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.

On This Day & Friendship

The image that a specific friend failed to like

When I look through Facebook’s On This Day feature, sometimes I am startled to see that someone I expected to like a specific post did not.

This reminded me that what I post often is targeted. There are a handful of people who I know follow my posts and will appreciate them.

Friends are people who have shared experiences and/or interests. Those I target with a post are not usually tagged or named even when I intend for them to see it. The game is for them to see it as an inside joke. So for them to fail to like the post, I feel like I failed the friendship. It is like saying something that is an inside joke and get no smile.

Are we even still friends? (Sorry, just being melodramatic.) Probably. It is just a single data point. There would need to be a consistent pattern of misses.

Social Ghost Archetypes

I met Allie for the second time at a birthday party. The birthday girl is a Social Tech Ghost. Allie is a Pseudonym Surfer and former Dunbarian. Another person at the party is an Infrequent Checker. I decided these remain legitimate strategies to keep from getting drawn into spending too much time online. Since I like to label things, Social Ghosts, stuck in my head. From the perspective of someone relying on social network web sites to communicate, these are difficult people to locate, keep, or reach. Much like ghosts.
🙂

The Social Tech Ghost: This person entirely abstains from social network web sites. This is a person who wants to see you in person or talk to you on the phone. Email is grudgingly accepted. Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, and Friendster are accused of ruining friendships due to being impersonal. They are fads to be resisted in order to maintain strong social bonds. Probably this person would be a fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s article Small Change except they do not read my blog post about weak ties, Twitter, or Facebook so they did not know about me posting the article.

The Pseudonym Surfer Ghost: He or she participates online under fake names. You drop them from your friend list because you have no idea who they are. They might work in an environment hostile to employees getting tagged in photos of wild parties. They might be online to interact with a handful of family and close friends not any random acquaintance who feels they deserve to be friends.

The Infrequent Checker Ghost: This person has a profile. However, months can go by between logins. Peer pressure forced them to get an account, but there is no peer pressure to actually use it.

The Dunbarian Ghost: Too many “friends” causes this person to purge. The right number may or may not be Dunbar’s Number: a mean of 147.8. What is important is the person feels the need to be social with everyone on the list of friends and too many makes that too hard. Therefore some need to get lost.

I am sure there are more. What other social ghost archetypes do you know?

P.S. From the “In Real Life” perspective, I am a Social Ghost. So. Meh.

Regent NeSmith

I knew some things about William “Dink” H. NeSmith, Jr. a relatively new member of University System of Georgia Board of Regents through a friend and former coworker, Andy Fore, who personally knows Dink.

  • Jesup, Georgia
  • publishes newspapers
  • nice guy

Dink dropped by to tour our facility and answer questions.

One of the more interesting answers to a question about expanding distance learning had to do Dink’s belief online is the direction of the future and with the University of Phoenix operating in our state. He would rather see the money students give them come to us instead. The sense I get is Georgia ONmyLINE intends to help Georgians locate the online class options available to students. The project I work on, GeorgiaVIEW, provides the online class infrastructure. Another project I help intends to provide a more seamless integration between schools for those registering with Georgia ONmyLINE. Guess we are cutting edge?

xmllint

This Linux tool is my new best friend. We get thousands of XML files from our clients for loading user, class, and enrollment information. Some of these clients customize our software or write their own software for generating the XML.

This means we frequently get oddities in the files which cause problems. Thankfully I am not the person who has to verify these files are good. I just get to answer the questions that person has about why a particular file failed to load.

The CE/Vista import process will stop if its validator finds invalid XML. Unfortunately, the error “An exception occurred while obtaining error messages.  See webct.log” doesn’t sound like invalid XML.

Usage is pretty simple:

xmllint –valid /path/to/file.xml | head

  1. If the file is valid, then the whole file is in the output.
  2. If there are warnings, then they precede the whole file.
  3. If there are errors, then only the errors are displayed.

I use head here because our files can be up to 15MB, so this prevents the whole file from going on the screen for the first two situations.

I discovered this in researching how to handle the first situation below. It came up again today. So this has been useful to catch errors in the client supplied files where the file failed to load.

1: parser error : XML declaration allowed only at the start of the document
 <?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>

162: parser error : EntityRef: expecting ‘;’
<long>College of Engineering &amp&#059; CIS</long>

(Bolded the errors.) The number before the colon is the line number. The carat it uses to indicate where on the line an error occurred isn’t accurate, so I ignore it.

