A recent Harvard Business Review article asked, “Is Facebook To Big to Survive?” It made the assertion that, due to the immensity of its size – nearly 1 billion users – and the volume of connections between users – over 100 billion – that the network could implode around itself.
Stibel said, “[T]he brain forges higher quality connections and patterns, losing the vast majority of its early relationships. It replaces sheer quantity of neural connections with quality, making us smarter without the need for additional volume. When the brain stops growing and reaches a point of equilibrium, it gains intelligence.”
He added that social networks are no different and cites bygone networks such as Friendster, Classmates.com and MySpace, which, according to Stibel, got too big for their britches. “Each of these hit a limit at which point the network became too big, too unwieldy and eventually shrunk into a black hole never to be seen again,” said Stibel.
Stibel, who, in 2007, predicted that Facebook would overtake MySpace as the leading social network, warns that, at 950 million users, Facebook is clearly in danger of following suit.
Quantity Versus Quality
With Stibel’s commentary as a backdrop, my concern regarding social network involvement is this: How many connections can we sustain in a meaningful way? And, does the quantity of connections – many of which are cursory at best – dilute the quality?
In other words, because I’m connected to thousands of people, does that mitigate against the 150 or so that I have a real relationship with?
150 is a magic number – In my previous career I was a minister. As a student of ecclesiology I came to realize that most churches – 80 percent or more – had memberships of less than 200. Why? Because that’s about as many as one person, the pastor, can shepherd. I believe that number represents the nature of relationships in general, not just those confined to a church setting.
Quality trumps quantity – I also believe that, by extending my network of connections beyond that critical number, I am, in fact, diluting the quality of the connections overall, and especially with those in the core group. Quantity contends against quality and, unfortunately, all too often comes out the victor.
So, what’s the answer? May I suggest three possible scenarios.
- Winnow down the number of connections to 150 – who has time to do that?
- Segment connections, so that the 150 receive more attention than the rest – who has time to do that either?
- Start a new network where connections are highly restrictive – that’s pie-in-the-sky thinking.
Both Facebook and LinkedIn say they want to be little more than virtual mirrors of real world connections, which is why, unlike Twitter, a “digital handshake” must take place between two parties before a connection is forged. But you and I know that’s not true. Both networks pitch people to be possible connections all the time. And while LinkedIn makes it a little more difficult to create connections, there are ways to circumnavigate the obstacles.
The idealist in me would suggest that we start over by creating a network that makes connecting with others more difficult; at least not so easy, and that a cap be placed at 150 (certainly no more than 200). Such niche networks already exist, but none that I would consider to be of the major variety.
Stibel recommends that Facebook take responsibility: “What if Facebook could become wiser? Separate out the fluff and strengthen the important relationships. Allow us to efficiently nurture and groom our packs of 150, our ‘real’ social networks, while filtering everything not directly relevant. Facebook has made some strides on this score, but they must redouble their efforts. It is Facebook’s only chance at adding value.”
For its own sake perhaps Facebook should heed Stibel’s warning. After all, he’s been right before.
What do you consider to be the answer to how we overcome the quality versus quantity dilemma? Does it require the enforcement of a numeric limit, or do other factors come into play? And should social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn take the initiative to modify their platforms in order to increase quality?