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.

Graphing MyBlogLog’s Large Unconscious Online Social Blogging Matrix

MyBlogLog Graph, originally uploaded by Aldon.

Last night, as I was surfing blogs on MyBlogLog, I stumbled across blogs focusing on various forms of spirituality. I noticed a bunch of them had been visited by people interested in the Law of Attraction and in the Karma Sutra. These sites, in turn had been visited by people trying to sell jewelry or perfume on their websites.

It struck me that creating some sort of map of MySpace might be an interesting project. Initially, I thought of using a package something like Visio where I could draw diagrams and move pieces around at will. I searched for free open source software and thought for a moment of downloading Dia. It looks like an interesting package, but seems to be focused primarily computer diagrams like entity relationship diagrams and UML diagrams. Ideally, I’d like to find something a little more freeform. As I write this blog entry, I’m downloading a version of Dia which I’ll experiment with a little bit later.

I also installed Graphviz. Graphviz is a great open-source tool for graphing different types of networks. Like Dia, it isn’t as freeform as I would like, but it is incredibly easy to set up a graph. For example, setting up a directed graph in Graphviz can be as simple as this:

digraph g {
Hello -> World

So, I started recording my visits to sites on MyBlogLog in a text file. I set it up as a directed graph. My own site I set up as a blue box,

aldon [shape=box fillcolor=blue style=filled]

Then, for each site that has recently visited my site, I put in a directed link

aldon -> cityguide
aldon -> keeekeee
aldon -> dk2
aldon -> jyhrus
aldon -> topcat1
aldon -> sarahridgley
aldon -> jamsodonnell

When I visited a site, I added a line to mark it as a box. If it was a friend, I filled the box red. Of course every time I visited a site, MyBlogLog would list me as the most recent visitor, so all the sites should point back to me as a visitor.

The list became quite large very quickly, especially for people that had many people listed on their site. So, I edited down the list of unfollowed links for my first version of this graph.

Moving forward, I’ll probably do a few more graphs like this. I may end up doing a few more graphs like this. I may try to embed pictures into the graphs, or if I can set it up nicely, make it a clickable graph.

I’ve kicked around the idea of scraping MyBlogLog screens, but there are rumors of an API so I’ll probably wait for this. (Side note to any folks at Yahoo or MyBlogLog that read this, if you want to give me early access, I’d love to test the MyBlogLog api together with Graphviz)

Of course, all of this doesn’t get me to the mind map that I talked about at the beginning of this post. Perhaps the best way to do that would be to use tags. That is even further down the track, but starts getting into some of the most interesting parts, tracking the flow of ideas.

I read various blogs on MyBlogLog. Sometimes I’ll link to them. Other times, their ideas lodge themselves into my mind, mix with other ideas and eventually work themselves out into blog posts in some sort of large unconscious online social blogging matrix. Exploring this social blogging matrix is where things can get really interesting.

What time is it on this beautiful moon?

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit, I say quietly to myself as I climb out of bed, in hopes that this month will bring about a quiet change of fortune. I offer up a little prayer as well. The past couple days have been emotionally intense, so I’m writing a long personal post.

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Honk for Peace

In my more cynical moments, I wonder how much difference it really makes to stand by the side of the road holding out a sign advocating peace, or honking as I drive by similar demonstrator. I wonder how much difference all the time and effort that Kim and I, and so many of our friends put in on Ned Lamont’s campaign. I wonder how Ned feels about all the time and effort he put in.

Then, I remember Robert Kennedy’s famous quote:

Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope... and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance

That sort of sums up my reaction to Corey Boutilier’s documentary ‘Honk for Peace’ which Kim and I saw a rough cut of last night.

The film starts off with footage of various demonstrations in New York City. It has clips from various people that had been working for peace long before Ned entered the U.S. Senate race. It focuses primarily on the anti-war component of Ned’s message. During the campaign, one of our goals was to get people to recognize other parts of Ned’s message besides the anti-war part, but since that is what most people focused on, it ended up being perhaps one of the most important parts of his legacy.

The film also explores some of the important aspects of campaigns that people too often overlook. We all show up at rallies for candidates that we support, but we rarely think about the importance of all the work done to set up the rally, whether it is making sure that the banners are up, the seats are set, the press knows where to go, or simply that the right songs are playing. It comes back to the theme of ‘Honk for Peace’. Each of us does what we can to bring a message of peace, each of our actions adds another ripple of hope, and it great to see some of the behind the scenes people get recognized for the work they did.

Corey has just started showing around parts of the documentary and gathering feedback. He hopes to have the film out at one festival or another, perhaps as early as this fall. I sure hope so. I think it is an important film that all of us who will be working for peace in the 2008 elections need to see.

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Into the Abyss

Seven years ago, I got remarried and then left my last full time job on Wall Street. During the following years, I’ve consulted to financial firms, volunteered for political campaigns and non profits and found my mix of work shifting more and more from Wall Street to a focus on social change. Many of my friends have told me that I spend too much time doing pro bono work and I need to be more aggressive in marketing myself and in making sure that the opportunities I take up are financially rewarding, as well as meeting my needs to help bring about social change. They are probably right. I’m working on that.

While I was working full time on Wall Street, I could easily afford our house, Orient Lodge, which this blog is named after. Yet, as I spend less and less time on Wall Street it is time to downsize. Today, we accepted an offer on our house, and assuming nothing goes wrong over the next six weeks, we will be moving.

Where will we move? Well, that depends on a lot of variables, in particular, where can I find reasonable paying gigs. It would be great to stay in the Fourth CD and help with Jim Himes’ campaign. Some good friends are encouraging us to move to Milford, close enough to still help with Jim’s campaign, but where we could also help with Kerri Rowland’s effort to become Milford’s next Mayor . Some suggest that we should move into western Milford in hopes that Kim would run for an open State Rep seat.

Milford would be great, especially if we could find a place near the water. It isn’t all the way to Bethany, which is what Kim’s father hopes for, but it is a lot closer.

Last weekend, we went to a party in the woods near Redding. A small house in the woods wouldn’t be all that bad either. For most of my work, all I really need is a good Internet connection.

Looking at it that way, moving back to the state of my birth, the great State of Maine, wouldn’t be at all bad, if I could find jobs I could do from there. Then, there is Massachusetts. My mother’s house may be going on the market soon, and perhaps I could move to Williamstown. Fiona would put in a good word for the other end of the state, out on Cape Cod.

With all the options opened up, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Washington DC or even Washington State are all on the table. A job in DC wouldn’t be all that bad since I’ll have two daughters in college in Virginia. We could live in the Virginia suburbs of DC. Kim’s dad might not be all that happy, but we would find ways of getting them together.

For that matter, if I could find a way to support myself, make sure that Fiona got a good education, and not feel too guilty about the amount of gas I would have to burn up, I would spend a few years videoblogging my way across this country, a twenty first century adaptation of Robert Pirsig, William Least Heat Moon, Jim Bronson, Charles Kuralt and any other great travel writers I can throw in. But if Maine is a pipe dream, that’s probably at least two bowls of a pipe dream.

So, as I prepare to close the final door on Orient Lodge, the house, not the blog, and peer out the window of opportunity, which people assure me God is opening, I have yet to make out the two paths diverging in a yellow wood to choose from. Instead, right now all I see is a pathless wood. Perhaps I should rename my blog, the Birch Swinger.

Into the abyss, wish us luck and Godspeed.

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