So, yeah, over on Facebook, they've just added an ability -- well, okay, the functionality was already there, but they've switched some of the UI and labeling to promote this usage -- to create the subset of your Friends List consisting of only the people you actually care about. And Facebook assures you that they won't tell anyone that they've been demoted to not REALLY a friend.
Like I said, all this functionality was already there -- I actually already used it in the OPPOSITE way. Default Facebook actually only presents you with a SUBSET of what your friends post, and I have no idea HOW they choose what subset. However, if you create a custom list, it will show you all the stuff on the custom list, so I made a list called "Everybody", and put everybody on it, and read THAT instead of my default feed.
But, yeah, the technology makes more sense the way that they are promoting it: put the people that you actually WANT to get everything from on the "Close Friends" list, and read that. And, if you want, check back into your "Friends" feed sometimes, to see what the Facebook algorithm thinks is particularly interesting from everybody else.
Let's assume, for a moment, that Facebook actually knows what they're doing with this. 'Cause I can see why this would work. It's all about the MonkeySphere.
I assume many of you are already familiar with the idea of the MonkeySphere, and that others of you are not. So, lemme explain it. Feel free to skip over this if you already know it. Anyway, I think the idea is really cool and interesting.
Robin Dunbar noted that different primates have different sized family/tribal groups. And he observed that the size of a primate's brain in relation to its body is roughly proportional to the size of the social groups.
Bigger the neocortex relative to the body, bigger the social group in which the primate lives. The biggest neocortex-to-body-ratio among the primates, of course, belongs to us humans, so he plotted out the other primates and continued the line out, and figured that a primate about our size with about our size brain probably would live in a social group of somewhere around 150 or so. Obviously, the line's pretty messy, because the primates didn't line up EXACTLY, so, actually, it's that there's a 95% chance that the number is somewhere between 100 and 230, centered on 148.
That's called "Dunbar's Number" -- there's a 95% chance we human beings have a maximum number of people that we can SPECIFICALLY and PERSONALLY care about that's between 100 and 230, probably close to 150. We can care about other people in the ABSTRACT, but our brains only have room for so many personal connections. (Other research has come up with higher numbers -- the Bernard-Kilworth number is somewhere from 230 to 290. I'm going to say "150", but understand that that "150" might ACTUALLY be 100, or 300. Still, the general concept seems sound.)
If we want to live in larger societies than 150ish members, and we do, we have to use Other Things. There are more than 150 people I might want to buy things from -- so we've got agencies that make sure that we have things like "money" that I can buy things with. If I only knew 150 people, then, if one of them made a shovel for me, he or she could trust that, at some point, I'd probably be doing some sort of favor for them which benefited them to some sort of equivalent-ish degree.
The guy at Home Depot doesn't know me, but trusts that, when I take a piece of plastic with a magnetic strip on it, and slide it through a box, and the box makes specific blinkenlights, that means that I'm allowed to walk out with a shovel. There is a HUGE amount of infrastructure behind that, all of which allows us to live in societies with hundreds, thousands, millions of people.
But the PERSONAL part? 150 people or so.
So that brings us to Facebook. Facebook is one of those MonkeySphere Extending Technologies, sort of. It allows us to acknowledge and maintain subcultural alliances of various scales -- people I went to high school with, people who eat at McDonald's. Heck, I bet there are people I know whose known and facially-recognized blood relatives exceed their Dunbar number -- some people I know come from LARGE clans. Come to think of it, when my grandmother throws a family barbecue for the Carusos, there have been nearly a hundred people there -- I don't know them all, but I bet MY blood relatives, if you go out to third cousins or so, exceed my Dunbar number.
But I COULD friend all of them on Facebook, if I knew who they were. And that would be a way of me acknowledging my Caruso-ness, Osmond-ness, Becker-ness, and Ludwig-ness, even if I just don't have the brainspace to maintain a PERSONAL relationship with every Caruso, Osmond, Becker, and Ludwig.
Similarly, I COULD friend everybody in my high school class, even the ones who I never even TALKED to, in order to acknowledge my Arlington High School Of The Early Nineties-ness.
Societies larger than a single village require some way to identify with a larger group -- religion, national identity, clan or tribal affinity, language enclave, SOMETHING -- and a Very Large Facebook Friends List can be a tool to facilitate that.
But if you do that, you STILL have your own personal Dunbar Number to deal with.
Which is how I understand the Facebook Close Friends list. It's not how I use the tool, it doesn't facilitate what I want to do with Facebook. But I think I get it.