect