Day: May 18, 2007

Social network capacity

I’m just listening to this week’s /Talkshow, which features Leisa Reichelt talking to Stowe Boyd. I’ve been following Leisa’s blog Disambiguity since I came across her Ambient Intimacy concept, and been following her Twitters. One of those instances where social networking tools have produced a worthwhile strand of interest.

— wiggly flashback sequence —

A few months ago I was driving home from Hursley and listening to Radio 4’s comedy programme The Ape That Got Lucky (now out on CD! also available on iTunes). I actually only caught a single episode – the second one in the series – Social Development.

There’s a section of the programme (about 7m 20s in) where they discuss the limits of the size of crowds and tribes. It is obviously a comedy, so it is presented in a humorous manner, but I found the discussion quite intriguing. The idea is that tribes used to expand in size to around 80-120 in number, but that was as large as they ever got… and even today, our brains are configured to cope with around the same number of people as acquaintances as our primitive ancestors were. Today we live in “super tribes” in cities, but we still have a limit to the number of people we can cope with… so now we break our networks into smaller tribes: associating with clubs, countries, cities and so on.

I immediately began to think about social networks. How many acquaintances can I reasonably keep track of?

— end flashback —

This same concept – the Dunbar constant of 150 – comes up in /Talkshow (about 9m in)… do the new social networking tools allow us to stretch the number? Can we keep up with more people?

My Sametime list at work probably has a few hundred people in it, but I still only regularly keep in touch with around 10 people via IM. If I look around at my online presences, I have the same groups of people in my lists on Last.FM, Twitter, Dopplr and other networks – and the sizes of those lists are relatively limited – so I probably do keep up with some people better. I think I would find it difficult to keep up with more than around 150, and certainly “intimately”. I’m increasingly relying on the ability to annotate contacts in my IM list to remember where I met them, what I know them for… a sure sign that my brain is running out of capacity for remembering things!

I’m fairly sure that the Dunbar number does apply to social software. I’m loving the network I have, but this week I started to reject people on LinkedIn and remove some people from Twitter as I couldn’t take in all the information – it was becoming noise, or I didn’t feel I’d be able to maintain the relationship well enough. The challenge is that I don’t want to allow this to prevent me from reaching out to new people in the future. I need to start trimming the list of feeds I read, for instance, to make room for new ones.

I’ve mentioned before that social networking tools have enabled me to enrich my physical network. I come back to the point that it is important to maintain a network, and develop it, through meetings in person where possible… dovetailing neatly into the fact that I’m getting together with Al Wood this evening, thanks to some monkchips-originated winedrinking, and subsequent blogging and Twittering 🙂

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Playing around with Skitch

I’m sat in Edinburgh airport and thought I’d have a play with Skitch.

Skitch is a new screenshot / drawing tool for OS X. It is currently in closed beta. The application is by, the makers of Comic Life. It is ridiculously easy to use – and very cool.

The interface takes a little getting used to, as it departs from some of the UI conventions that we’ve come to expect. No menu bar. Preferences on the “back” of the window, more like a Dashboard widget. The tools and features are kept to a minimum. But, no problem – when you first start it, a small screencast leads you through the features and the way the tool works. It really is very easy.

You can quickly grab the screen, part of the screen, or take an iSight photo… and then resize it by dragging the window corners, which physically resizes the image inside it. To crop or expand, you grab the edges of the image inside the window, and drag. Once you’ve got something to play with, there are a series of simple drawing and shape tools, and a limited palette of colours. There is also a very cool text tool – simply start typing and your text will appear. To resize the text or change the thickness of the lines, there is a size slider on the left of the window.


Even cooler is the fact that all of the stuff that you do to the image is automatically done on layers, so text and lines can be moved around later – Skitch also keeps an image history so that you can quickly find stuff you’ve edited before.

To save, you simply “rip” off a tab at the bottom of the window, having typed a filename and chosen from one of the formats (JPG, PNG, SVF, PDF or the Skitch format which preserves layers, so that you can exchange the editable file with friends). There is also the ability to email, or you can upload to a web service like Flickr, an FTP server, or Skitch’s own mySkitch site at the click of a button.

I love it. It’s so simple. It took a little bit of getting in to, but now I’m using it more, I find it so quick and easy. Definitely one to watch, for Mac users.

As for Firefox, he’s not my friend anymore. Why use 70% of my CPU when there’s no network connection and the application is minimised and idle?

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