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February 03, 2005


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Zbigniew Lukasiak

I think the politicians and sales people use another strategy - they pretend that they keep up with the connections, but in fact they don't.

That's why they have the people to keep them informed about people they are going to meet. They don't remember the people but they use techniques to impress them that they do. And that is why we don't like them.

YASNS let us all switch into the politician networking mode.

For some time I have beed thinking that Huminity which bases the networking on IM buddy lists is a step in the direction of making SNS more balanced, since it bases the networking on the most scarce Internet resource - user attention.

Jeff Ubois

Nice post. A few random thoughts:

This seems analogous to what happens when people move from rural communities with relatively sparse social options to the city.

Another prioritization scheme is to emphasize face to face relationships, or to distinguish between real-time and non-realtime relationships. These are not always appropriate filters, but because getting f2f or talking realtime requires a special effort, I've found these approaches can help me gauge whether a relationship is maintainable.

The older system of etiquette, which separated personal from professional relationships, is another approach, though when I hear the words "I don't do business with friends," it means someone neither a friend nor a business associate.

Perhaps there are some other frames for looking at this, e.g. time management or attention management, or as another instance of the Tyranny of Choice. Approaching the problem as one of more choice in who we pick to be our friends and associates, or as one of more demand on us from others also colors our choice of solutions.

Eric Scheid

One way of putting the brakes on endlessly expanding contact lists is to have the SNS site charge per contact. If you really need more than 100 contacts then you'd pay for them, but if not then when you've got another 1 person you want to add to your list you'd consider dropping one off your current list. It might work better with per-contact charges, so you're not forced into making a decision when you hit the package borders (101, 201, etc)

Not only does it counter the pack-rat mentality, but it also provides a business model.

Another idea I had was if the SNS would provide me with a continuous feed of updates and changes in the profiles of my contacts - I occasionally notice that some contact of mine has changed jobs, but more likely I wouldn't notice. The list of contacts just sit there, passive. This feedback would provide two forces: (1) the memory refreshing effect, and (2) the opportunity to drop those contacts that are moving into areas I don't care for.

A third idea: I'd like it if the SNS I use (LinkedIn) allowed me to attach some notes or tags to each contact in my list ... I have a few there where I have to think really hard just how I happen to know them. Right now it seems that every SNS I look at lets me make connections, but every connection is bland and generic. The system is relying on me remembering why I know that person, when instead it could remember it for me.

When it comes time to triage, I'd really like it if the SNS would provide a simple network map for me. Show me my immediate contacts, any connections they have amongst themselves, and my second circle contacts (anonymised if necessary). This way at least I can see that Person X is a gatekeeper to a whole different community from all my other contacts, and so should reconsider dropping them.


Eric Scheid has the right idea... but his number of 100 is still too high.

His last paragraph is golden. When I first joined RYZE in 2002 [ no longer an active member] I mapped out my 1 and 2 step network there. In the diagram linked below I am the green node, my immediate neighbors are in blue and my two step contacts are in grey.

The network map reveals why Eric's 100 number is too high...



This, and the earlier article on Dunbar numbers are interesting reading. I'm not sure whether the Dunbar number applies in all cases.

In some discussion on SNs recently, I theorised that if we analysed Social Networks that there would be people who maintained relationships in Groups, i.e meshes where everyone knows everyone. Bridging between groups occurs because of multiple membership, i.e. person X knows all the parents in their kids soccer club, AND all the people at the office. Dunbars number, and the theories around it, seem to apply here, i.e. to the social-grooming required in GROUPS.

There would also be people who maintain relationships, between a lot of people who mostly do NOT know each other. We used to call these people Networkers, and typically they are the people you call when you want to know who to talk to about some topic where you have no personal connections. I'm not sure whether the Dunbar number applies to those people's connections, probably the power-law applies better, i.e. they can maintain progressively more distant connections with progressively more people.

Anecdotal, if you randomly pick people in for example Orkut then you'll see the same names turn up as intermediates in many cases. This is not necessarily because those people have large numbers of Orkut friends, but because their Orkut friends are dispersed over a range of sub-groups.

I don't think that any of the SN tools do a good job of managing these kinds of relationships yet, in particular the lack of interworking between them causes problems as different Groups tend to belong to different SN systems, so the bridges are often not evident. Also the relative strength of a connection doesn't seem to drive the ranking of possible connections, i.e. I'm just as likely to be presented with a potential introduction through a person with a weak connection to the target, than through someone with a strong connection.

- Mitra

Adina Levin

On tactic that comes to mind is the automated equivalent of an 18th/19th century butler, who mediated social interaction at a time when the intrusive, in-person visit was one of only two ways to make social contact.

The butler has broad and nuanced knowledged of the circumstances in which the Lady is to be acknowledged to be IN.

Today's online presence indicators are flat; they tell everyone the same message; that one is working, or eating ice cream in front of the television.

A butler would understand whether one is working or not, and would put through different connections at different hours.

A butler would understand the understand the nuances of one's social circle, and admit some people automatically, allowing others to wait, and requiring still others to leave a message.

We also need the 18th/19th century interface to the Butler, the calling card, which conveys by its printed message and accompanying whether the caller is a longlost relative whom the butler may not remember; a recommendation from a reputable source; a specific message about the urgency of the visit.

Chris Yeh

I think that the key to defeating the Dunbar number is to a) establish a real relationship to begin with and b) massage that relationship at least once per year.

I find that if I've built a meaningful relationship with someone, based on some shared experiences, simply getting in touch with someone once a year on their birthday is enough to keep the relationship alive.

