A Dunbar model in social media

This made me wonder about the possibilities of a better model.

Fifteen years into the Facebook era, it’s well established that people aren’t actually friends with the hundreds or thousands of Facebook friends they may have. They couldn’t be if they tried—research has found that there seems to be a limit to the number of social connections a human brain can manage. Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist at the University of Oxford, is the most famous proponent of this theory, and his estimate of 150—known as “Dunbar’s number”—is often cited as the (approximate) number of casual friends a person can keep track of. There are different Dunbar numbers for different levels of closeness—concentric circles, if you will. The smallest circle, of five friends, consists of someone’s most intimate friendships. One can keep track of 15 close friends, and 50 pretty close friends. Expanding out from the 150 casual friends, this research suggests that the brain can handle 500 acquaintances, and 1,500 is the absolute limit—“the number of faces we can put names to,” Dunbar writes.

I’ve mentally categorized them as:

  1. Must Friends (support clique) : 5 people : a best friend, a member of your inner circle, a person you count on when something big happens in your life
  2. Trust Friends (sympathy group) : 15 people : a friend who shows integrity, someone you feel comfortable with, that you’re always glad to see, but not in your inmost circle; perhaps someone you’d like to be closer to if you had the time or opportunity
  3. Rust Friends (close friends) : 50 people : a person you’ve known for a long, long time; you’re probably not going to get any closer to that person unless something changes, but a part of your life
  4. Just Friends (casual friends) : 150 people : a person you see — at a weekly poker game, at your child’s school — who is enjoyable company, but you have no desire to socialize outside a specific context or to get to know that person better
  5. Acquaintances : 500 people
  6. Facial Recognition : another 780 (bringing total up to 1,500)

The Facebook algorithm is already looking for how much we engage with individuals in order to decide which content to show us on the Newsfeed. By deciding which people are important to us, they are in effect, modeling the Dunbar theory for us. Just in the shadows without allowing us to veto or decide on it. Well, sort of, we have the options for “Close Friends” and “Acquaintances” which seem to be taken from Dunbar albeitly at the wrong levels.

It seems plausible that Facebook could formalize the model further by just adding three more levels. They could automatically mark people based on their interpretation of our behavior with the person. And then also allow us to override it by changing the mark. That could help Facebook understand our idealized state of the relationship to better improve the Newsfeed. People leave the service because of frustrations about what they see. For some, that is too much about acquaintances and not enough about close friends. (The algorithms are showing unwanted content based on misunderstanding the individual, who doesn’t understand how to like the correct things to optimize the Newsfeed.)

Then again, I am probably one of the few Homo Roboticus using social media who would appreciate this. Most people probably would find it overwhelming.

Fb Messenger virus

Got a message from a coworker that suggested I was in a video. Naturally, I am supposed to click on it, but it felt wrong. A quick Duck Duck Go search revealed it to be a virus.

Of all the things I can report, I cannot report this? It seems like Facebook should be able to detect this virus by now. What I can see of the link goes to a Facebook server: si-chao.cstools.facebook.com

So, at least the link to virus is on their servers enough that they could check.

Juggling Social Roles in Social Media

Browncoat (from show Firefly) polo
Juggling the dual role of worker bee and geek by wearing a business casual geek shirt

Sociology has a concept of us holding multiple social roles. At home, I am both a husband and a father. With relatives, I am a son, nephew, or cousin. At work, I am a supervisee, mentor, subject matter expert, or organization historian. Things get a bit more undefined out in the wider world, but I hold social roles out there too.

Each of these social roles vary in the expectations of behavior. So, our behavior may vary depending on which role we are occupying at a given time. And, even more interesting is when we have to juggle multiple social roles AT THE SAME TIME for the first time. The more experience we attain at doing something, the better we get at figuring out the constraints and minefields in a situation.

The human brain devotes a large amount of processing to managing the information about the behavior of others to determine trust. And also ensuring our own behaviors are trustworthy. (You’ve read my prior stuff on Dunbar, right? 1, 2)

Perhaps part of the stress inducing nature of social media is the mixing of these social roles? A giant social network like Facebook means having a variety of relatives, coworkers, and friends mixing in the same spaces. People who come from different backgrounds, political viewpoints, education levels, interests, and levels of restraint. Navigating all this probably generates a ton of stress.

If so, then we need more segmentation.

  1. Limit coworkers to more work appropriate social networks like LinkedIn.
  2. Join topic groups and post content related to it there. To talk about politics, join groups that discuss it. (Be careful to avoid echo chamber groups.)
  3. A private place to discuss more openly with friends. Maybe a private twitter account, a private Facebook group, group chat, etc.
  4. A private place to discuss more openly with family.

