How the Cool Hunting App DOX Exploits the Friendship Paradox

Yes, your friends have more friends than you. No, that doesn't mean you have to be uncool.

Thum Thompson/Flickr

There’s a mathematical explanation for why your friends always seem more popular than you. It’s called the “Friendship Paradox” and it means that, statistically speaking, your suspicion that you’re less popular than most is well founded. The basic reasoning is pretty simple: You’re more likely to make friends with people who have lots of friends than with people who don’t. As a result, on average, your friends are more likely to have more friends than you. And, beyond the simple fact that these friends will generally have more friends than you, there’s the further fact — uncovered after Scott Feld’s initial friendship paradox article in 1991 — that these people will also be more hip, connected, and knowledgeable than you.

This would all be depressing if there wasn’t a solution at hand. But there is, in the form of an app that attempts to capitalize on the structure of friend groups. Called DOX, a play on paradox and “doxing,” publishing revealing information about someone without their knowledge or consent, the app harvests information using social networks. Yes, your Twitter followers, statistically speaking, probably have more Twitter followers than you. So what are those followers talking about? What are your friends’ friends talking about on Facebook? DOX is designed to find out.

In essence, DOX leverages your relationships by reconstructing your social map around your friends rather than around just you, which is the traditional social network model and can be limiting. It figures out who the most connected people are and privileges the information they create, speeding the eventual passage of information about shows or restaurants or albums or books to the less-connected, who constitute a vast statistical majority. DOX isn’t designed to make non-superconnectors into influencers, just to keep people in the loop and serve as a tool to help people who are really interested in one field or activity know about what else is going on.

It’s a new app, so it’s unclear what the results of mass adoption might be, but if it significantly shortens the length of time it takes for valuable knowledge to reach a majority of people, it could foreshorten the fad cycle. When the uncool kids start to catch up, the cool kids often veer in esoteric directions. If just being connected isn’t enough to be unusually hip anymore, people who aspire to coolness may have to get creative.