Challenging The Dunbar 150

Kids

Today, Facebook announced it’s new search tool called Graph Search for locating information on people, places, interests, photos, music, restaurants, and more. 

Graph Search is still in beta, so you have to sign up in Facebook to get on the waiting list to use it. 

But Facebook is throwing down the gauntlet to Google by using natural language queries to search by just asking the question in plain language like: “my friends that like Rocky” and up comes those smart ladies and gents. 

But Graph Search is not just a challenge to Google, but to other social media tools and recommendation engines like Yelp and Foursquare, and even LinkedIn, which is now widely used for corporate recruiting. 

Graph Search uses the Bing search engine and it’s secret sauce according to CNN is that is culls information from over 1 billion Facebook accounts, 24 billion photos, and 1 trillion connections–so there is an enormous and growing database to pull from. 

So while the average Facebook user has about 190 connections, some people have as many as 5,000 and like the now antiquated business card file or Rolodex, all the people in your social network can provide important opportunities to learn and share. And while in the aggregate six degrees of separation, none of us are too far removed from everyone else anyway, we can still only Graph Search people and content in our network.

Interestingly enough, while Facebook rolls out Graph Search to try to capitalize on its treasure trove personal data and seemingly infinite connections, Bloomberg BusinessWeek (10 January 2013) ran an article called “The Dunbar Number” about how the human brain can only handle up to “150 meaningful relationships.”

Whether hunter-gather clans, military units, corporate divisions, or an individual’s network of family, friends, and colleagues–our brain “has limits” and 150 is it when it comes to substantial real world or virtual relationships–our brains have to process all the facets involved in social interactions from working together against outside “predators” to guarding against “bullies and cheats” from within the network. 

According to Dunbar, digital technologies like the Internet and social media, while enabling people to grow their virtual Rolodex, does not really increase our social relationships in the real meaning of the word. 

So with Graph Search, while you can mine your network for great talent, interesting places to visit, or restaurants to eat at, you are still fundamentally interacting with your core 150 when it comes to sharing the joys and challenges of everyday life. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

>The Dunbar 150 and Enterprise Architecture

>

We need a network of people in our life (family, friends, and colleagues) to accomplish most anything meaningful, including building an enterprise architecture to grow and mature an organization.

But is there a limit to how many significant others we can have?

The Wall Street Journal, 16 November 2007 reports that “several commentators and news articles have cautioned that there is a natural limit to a friendship circle. They typically cite the so-called Dunbar number, 150, as the ceiling on our personal contacts.”

However, with social networking sites and other technological means of keeping in contact (cell phones, email, instant messaging, and so on), we are looking at an expansion of our ability to connect with others and the numbers of others we can stay in contact with.

Some have questioned, whether as you increase the number of casual relationships, it comes at the expense of those closest to you—“those you turn to when in severe distress.”

Others have questioned whether technology really enables close relationships. In other words, technology helps communicate and stay in contact with larger numbers of people, but to be close “you really do need to be touchy-feely with people.”

What social networking sites do help with is “less-close friendships and acquaintances,” those “at the outer edges of your friend group…people who you don’t talk to regularly…but your likely to swap tales, or more, should your paths cross…you have a history.”

The Dunbar 150 limit on effective social interactions seems more limited to a time when people were less mobile and were confined to a single village or a lifetime job. “But modern man moves among several groups in a fragmented world.” New ranges for maintaining effective relationships are between 100 to 300.

In the end, while cheap and readily available communication can “enrich your life wih more contacts,” real relationships require more than just communication, such as mutual investments of time, giving (sacrifice), trust, and respect to name a few,

Clearly, a large undertaking like building and maintaining an enterprise architecture (that influences organization-wide decision-making, serves as a true planning mechanism, and is utilized for IT governance, cannot be done by a single architect or by a staff of architects. It is an endeavor that requires outreach and communication up and down and across the organization as well as reaching outside for best-practices and looking at market trends. To build an EA for large organization, I think the Dunbar 150 may be a limit easily exceedable by a good chief enterprise architect.