Cliff Figallo

You've got to distinguish between "friends" and everything else - the relationships that range across acquaintance, association, colleague and just plain "potentially useful." Why treat them all with the same UI? Why not invite your true friends to share a more intimate online relationship and keep the rest in the "relationship parking lot" of an Orkut? Yeah, I know that friends are often useful, too, but they deserve better than to share the same utilitarian role as that guy you met at SXSW last year.

I'll invite my real friends into my Grouper hangout, but I'm not a Congressional Rep, so I don't need to be responsible to hundreds of familiar names. I've got plenty of other things to do with my time, which I believe is the case with most of us.

Phil Wolff

Hi, Crhis. Three years' ago Adrian Scott asked this question too, and it led to his founding Ryze...

from: http://www.edge.org/q2002/q_scott.html

Edge.org's Question Page of 2002 - by Adrian Scott.

"How do we scale up the number of quality human relationships one person can sustain by many orders of magnitude? In an increasingly connected world, how does one person interact with a hundred thousand, a million or even a billion people?"

Our one fixed resource is time — human attention. As we become increasingly networked in the technological sense, we also become more networked in the social sense.

As our social networks scale up, we move more and more of our interactions to the technological sphere. We can have many more telephone interactions than we can have hand-written letter interactions. When we move from telephone to e mail, the number of interactions between people goes up even more dramatically.

Then we pair our e-mail interactions with a personal Web site, and we start moving our personalities into the technology net, as a way of automating and scaling up the number of relationships even further.

We end up with personal CRM systems to handle our increased interaction load, and then add interfaces from our technology net to our human forms. These interfaces will develop from current-day Palm Pilots and Blackberry's to heads-up display style interfaces in glasses and eventually retinal and neuronal interfaces.

"Hi Jerry, Ahh.., we met back in 1989, May 14th at 7pm, and since then we've exchanged 187 e-mails and 39 phone calls. I hope your cousin's daughter Gina had a wonderful graduation yesterday."

The whole range of interactions becomes organized. Introductions from one person to another, and rating systems become automated.

Currently many people run into barriers as their personal networks approach the range of thousands of people. Soon they will move to the tens of thousands, to the millions and beyond.

With these trends, the friction costs of personal introductions go down, and consequently the value of quality measurement and gatekeeping go up dramatically. As the depth of knowledge in a relationship increases, the threshold point at which you 'really know someone' increases also. It's an arms race of intimacy.

Adrian Scott is founder of Ryze, a business networking community. He is a founding investor in Napster, got his Ph.D. in nonlinear optimization at age 20, and has sung with Placido Domingo and performed with the NYC Ballet.


michael white

An Avatar? Maybe that's what I'm doing. I look at life as a whole. Coincidences (for lack of a non-cliched word) are road signs helping us determine a direction of movement (not necessarily in the physical realm).

I'm working on a software module which links coincidental interaction within Nature and published human consciousness. Currently I'm modeling Climate Change.

For my software to ultimately work within a social network, a persons daily life of data would be connected via an identifier - and freely available. Too, an aspect of human momentum would need to change dramatically - we would trust that life is a whole and not something to be mastered, assimilated, conquered. We would need to move to a much less mechanical decentralized world. And our user base would need to be decreased.

Which coincidentally, Climate Change is forcing upon us. And it's ramping up.

Google, with all the tools I need (email, blog, webpages, and soon a social network site) seemed like a potential opportunity. They never responded to my email :)

My profile is lost within LinkedIn...

Gifford Pinchot

Learning by Subtraction

The human brain has on half the number of synapses at age six as it had at age two. It learns by subtraction. So do computer based neural nets.

This principle could well be applied to organizations to increase the size of the Dunbar number that could work effectively without drowning in bureaucracy.

Consider three ways to bring order in a human organization. The chain of command, community spirit and marketplace choice.

The chain of command tends to keep demanding ever more connections. You must get permission from all these people before taking action. The free intraprise systems we set up (See The Intelligent Organization by Gifford & Elizabeth Pinchot and link at the end of this post) allow people to connect and disconnect at the end of each contract at will. Teams contract with line officers and each other to get the work done, much like a virtual organization except that key competencies and trade secrets remain in the organization.

Relationships that create value are maintained; those that consume value are terminated by either party. This provides a powerful advantage over the innane connections that are often maintained in highly time consuming ways in a bureaucracy.

The force of community also has a self-organizing quality that allows people to volunteer for what has juice and walk away from relationships that consume purpose and meaning. Community is a necessary balance to free enterprise or free intraprise. Both should be used in place of the chain of command in many of the situations where the chain of command is used today.




Adina: Getting in touch once a year may keep a relationship alive, but only just. This begs the question, what do you want from your relationships? What do you value them for? What is the point in keeping a relationship on drip-feed attention when putting so little in precludes the possibility of growth, of enrichment, of greater intimacy, of learning something, of sharing the experience of life in some way.

Perhaps what we'll see, with or without the help of clever internet applications, is a polarisation: a small circle of close friends, a very wide circle of friendly acquaintances (whether social, professional, shared interest, discussion group, blog reader, etc, by origin), and an almost infinite range of potential one-off contacts. Along the lines Chris Reh is suggesting, I think.

I'm not sure I need to know which of my friendly acquaintances are in touch with one another. Better just to get on and live, and concentrate on putting something into those relationships, the better to get something out of them.

Or have I missed the point?

Adina Levin

Fred, is there someone in your household who sends birthday cards and holiday cards? These are traditional tools for staying minimally in touch. They don't maintain intimacy, but they do keep an open door, so that it's easier to keep the benefits of weak ties, and regain contact when the time is right.

Eric Scheid

I just had a minor realization: when we speak of "dropping" someone from our personal network, are we really doing that? The fact is, they are very probably connected to other people we do know, and so what we are really doing is *delegating* the intimate relationship to someone we also know. Being able to see a map of my local network would help a lot in deciding whether to cut someone loose or not.

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