A Digital Dunbar's Number

MyBlogLog Graph, originally uploaded by Aldon.

Today, I started building up another map of connections in MyBlogLog. It rapidly got overwhelmingly large, but I’ll include it anyway. As I surfed blogs, I stumbled across a post by Steve Hays, aka Methodius on MyBlogLog where he wrote about the tempest concerning MyBlogLog community owners being able to send messages to everyone in their community.

Apparently Meg in Australia is getting spammed pretty badly with this. She’s currently in 906 communities, so it is less surprising that she’s getting a lot of messages. Another person who is in 5,480 communities also complained about this new feature.

Steve goes on to write some interesting thoughts.

I think "community" means that one desires to interact with others in the community. If people join communities on MyBlogLog and similar social networking sites, they ought to be interested in the topics of the community and in interaction with the members. If they do not want to communicate, they should not have joined the community in the first place.

I like Steve’s thought there. I’ve had serious problems with spammers in the past, and so I’ve made it more difficult for everyone to add comments to my blog, but this is to make it so that we can interact without the noise of spammers. It is to make it so that we can communicate more.

Steve goes on to say,

I have difficulty in understanding the motivation for joining a community where one has no interest in anything the community is about. If you join a football club, and have no interest in football, why did you join?

This is where I differ from him a little. Why join a community or a club that you have no interest in the subject matter? Well, for me, it would be to expand my horizons, to meet new people. Just because I’m not interested in football, doesn’t mean I can’t be interested in people that are interested in football. I’m not a stay at home mom, but I learn a lot from stay at home moms that are part of MyBlogLog. But I digress.

Steve ties it all together with the comment, “One of the problems of electronic networking is that it can lead to communication without community.” I think that sums it up nicely. Some people do “seem to join communities just to see how many they can collect”. Some of this might be for ego reasons, to have a large friends list. Some of it might be for some sort of search engine optimization or efforts to get people to click through to their sites, and make a profit from advertising.

In the comments, it got a bit heated, with one person going so far as to ask, “are you trying to run a cult or a community?”

There are two places I would like to go to explore this further. First, is to explore why people use MyBlogLog or other community sites in the first place. I touched on this a little bit as I discussed the idea of collecting communities. It seems like Steve, myself, and others, want to use MyBlogLog and other community sites, to find interesting people to communicate with. As I noted above, that does not necessarily mean that we have to have common interests. If anything, we would all be better off if we spent more time speaking with people outside of our normal community of interests.

For me, this ties back to Martin Buber’s “I and Thou”. I want to communicate in a meaningful personal way with people I encounter online. There are others who seek an “I and It” sort of relationship. The interest is in collecting links and clicks, either for ego strokes, to monetize them, or perhaps for some other reason. I’m interested in communicating with these people as well, but also, primarily, from the “I and Thou” framework.

The second idea that comes to mind is that of Dunbar’s number, “the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships”. This is typically set at 150, based on the size of the neocortex. However, it doesn’t take into consideration that when you are working online, you can page in and out sets of people, so while your neocortex may only be able to maintain stable relationships with 150 people at a time, using a good digital rolodex, that number can expand considerably.

This raises a new question. Is there a Digital Dunbar’s Number? A number at which point you start getting overwhelmed with spam or declaring email bankruptcy? I suspect there is, and that it is greater than 150, and perhaps less than 906 or at least less than 5,480, based on the recent discussion. How do we find this Digital Dunbar’s Number and what do we do when we reach it?

Are there other things that we can pick up from these large groups, some sort of collective unconsciousness that is gathered from the impact of all of this communication? These are ripe areas to explore.


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