Archive for September, 2007

Social networking beyond the Dunbar number of 150

September 20, 2007

In a short time social networking tool Facebook has gathered 50% of the population between the age of 23-35 in Sweden as members. Impressive numbers, but Facebook is not the first social network site on the web and most likely not the last either. There’s hard competition between the MySpaces, Lunarstorms and LinkedIns of the web world. It seems like the popularity of social networking sites is like that of popular nightclubs. The cool places to be one year is not so cool anymore the year after. Friendster and Orkout knows about this all too well and Sweden-based Lunarstorm seems to be learning it as well.

Current hot-place-to-be Facebook also knows this and therefore calls themselves a “social networking utility“. A utility, a tool, is something you use to build things, so a social networking tool ought to be something you use to build social networks with. They have a somewhat open API, making them a kind of platform. Their strategy is to become the social networking operative system of the web. The Microsoft Windows of social networks. We’ll see if they make it.

So, is the market for social networking sites saturated? I don’t think so and the explanation for this also explains how GlocalReach will fit in to the social networking landscape.

Let me begin by drawing some circles:

Dunbar numbers

These circles represents circles of intimacy and is taken from the book Evolutionary Psychology by Robin Dunbar, Lousie Barrett and John Lycett. It’s called the social whirl. The number in each circle is the approximate number of people within that part of your social network. In the middle is you, followed by your family and very close friends (about 5 people). The next circle is your sympathy group, 12-15 people with whom you have a closer relationship.

The number 150 is often mentioned as the Dunbar number:

Dunbar’s number, which is 150, represents a theoretical maximum number of individuals with whom a set of people can maintain a social relationship, the kind of relationship that goes with knowing who each person is and how each person relates socially to every other person

In other words: it’s your circle of friends.

It’s people who knows you as an individual. You have a personal and explicit relationship to these people. Basically, it’s the people you have beer with.

Evolutionary psychology studies has shown that people are incapable of maintaining a close relationship with more than a 150 individuals at the time (although the number varies between persons, 150 is the average). If you meet new friends, some of your older friends that you don’t see very much anymore falls out of your 150 circle. (Don’t feel so bad about it, we’re only humans after all. You’re lucky not to be a chimpanzee. They have a Dunbar number of ~50.)

The existing social networking sites and somewhat older social tools such as the address book in your mobile phone does a pretty good job of managing these 150 people. With GlocalReach, we’re trying to build the tools necessary for the outer circles, beyond the Dunbar number.

At these circles, people know you more by a role you have or a category of people you belong to. They might know you as a politician, a programmer, a neighbor, a nurse or a blogger. If you have a slashed career people will know you by many labels and roles. GlocalReach will help you manage these roles and how people reach you from the outskirts of the social whirl. That’s our place in the social network universe.

I would have hoped to have our beta ready by now, but we have been rethinking some of the concepts, putting a stronger emphasis on the business card (or reachcard) as the center of the service, as your primary reach management tool. So, the beta will take a little bit longer. Sorry about that.

Meanwhile, give someone that has been falling out of your Dunbar circle a call. Reunite with old friends. Bring up some good old memories.

Real friendship, after all, doesn’t have a number.

Updated: here is a longer and much more insightful post on Dunbar numbers and social networks.

Updated 2: Thomas Vander Wal at the blog Personal Infocloud has an interesting post on Selective Sociality and Social Villages that touches the same subject.

I also updated the picture used in the post.

Erik Starck
Managing Director, Co-founder


Slash your career – slash your life

September 8, 2007

Marci Alboher has written a book titled “One person, multiple careers”. Marci describes what the book is about on her blog:

These days, my work life has several strands. I write, mostly about careers, small business, and writing. I teach/coach other writers working on nonfiction projects. I speak about how to succeed in nonfiction writing and other career issues. In an earlier life, I practiced law for nearly ten years. I refer to these various identities as “slashes,” and moving between them is what my book is about

I haven’t read the book yet, but this is so much in line with what we’re thinking about roles, online identities and personas that I certainly will. This presentation gives an overview of our thinking.

It doesn’t have to be about your career only. Or, rather, let me put it this way: the line between your professional career and your personal life is getting thinner. You can be a programmer by day and then publish photos you take on your blog by night, as a hobby. What if someone finds your photos and wants to use them commercially? Are you then a photographer or a programmer?

The thing is, it doesn’t have to be either/or. You can be a photographer AND a programmer.

A programmer / photographer.

Reading through her blog, I also noticed that Marci discovered that the telephone as a higher emotional bandwidth than email:

Recently, I did something strange. I called a fellow journalist for something we would normally talk about through email. It was so odd that I started the call with a caveat, “I don’t usually pick up the phone, but it seemed about time we had a conversation.” She and I typically communicate by email, my preferred mode of communication with just about everyone in my life. It keeps me productive. But lately I have been so saturated with email that I am starting to relish all those conversations that I long ago relegated to email.

Maybe Reach Management would help?