Archive - May 2011

May 31st

Doing the Numbers: Dunbar, Klout, Peerindex, and Patient Panels

I’ve long been interested in Dunbar’s Number, an estimated maximum number of people that a person can maintain a stable relationship with. (See Neocortex size as a constraint on group size in primates. Put simply, our minds are only wired to be able to maintain relationships with around 150 people at a time.

Some people have suggested that sites like Twitter, where I currently follow about 2900 people and have over 3,350 followers, Facebook, where I am approaching 2000 friends, and even LinkedIn where I’m approaching 700 connections is a reason to rethink Dunbar’s number. Perhaps technology gives us the ability to maintain broader relationships than our neocortex permits.

However, a recent article, Validation of Dunbar's number in Twitter conversations explores the nature of twitter conversations.

We find that users can entertain a maximum of 100-200 stable relationships in support for Dunbar's prediction. The "economy of attention" is limited in the online world by cognitive and biological constraints as predicted by Dunbar's theory.

Basically, they analyze a mass of tweets and find that as the number of people a person is connected with on twitter, the number of people they regularly communicate with starts dropping off somewhere between when they reach 100 and 200 people. They conclude

In this paper we show that social networks did not change human social capabilities. We analyze a large dataset of Twitter conversations collected across six months involving millions of individuals to test the theoretical cognitive limit on the number of stable social relationships known as Dunbar's number. We found that even in the online world cognitive and biological constraints holds as predicted by Dunbar's theory limiting users social activities.

I think they are significantly overstating things. If anything, their paper shows that for a very large sample of uses of a particular social network the human behavior around conversations did not significantly change as the result of using the technology. The lack of observed change in a behavior in a specific time with a specific tool does not mean that capabilities haven’t or are not changing. It may well be that there is something about Dunbar’s number that is immutable, even with the use of technology. This paper just doesn’t show it.

As I thought about it, I also thought about things like Klout and PeerIndex; tools aimed to measure influence. Online influence varies greatly. This might be because online communications isn’t just conversational, but there is a broadcast element as well. If we are in fact limited by the number of people we can converse with, it is an interesting topic for people interested in social media, especially those focused on the value of conversations over broadcasts.

Another thought that I had was about how many patients a typical doctor sees during a year. Numbers that I read suggest that the best ‘patient panel’ for a primary care doctor is in the range of 1800-2000 patients, way past Dunbar’s number. Should our conversations on social media be more like a broadcast? An informal conversation? A Doctors’ Appointment?

What do you think?

May 30th

Memorial Day 2011

Fiona had a sleepover last night, and was up early with her friend. There was a thunderstorm rolling through and Wesley went out in the rain, got soaked and then shook next to the girls. The screams woke me earlier than I would have liked to get up, especially on a rainy holiday.

Yet, I did get up. I spent a little time surfing random blog posts. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that. The girls have been lobbying to go swimming one place or another, but there isn’t a lot of time for that, so they are playing inside.

The day has a feeling of other holidays or vacation days long ago. There is a sort of melancholy low energy, mingled with a longing to get outside and do something. Listening to radio weather reports have been replaced by checking the radar online. Skimming through old newspapers and magazines has been replaced by surfing random websites, yet it is the same.

Nearby, there are rain soaked parades happening. People online are writing about what we should be remembering this weekend. Others are heading off to family cookouts.

Whatever the weather and mood, may you have a special memorial day.

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May 29th

Thomas Jefferson and Emma Goldman

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, the pursuit of Happiness and Dance.

That’s the way the Declaration of Independence might have started off if Emma Goldman, a famous anarchist and fighter for women’s rights, best know for her quote, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be in your revolution”, had a chance to add her input.

The idea of Emma Goldman and Thomas Jefferson came to mind yesterday as I read the NBC article Park Police Slam Dancers at Jefferson Memorial. Here’s the backstory.

Back on Thomas Jefferson’s birthday in 2008, a group of people gathered at the Jefferson Monument at midnight to celebrate with a music-less dance party. About twenty people showed up on one person was arrested. The case is winding its way through the courts and on January 25th, 2010, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates ruled that dancing at the Jefferson Memorial is not protected speech.

Before we look at the decision, it may be interesting to get a little bit of background on Judge Bates. He ‘worked as Deputy Independent Counsel for Kenneth Starr and the Independent Counsel's office during the investigation into President Bill Clinton’. In September, 2001, he was nominated by President Bush to a seat on the District Court. He has ruled against Representative Dennis Kucinich and other members of Congress in favor of President Bush. He ruled against Valerie Plame in favor of Vice President Cheney.

In this case, he upheld rules of the National Park Service which prohibit demonstrations and special events at the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Dancing, in this case is considered a demonstration that is not allowed.

According to the ruling, the officer that ordered Mary Brooke Oberwetter to leave back in 2008 refused to answer her question about why he was ordering her to leave. Apparently, her insistence in asking what she was doing wrong is what the court considers “disturbing the peace” and “interfering with an Agency Function”. The ruling also notes that “The Park Service has taken no further action on this matter.”

So, yesterday, protesters organized a demonstration. They danced in the Jefferson Memorial. You can get one view of the event in this YouTube video:

A friend of mine commented, “The dancers were clearly engaged in a protest--protected political speech--in one of the few places it is arguably reasonable to retrict it.” It seems more reasonable to restrict protected political speech around funerals of our servicemen and women, yet the Supreme Court wouldn’t limit that free speech, and I do not believe that they should at the nation’s monuments. If anything, these monuments to freedom are places that protected political speech ought to be encouraged.

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May 28th

Living The Great American Novel

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for jouissance, l’objet petit a.

The words of Emerson, Ginsburg and Lacan rattle around in my mind as I confront the blank page of a blog post yet to be written and the discussions on Facebook of my high school class mates from over a billion seconds ago.

One of them wrote, “Is anyone (else) having any sort of mid life crisis?” and we all shared stories of the difficulties we’ve faced, the broken marriages, bankruptcies, frustrations with our careers, and other struggles that those of us who have crossed the half century line have confronted.

In another post, there was a mention of a play a bunch of us had been in back in high school.

You see, she was gonna be an actress
And I was gonna learn to fly.

Well, I did take flying lessons in the years between high school and where I am now and I sure my classmates have had their successes as well, but

Dreams have lost some grandeur coming true.

Ah yes, grandeur. I always used to talk not about having delusions of grandeur, but aspirations of grandeur. I still dream of writing the next great American novel.

I’ve often been told that you should only write what you know about, so until I get ready to write that great American novel, I guess I have to live out parts of it. Yet maybe, that is the best we can do, live our lives as if we are living the great American novel.

It is great to be back in touch with some of the characters from the early chapters and to wonder what the next chapter brings.

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May 27th


@Mycaricature @joecascio @sbc111 @cherylrice @RosemaryAiello Well, we are heading into a long weekend, after a long week. I had been planning on going to the Social Sushi Soiree, but it doesn’t start until 6:30, and I just don’t think I’ve got the energy for it. So, instead, I’ll do a quick shout out to some of the CT Tweetcrawl friends that I expect to be there. There is another Tweetup scheduled for mid June. Hopefully, I’ll have more energy for that one.

Meanwhile, more and more stuff is piling up for me to write about. Maybe I’ll get some writing done this weekend.

Have a great Memorial Day weekend everyone.

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