Friday, September 21, 2007

Clay Shirkly on Social Groups and Scale

...you have to find a way to spare the group from scale. Scale alone kills conversations, because conversations require dense two-way conversations. In conversational contexts, Metcalfe's law is a drag. The fact that the amount of two-way connections you have to support goes up with the square of the users means that the density of conversation falls off very fast as the system scales even a little bit. You have to have some way to let users hang onto the less is more pattern, in order to keep associated with one another.

This is an inverse value to scale question. Think about your Rolodex. A thousand contacts, maybe 150 people you can call friends, 30 people you can call close friends, two or three people you'd donate a kidney to. The value is inverse to the size of the group. And you have to find some way to protect the group within the context of those effects...

This hits home for me. The internet offers scale in certain ways, and those things can be useful, but as human beings, we are evolved or created (I don't think it matters which you believe) for human-scale interactions. Last night we had our bi-weekly small-group meeting for our new church. Small groups is a key technique large churches are using to make people feel connected and known. Then today I was taking super-dull, mandatory corporate CBTs. These kinds of training are terrifically boring under the best of circumstances, but if you take them with real, live other people, the tedium can be offset by the chance to meet other people and have real discussion (like rolling your eyes in boredom, for example!). Then on my drive home today, I was discussing with my friend Ted how un-fulfilling teleconferences and work-from-home can be, in terms of meeting the human desire for interpersonal contact.




1 comment:

  1. That's true. Yesterday I had to suffer through our annual 'standards of business conduct' online training course. Just painfully tedious and scarcely relevant (what insider trading is and how to avoid it and corporate info security policy). There is no social interaction to speak of in this case, but it took over an hour to complete it, but I think a knowledgeable person could have explained everything in about 5 minutes.

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