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Sunday, 18 September 2011

is 100-200 contacts what we are limited to?

this april 2008 article by stephanie tom tong, brandon van der heide, lindsey langwell & joseph b. aalther points out that traditional research on social networks suggests that the number of people you or I can maintain close relationships with is about 10-20 (Parks, 2007). 

and that the total number of social relationships people manage (across a wide range of cultures) may be around 150 (Dunbar, 1993; Gladwell, 2000). 

my earlier post on this  subject referenced some research on twitter that tended to support this argument.  

but prompted by a twitter conversation (@mwalimurural @layanglicana @therevsteve) since that post I've been digging around for a bit more info on the subject. what i found is summarised below. 

this june 2011 pewinternet research
found that the average american has an overall network (on and offline) of 634 and that once demographic factors are allowed for most types of technology use are not related to having either a larger or smaller number of overall social ties. 

it did find that higher education attainment is one of the strongest predictors of having more close social ties.  

reading the research details it also struck me that because of the pace of growth in social networking sites, and their increased use by those over 35, research that is only a few years ago can go quickly out of date.

this december 2007 article by judith donath mentions that some research (Boyd, 2006; Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007; Horrigan et al., 2006; Lenhart & Madden, 2007a) suggests social networking sites can sustain both strong ties (tend to be trusted and homogeneous and insular) and weak ties (tend to not be trusted but provide access to a great variety of ideas and experiences as Granovetter 1973, 1983 demonstrated). 

it also says that social networking sites make it easier to maintain large numbers of weak ties and have the potential to add trust to such weak ties (so combining the heterogeneity that such ties generally have with the believability that comes with trust (Levin & Cross, 2004). 

judith argues that social networking sites may allow us to move beyond the dunbar limits as the combination of these types of strong and weak ties makes social supernets viable. 

in essence this is because the stronger ties bring reliability to the profile, and thus trust by others of it, whilst the large set of weaker ties expands the scale and scope of the network. 

the article asks whether social networking sites might shift people’s social world from one focused on a few important relationships to one consisting of an immense number of weak relationships.

the article also mentions that as the list of connections on a profile does not differentiate between close and cursory friends it is better to look at interactions.  interactions are a cost in time of the relationship which indicate its importance. or of course it can also simply mean that one has a lot of extra time (Spence, 1973b).

one conclusion judith comes to is that “researchers seeking to understand the phenomenon of articulated social networks and designers creating their future incarnations need to study the evolution of social networks and base their theories and designs on the understanding that the social ecosystem is rapidly evolving and that the very purpose of connection is in flux” . 

something those in church organisations and their hierarchies probably need to make sure they better understand also.

1 comment:

  1. Thank-you very much for this - I have also been pondering the question. I certainly have a way to go before I reach 634, so perhaps I can stop worrying!

    I was going to add to my previous comment that 'saturation point' must depend of course also on the number of contacts one has with each person. Some people only tweet once a day, once a week or even once a month: clearly it is no imposition to try and maintain the contact with such people, who often say things that are really worth listening to (Less is more?.

    In similar vein is the idea that one simply has an inner circle, a 'medium range' circle and an outer circle. I think this happens already by accident, as it were. I have only been using social media in a concerted way for six months or so, and until cnmac11 had made no real effort to meet these people offline. I naturally have a group of about 20-30 whom I expect to 'speak' to every day, and perhaps another 50 where I at least read their input even though I may not interact.

    You sum up very well: 'the social ecosystem is rapidly evolving and...the very purpose of connection is in flux"