My hope is to get this integrated into our processes to validate these files before they are loaded and save ourselves headaches the next morning.

TED Talk: Taryn Simon

My favorite quote from Taryn is, “Photography threatens fantasy.” Disney uses intricate interior design, photography, and video to construct fantasy. Advertisements, magazines, weddings, and portraits are about showing others the ideal instead of the reality. Have you seen the Dove Evolution video? (This one has music and singing by a Baha’i musician Devon Gundry.) What about the Ralph Lauren photo?

Reality bites. Hard.

(See Taryn Simon photographs secret sites on the TED site)

TED About this talk: Taryn Simon exhibits her startling take on photography — to reveal worlds and people we would never see otherwise. She shares two projects: one documents otherworldly locations typically kept secret from the public, the other involves haunting portraits of men convicted for crimes they did not commit.

Also: Taryn on Charlie Rose, Discomfort Zone (Telegraph)

Cognitive Load

My parents taught me as a child lying is harder than telling the truth. I am way too lazy to bother with anything other than using a tangent to change the subject. Simplicity also helps keep track of my life. I like understanding what is happening and why.

Skills involved in deception also teach problem-solving, project management, and social context management. My favorite friends were the brilliant liars. They always had a new entertaining story.

For a host of reasons, their theory goes, lying is more mentally taxing than telling the truth. Performing an extra task while lying or telling the truth should therefore affect the liars more. The Load of Lying: Testing for Truth

As evidenced by Dunbar’s Number, our brains are wired for both determining honesty in others and being the cheat.

The Ares Imperative

The Ares ImperativeA friend of mine, Steve Ekstrom, is the writer of this comic which I enjoyed for the this first 8 pages. I’m looking forward to the next installments. Check out The Ares Imperative! (And vote for it if you like it. The winner gets published by DC Comics.)
Interview:

Synopsis:

It’s the early 21st Century and corporations continue to manipulate world governments as emerging quasi-religious science cults and techno-centric international terrorists are beginning to develop their own biological weapons mapped out in human genomes. Special Agent Adam Geist operates covertly within the framework of the ultra-classified PROJECT ARES division of the C.I.A. under the supervision of Deputy Director Ted Gerard and his assistant Maxwell Clearwater.

Geist does not fully comprehend the processes, which he has undergone as a part of PROJECT ARES but numerous studies have revealed that alien mitochondria have asserted control of his DNA—altering his higher intelligence functions and his nervous system receptor processing speed. He has become sensitive to electromagnetic fields and has developed heightened senses, which include something akin to Wi-Fi reception. His skin is capable of rapid, localized cellular density adaptation—making him virtually bulletproof.

Due to the secret nature of his existence and the fear that a “super-man” would create in light of the unstable relations between the U.S. and other world powers, Geist is under strict orders: he must eliminate anyone—friend or foe—who learns of his uncanny abilities. Sadly, as he grows in power, his own humanity diminishes from the actualization of his computer-like brain—and now, evidence is beginning to surface that his own strange biology may, in fact, be malevolent in nature…

I’m blogging this.

Elizabeth For about eight months I have participated in a group called the Brunch Bunch here in Athens. We get together to eat and talk. Many conversations drift into the nerdy (my forté?). The locations vary so I have gotten to try new (to me) restaurants. Elizabeth (pictured right) vouched that I am a great guy. Well, these are great people.
🙂

Elizabeth also brought a friend of hers from out of town, Claudia. Claudia, smartly has a newer version of my Canon Rebel. I have the XT. She has the XSi (two models newer). The newest is the T1i.

Downtown Athens is a great place to shoot photos. So, we walked around for an hour or so looking in stores to get out of the heat. This is the hat Elizabeth bought from Helix who also had some cool stone candle holders. Native American Gallery had some interesting petroglyph jewelry and gray flower pottery. I’ve got some ideas for gifts to give for upcoming birthdays, holidays, etc.

One of the employees at Helix and Claudia both asked if I had a blog. I’m sure it was because of my shirt! I only admitted to this one and blogging about Blackboard. Though, I guess I have diversified somewhat here. I probably should blog more about local stuff as well. That would mean getting out more as well.

I'm blogging this.For years, I have been collecting teeshirts from thinkgeek.com. At present the collection consists of:

Some others are on my wishlist. I do have some shirts from other places. By far the most popular is the xkcd sudo comic. I’ve added a few others from xkcd to my wishlist as well.