Tech drains English of meaning

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Alien ‘word’. Actually explaining the three kinds of quotes and Linux sensitivity. by Ezra S F

Semantic Drain and the Meaninglessness of Modern Work makes an interesting point that a problem with knowledge management work is that much of is filler work without a fulfilling purpose. I was far more stressed as the university webmaster than as a database administrator. The webmaster job was highly subjective with people getting upset about the tiniest of minutia that almost no one would notice. “Move this 5 pixels to the left.” “The color in the logo is FF0202 when it should be FF0303.”

Semantic drain in this context is about the pervasiveness of jargon and how it is inventing new insider terminology for concepts that already exist. I really liked the discussion about “content” for the author became to to mean text one-way communication that has no value. It is less than journalism. A content specialist is someone who creates useless drivel.

It goes on to talk about the difficulty in seeing the end product of knowledge work. One of the things I like about working in database and application administration is having a better sense about how what I do affects others. Living in a college town and running a computer system college students use, I ran into people all the time who were impacted by my work. True, it is a lot more abstract than a plumber, but it is no more abstract than a widget maker. I should visit the Georgia Archives more so that I can better relate and understand the meaning of my work with their systems.

Reward Tracking and Product Recalls

booth branding business buy
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Stores like for us as consumers to give them a customer ID to track what it is that we are buying. Many have phone number or a card or an email address. They use this information to track our purchases and personalize their nudges for us to buy products.  There is one way they might improve customer loyalty: Recall notices.

I pay attention to the news, so I see recalls every week. But, I doubt I am seeing them all. And, I doubt that I can reliably say whether I have the recalled item. But, the store where I bought it probably does.

A couple years ago, I was in a grocery aisle mulling over what to select when a manager came through to take off the shelf something nearby. He had a scanner which told him the information about the recalled item.

What would be really cool is if the system that is telling the stores what to pull from their shelves, looks through the customer purchases and informs the customers. They could pass along the recall notice and let the customer identify the lot number the same as the store. (I knew the manager was working a recall notice because he was talking to himself.)

Thinking maybe this already exists as an opt-in, I checked the stores where we have web site accounts. Nothing. (Given these places tend to go with an opt-out model, I was not surprised.)

Friendship Placebo

Social media plays with our minds in allowing us to stay connected to old friendships. We feel like we are maintaining the relationship. But, it lacks something.

Social media tends to bring out our worst. We portray ourselves at our best. We compare our worst to others’ best. Assumptions, gossip, and negativity abound.

It really isn’t a friendship anymore. But, we still want it to be. So, like a placebo we trick ourselves into thinking it fulfills that hole in our soul.

Personalization modes

hacker screen
Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com on Pexels.com

In shopping for Mother’s Day the algorithms now think I am female. Obviously, they took the items I looked at for this quest and incorporated them into my profile’s records and are basing new recommendations on them. They are fresher. And they have left over inventory they want to move. So, I get it.

This shopping for another persona has to be a relative common phenomenon since personalization became a buzzword, so I don’t get why this hasn’t been solved over a decade later. People shop for others’ birthdays all the time. And maybe my solution below doesn’t exist because people impulse buy for themselves and others based on getting things suggested later. And, one can go into the recommendations and delete off items to restore them to normalness.

This other persona influence to recommendation must have happen so much that I am surprised that such companies that use it have not created shopping modes.

  1. Allow users to say they are shopping for another person. Associate the personalization that that profile. Based on what is bought for that person, the suggestions can get better.
  2. With some sort of confirmation from the person being shopped for, they might make recommendations based on their wishlists. Although mine are sorely out of date.
  3. If the user is looking for things that seem… uh… out of character or in character for the subject of an upcoming holiday like mother’s day or father’s day, then prompt the user if they ought to change modes.

 

 

Superiority of visual notifications

razer white and black corded headphones
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A sound is a terrible way to get my attention. I mostly live in some kind of background noise. So, there is a strong possibility that I will miss a notification through listening to music or podcasts.

Worse, even if I do hear it, I have no clue what weird thing is trying to get my attention. Some sounds I recognize due to hearing them frequently until the product changes it. At which point, I no longer have a clue what is trying to get my attention. The only way a phone call style works for me is that it is a sustained noise that last long enough for me to check the source and see that indeed it is still active and a phone call. (This kind of thing for everything coming out of a computer would be highly annoying.)

Toaster notifications, those little windows in the corner of the screen, or even phone icons at the top of the screen are far, far, far superior. True, I tend not to immediately notice them. So, it might be minutes (an hour) before I consume them. However, that is great for my ability to focus on work or others then circle back to handle a notification.