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)

>Implicit Requirements and Enterprise Architecture

>With electonic contact lists in Microsoft Outlook on the computer and on organizer programs on cellphones and other electronic gizmos, why would anyone still keep a physical Rolodex anymore?

The Wall Street Journal, 24-25 November 2007, reports that “some executives are still spinning their rotary card files…more than 20 years after the digital revolution that forecasted the paperless office, the ‘rotary card file’–best known by the market-leading brand name Rolodex–continues to turn.”

The article continues, “as millions of social-network users display their connectedness on their Facebook pages, a surprisingly robust group of people maintain their networks on small white cards. Most of these devotees also rely on BlackBerrys and other computer-based address books.”

This infatuation with physical Rolodex files extends to models like the 6000-card wheel that are no longer even on the market. Other executives keep as many as 8 or 9 Rolodex wheels on their much needed desk space. Why?

The article states that “part of the card system’s appeal has always been that it displays the size of one’s business network for the world to see.” Yet, social-networking sites like LinkedIn also display the number of contacts a person has, so what’s the difference from a physical Rolodex file–what need is the technology not fulfilling with users?

From a User-centric EA perspective, it seems that people have a fundamental need with their contacts to not only be able to maintain them in an organized fashion and to demonstrate the size of their network (to show their value to the organization), but also to feel important and accomplished and to be able “to wear” this like a mark or medal of distinction, in this case by laying it out their Rolodex files prominently on their desks for all to behold.

In EA, when we design technology solutions, we need to keep in mind that there are functional requirements like the organizing of personal and professional contacts, but there are also human, psychological requirements that may never actually come out in a JAD session. These are unstated or implicit requirements and architects need to plan technology to meet both the explicit and implicit needs of users.

A little like Sherlock Holmes and a little bit like a psychologist, an architect must explore user needs beyond the surface if they are to successfully align new technologies with end-user and organizational requirements.