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People & Technology | mostly about People & Technology
  1. Identity, Relationship Building, and Social Groups

    Identity and interpersonal relationships are central concepts within social media. The Social Penetration Theory by Altman and Taylor identifies phases of relationships building, and discusses layers of identity that may be revealed through this process.

    If it is the case that humans have a hierarchy of social groups with fixed sizes, how does these phases of relationship building and layers of identity relate to those social groups?

    Phases of Relationship Building

    1. Orientation stage. At this stage we play safe with small talk and simple, harmless clichés, following standards of social desirability and norms of appropriateness.

    2. Exploratory affective stage. This is where we start to reveal ourselves, express personal attitudes about moderate topics, but we are not yet comfortable to lay ourselves bare. This is the stage of casual friendship, and many relationships do not go past this stage.

    3. Affective stage. We finally start to talk about private and personal matters. This stage allows for intimacy as well as criticism and arguments.

    4. Stable stage. The relationship has reached a plateau where the individuals know each other well enough to each predict the emotional reactions of the other person.

    5. Depenetration. When the costs of the relationship exceed the benefits the relationship starts to break down. This involves a withdrawal of disclosure and may lead to the termination of the relationship.

    Layers of Identity

    Superficial Layer. The outer layer is the public self, and is accessible to anyone who is interested. This layer includes publicly available information that describes who you are, including height, weight, gender, and other details that can easily be observed, like preference in music, clothes, foods, etc.

    Semi-private Layer. Below the superficial layer is a more semi-private layer that includes information and attitudes that a person reveals only to some people, like beliefs, faith, prejudices, and general relationship information.

    Inner Core. The inner core is a person’s unique private domain which is invisible to the world. This layer contains the person’s values, self-concepts, unresolved conflicts and deeply felt emotions, and has a significant impact on the areas of their life.

    How does Relationship Phases and Identity Layers relate to Social Groups?



    I believe that the combinations of these two social frameworks may be used to inform development of social technology, providing better support for identity and privacy management as well as group and network development and support.

  2. Facebook Research: Socializing doesn’t Scale

    Facebook research shows that people have an average of 150 friends, supporting the existence of “Dunbar’s Number” which I wrote about in a previous post on why socializing doesn’t scale. The same research also supports the existence of a support clique of 3 to 5 people, as Facebook users have on average 5 close friends they spend most of their time interacting with.

    The TEDxObserver presentation below shows Robin Dunbar discussing this research.


  3. Why socializing doesn’t scale

    Online social networking platforms allow people to develop social networks with ties to thousands, and in some cases millions, of others. When a personal network grow beyond a certain size the relationships seem to lose their intimacy and the sense of community is suffering.

    The social brain

    The reason for this may be that there is a limit to how many social relationships the human brain is capable of processing and synthesizing information on, referred to as The social brain hypothesis. Research has found that all humans, independent of culture, have a hierarchy of social groups with fixed sizes that are likely to have been the same since prehistoric times (source: Discrete hierarchical organization of social group sizes).

    Social group sizes

    The support clique is made up of the tree to five people closest to us we, who we would seek personal advice or help from in times of serious distress.

    Beyond the support clique is the sympathy group of twelve to twenty people we have special ties to and keep in touch with regularly.

    The next level are bands of thirty to fifty individuals, the same size as overnight hunting and gathering groups. These bands change in composition but are all pulled from the same larger group.

    The clan is a larger group of about 150 individuals. This is also called Dunbar’s number, after the scientist who found that this is the maximum number of people with whom a stable personal relationships can be maintained. This is the same size as traditional small societies.

    There has also been found evidence for at least two larger groups, a megaband of about 500 people and the tribe of about 1000-2000 individuals.

    What are the consequences for online social network platforms?

    So what are the consequences of these findings for online social networking platforms? How can they be redesigned to better support traditional social group sizes?

  4. Generic Social Networks and Your Identity

    The problem with generic social networks like Facebook and Twitter is that people do not have generic identities. Our identities are many faceted and complex which is part of what makes people so wonderfully and intriguingly unique. We play different roles in different contexts, and when those contexts merge our worlds collide and things get ugly, or at least annoyingly complex to juggle. Consider when your parents join Facebook or your boss asks to be your Facebook friend.

    In the offline world there is no such thing as a generic social network. All our social networks are niche social networks where we get to nurture parts of our complex identities and fulfill some of our many social needs.

    This is why I believe that our current concern with generic online social networks like Facebook and Twitter will eventually pass as we all re-discover our various identities in online niche social networks. People may still want to have a presence in the generic social networks, but the majority of user-created content, self expression, and activity will be distributed across our various niche social networks.

  5. Social Media – a child with many parents

    Social media can safely be called one of the biggest trends of 2009. By now  it has become more popular than email and everyone’s grandma is doing it.

    Even if the social media concept is new to many it is closely related to other concepts which have been studied for decades and can teach us a lot.

    social media parents

    Social media has inherited aspects from social networks, computer-mediated communication, and human-computer interaction. It is also related to domains like computer supported collaboration, online communities, online identityimpression management, interpersonal relationship, interpersonal communication, and group communication. Knowledge gathered in these domains over the years help us understand the social media phenomena.