Last summer, I asked one of my college-aged nephews if he used Genres to help organize his music in his iTunes library and iPod. He looked at me blankly, and after a brief pause, said “No.”
Now, I am a Type A organizer. I make all but manic use of ‘Genres‘, ‘Ratings‘, ‘Smartlists‘ and ‘Composers‘ to get the most out of my music collection, so I assumed others would find value in these categorization tools. But then, I realized, why would he? At college age, most people’s music is all in a single Genre.
It should hardly be a surprise then, that Facebook, with it’s college roots, primarily gives us a single group of “Friends”. But social graph-enabled services will be much more valuable when they let us be more granular with how we reach our friends. It begins to feel very crowded when the only straight forward mechanism to communicate with our friends is to blast out to all of them.
Multiple, Small Groups
In ‘The Real Life Social Network‘, Paul Adams eloquently and graphically pointed out how fragmented our “Friends” truly are in real life, and how how most of our communication is actually concentrated among a very few friends. He also pointed out that the practical limit of of stable social relationships that we can maintain is about 150. This is called Dunbar’s number, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point, based on research done by Robin Dunbar and R. A. Hill and published in their 2002 paper, Social Network Size in Humans.
Dunbar’s number, I was fascinated to learn, doesn’t seem to improve with common social networking technologies. My favorite line from a New York Post article that articulated this and referenced by Paul Adams in a follow up post citing his voluminous data sources was: “Web 2.0 can’t win over Brain 1.0.”
Paul Adams also references a study that found people speak or meet with about 10 friends weekly. This corresponds with the “Sympathy Group” size that Malcolm Gladwell discusses in Tipping Point. (One’s Sympathy Group is the set of people who’s death would leave you truly devastated. It is because we interact with them so often that their death would be so painful to us.)
Easy Access to a Many Groups and Contact Methods will be ValuableAs the number of friends we have in Facebook grows, we are realizing that while one sweeping ‘annual Christmas Letter’ approach may work in some cases, it falls short in most situations. Futhermore, many additional group-oriented communications that are still crying out for a social graph-based application. In my own real life family experience, School Directories, Neighborhood Lists, Soccer Team Rosters and Parent Lists, to name only a few, are scattered and hard to access and maintain.
Once, while watching a heavy downpour douse nearby soccer fields, my son, a friend and I, found ourselves in a huge parking lot filled with other soccer parents in the same situation. When an official’s megaphone announced there would be a 90-minute delay, we cobbled together an hoc cell phone chain to organize a impromptu lunch at a nearby diner. It was harder and more time consuming than it needed to be.
Throw on top of this that you may want to communicate to your various groups from different personas, maybe as soccer coach for example, and it’s easy to see that this space is wide open for innovation. Presently I have two primary online personas: my professional one (e.g. this blog being one part of that persona) and my photography persona, where I go by ‘Rocky Mountain Joe‘ . I have Twitter accounts for each, as well as separate Facebook profiles. But it starts getting complicated when I want to do a Facebook ‘Like‘ on something, or sling a link out on Twitter….. “Lets see, am I logged in now to Facebook as fjglynn, or rockymountainjoe ?”
We are obviously only in the early days of social networking-enabled applications. We are just beginning to see players helping us manage our on-line personas. The Twitter iPhone/iPad apps do a lovely job at managing multiple accounts. We find Foursquare valuable, because one can construct a dedicated social graph, scoped to your more trusted set of friends that you want to see your Check-ins.
Different Apps, At Least for Now
In the short run, at least, we will see multiple separate social graphs built independently into applications like Foursquare. There are challenges even to build on top of Facebook, especially for apps to attract a business audience is challenging as Charles Hudson has articulated in a recent post. To be sure, Facebook recognizes the need for more granular controls, and are beginning to pilot solutions. But without a well designed intuitive interface, users may feel more confident with a separate app when they only want to let their closest pals know they’ve just checked in to the afternoon ballgame.
Finally, I know what I’ll be reading over my break this Christmas Season: Social Circles How offline relationships influence online behavior and what it means for design and marketing (Voices That Matter), by Paul Adams is due out on December 19th, 2010. If it’s in eBook form, I’ll have it that day in seconds.
To build the graphic above for this blog post, in addition to Paul’s presentation, and Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, I drew upon ‘Connected‘ by Harvard professor and health care policy specialist Nicholas Christakis and collaborator James Fowler.