You know I dig big ideas. Well, here's one that I've not heard before and it actually sounds fairly big. I like it. There is a congnitive limit to the amount of real relationships that people can maintain, and depending on the circumstances it peaks out at about 150. Give or take. The blogger who is all over this theory is a gent named Christopher Allen who is newly on my short list.
I'll be bringing up, as time goes by, certain observations with regard to this limit and my experiences in cyber- and meatspace. Right away the first thing I notice is no matter how many new networking circles I join, personal and professional, I seem to bump into the same universe of people. So I'm interested in pushing those boundaries and estimating the costs of expansion.
Socially, I think of this in terms of that annoying occurance when you find yourself at a dinner conversation with people, and you wonder how the hell you wound up with them. And you look around and realize you've spent a relatively large amount of time with them, and you get the 'eeww' feeling. At least I do, present company excepted. Personally, this is why I think I have the temperament of a consultant. Despite the fact that I gripe that I don't get to have refrigerator neighbors, 18 months of anything is just about all I can stand. I gotta keep moving. And I think that in some ways I must be telegraphing such cues visually. But there have got to be some non-personal dynamics of social networking that we simply haven't looked closely enough... Anybody remember 'Hatester' the anti-social network?
Ultimately social networking services -- be it LinkedIn, Tribe.Net, Orkut, or LiveJournal -- are making the problem worse, not solving it. Any engineer or information theorist can tell you that a system that only has amplifiers will be out of balance, and that you need attenuators in the system as well. Our current breed of social networking services have focused on amplifying our contacts not only because it serves us, but because it serves them. The more contacts that you make, the more people they potentially have in their service. However, in the long run this is unsustainable -- a social networking service also has to be useful -- merely amplifying your contacts isn't enough.
Thus the problem becomes not just one unique to me, where my friends network is overextended, but rather one that's endemic to the current generation of social networking services. In order to solve it we need to look at the traditional cultural answers to the problem, compare them to technical solutions, both current and to-be-invented, and then see how a new generation of social networking services can be designed that molds the two ideas together into a more cohesive whole.
This is really good stuff.