Let’s start with the first question in the previous post, how to overcome the ‘Magic Numbers’ limit. It seems 150 is the average maximum cited, but to me it does not really make sense. Has anyone counted the number of people in their personal networks for themselves? I can come up with a little over 170 names of people I am in regular contact with. So the limit seems about correct at first glance. Thing is, I don’t feel my network is full.

Gladwell in his book the Tipping Point also pays tribute to the number of 150, while at the same time maintaining that Connectors are crucial to making things tip. How are connectors supposed to fulfil their roles if they only have around 150 contacts at any given time? Are they especially gifted? I don’t buy that.

So my guess is, there must be something in the way these contacts are maintained. How do politicians maintain their network? They don’t get on the ballot by knowing only 150 people, do they?

When I look at my social network, there is an extremely small group in the center with whom I have strong emotional ties. Then there is a wider circle of people who I feel close to, but with whom the frequency of contact varies greatly from individual to individual. And then there is the much larger group of people who are within my field of vision but with whom contact revolves around certain specific contexts.

The crucial word here is contexts. The people closest to me are ‘with me’ in every context and our contact is intimate and personal, the next layer of people I have got to know within a certain context but built rapport and mutual understanding with that spilled over out of that context into others. The larger group I only interact with within a specific context, but those can still constitute strong ties within that context. The picture this might bring to mind is a set of concentric circles, revolving around me, with the Magic Number of 150 as the outer horizon.

That however is not how I experience my social network, and way too flattering as it puts me in the centre of the world. Yes, the closest contacts form a circle but the others don’t. The contexts I spoke about are the different circles I move around in, my family, my co-workers, my fraternity friends, my ham-radio friends, my scouting friends, my neighbourhood contacts, my high school contacts, my friends within each of the different other student bodies I belonged to, my blogging ecosystem, my Ryze network, my Ecademy network, my KnowledgeBoard network etc.

The more accurate picture is that of a flower with loads of different petals. Or more abstract, a host of ellipses that happen to overlap in me and the people that I got to know in one of those contexts, but who became part of more than one.

Politicians and other connectors seem to me to have in common that they are in contact with larger numbers of different contexts, than others. And thus break the 150 barrier. If I’d adhere to the 150, my guess would be that 150 is more likely to be a mental limit for any one of the contexts.

As a child, and teenager, I was acutely aware of these different contexts, and the different aspects of me and my interests I had housed there. I could become very confused if two contexts that were separate to me turned out to intersect somewhere outside of me. Much like when your parents dropped in unexpectedly at your student dorm. I then had to connect whole differents sets of experiences and emotions and handle them at the same time. Now I’m comfortable with different contexts intersecting in other places than me, but I’m still very aware of those different contexts.

And even per context the 150 barrier is not absolute I think. It’s again how you handle it. A useful method all through human evolution is expanding your range of interactions by off-loading things to your environment, and so diminishing the amount of information you have to remember or handle at the same time.

I don’t have to remember everything that goes on in one of my contexts to be able to participate, I can off-load stuff to other places. I for instance reread e-mail exchanges before writing to someone I hadn’t contacted for awhile, to reacquaint myself with the tone and mode of our interchanges, just as I reread diary entries to reconnect to myself in years past.

It’s CRM but then personalised and without the often somewhat cynical and manipulative premeditated commercial aims behind it. It’s Personal KM. When the best network wins, personal fulfilment of your interests, desires, needs and ambitions is dependant on how you handle your network. It’s always the relations to other human beings that determine that outcome, an individual is only an individual as long as there are other people around to be an individual to.

So if 150 is our channel capacity for handling relationships in our head, we’d better make sure that those 150 ‘slots’ aren’t always occupied by the same people, but can be ‘assigned’ to different people in different contexts at different times, by filling our environment with mental clues for those relationships that have no ‘slot’ available at the time. (Or maybe a bandwith metaphor might be more appropiate as we are talking about person to person communications here.)

Let’s go back to the observation about yet another on-line networking community to get invited to. When I joined Ecademy and Ryze there were already a lot of people there. I got invited by people who offered me one of their contexts to add to my own, opening up the possibility of adopting a new context heretofore closed to me.

Meanwhile by the way my blogging context and the group at Ryze have started to overlap so much, they begin to look the same. So I’ve stopped treating them as separate contexts, responding to a mislaid e-mail with a private Ryze-message. Following up on a phone-call with a quick guestbook entry, and the like.

When a new networking tool comes along it is at the start an empty shell. If I get invited I’ll be asked to invite my friends as well. But that basically means that the only thing that happens is duplicating a part of my network that was already housed somewhere else. There are a lot of beautiful houses around, but you can live in only one. Then you’re not adding a new context to your network but creating another channel for communication with an exisiting part in your network.

The hassle of building profiles and inviting friends just so you can establish communication to those with whom you’re already communicating, will soon proof too much to be counteracted by the curiousity of how the new networking tool might look and feel to ‘live in’.

I don’t consider that to be networking fatigue, it’s being tired of doing double the work for the same result, and rightly so.
I would more likely join a new networking environment, if I got invited to it by someone from let’s say my ham-radio context, connecting me to one of his other contexts, in stead of getting an invitation from someone who is already in some other networking portal with me. The latter promises nothing more than meeting the usual suspects. The former a real chance of entering into a new realm of contacts.