Our number of “Friends” seems to be growing

Paul Adams from the UX team at Google just recently posted a presentation you have to check out about the dichotomy of the “real world’ and the social web that you have to check out.

Businesses are trying to figure out the social web to use it to their business advantage, but Paul points out that “it’s not just about integrating the like button”.

He highlights that the patterns we are seeing on the social web are simply people trying to recreate social behaviors we have offline, which can be more or less true to the fact, depending on how the social network is designed.

Social networks are NOT new

We may not actually be friends like that

They are patterns that have evolved with us over time, and our online and offline “communities” are not necessarily mirror images of each other. In fact, they hardly ever are.

Everyone that is your “friend” online is not your friend in the same way that someone else you are connected to is your “friend” – just like in “real life”. We all represent ourselves in different ways according to whom we are addressing.

However, we’re still connected to them and when we share information via a status update, for example, that information is shared in the same exact way with everyone in our “friends” circle, regardless of how we actually consider our relationships. Interesting to think about when we think of the types of connections we are creating, and ones that can be created unintentionally.

I like that he brought up that most people have between 4 and 6 groups of friends – each usually with less than 10 people – because I had just been researching Dunbar’s number,

a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person. Proponents assert that numbers larger than this generally require more restrictive rules, laws, and enforced norms to maintain a stable, cohesive group. No precise value has been proposed for Dunbar’s number, but a commonly cited approximation is 150. (Wikipedia)

So we are creating strong ties and weak ties, averaging 130 friends on Facebook, and therefore allowing for very meaningful or temporary connections that are nevertheless sticking around. Sticking around in the sense that you can find information on Google about when your new hiree was in their punk rock brat phase and wouldn’t have given you the time of day.

Which could possibly make you worry that some day in the future if, the more various profiles are connected, we find out that that guy we accidentally pissed off by forgetting to send that textbook on time (true story – sorry David whoever you are)..is the guy that’s going to be interviewing you for your next job (thanks be to a higher power – not yet a true story)

And what if all of our decisions start to take a general route, as we “often look to other when making decisions”. We are often even prone to making incorrect decisions if we see other people choosing that path and think or know that they will be aware of our decisions afterwards (Solomon Asch showed this in the 1950s with his experiments).

The web encourages groupthink

If we don’t pay close attention to every decision, we’re likely to be nudged in one direction or another because it’s impossible to pay close attention to every decision that we make, so we are “naturally” being heavily influenced by strong and weak ties. So we are “naturally” influenced by the people around us, which is increasingly becoming everyone that we may have had a weak tie with once. And as we all become more lemming-like, we are getting closer to…the end of the world?

Happy reading 🙂

View more documents from Paul Adams.
Ah, and just because we’re talking about Friends 😀

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