Post-Facebook – Micro Social Networks

I am on Facebook, but not an active user at all. Also I am reluctant to share too much personal stuff with friends. Then there are long-lost friends and family members popping up with Facebook requests to connect. I do not feel anxious to connect as it would increase more “gossip” time I want to avoid.

But then, Facebook with 900 million users is heading for it’s much-anticipated IPO in 2 weeks. The prediction is that it will be a $100B valuation on the first day of treading. Now people like me who are less enthusiastic users have some alternative choices appearing. Three such companies have started attracting users – Path, FamilyLeaf, and Pair. These micro-social network sites foster “sharing that is intimate by design”.

Let us talk about the anthropologist Robin Dunbar of Oxford University, who has done research on social behavior of humans. He says, social networks are like concentric circles and 150 seems to be the outer bound, meaning that is the effective neurological limit the human brain can handle. In other words, 150 is the maximum number of “friends” and this is called the “Dunbar Number”. Then he says 50 is the number of “trusted friends”, 15 are “good friends”, and 5 are “best friends”.

An average Facebook user in the US has 245 friends, well above the Dunbar number. Then this number gets mixed up with family members, friends, and workplace colleagues. Users sometimes share stuff to certain friends they did not want to.

This has led to the creation of a new start-up called Path by Dave Morin, ex Facebook employee. He says, “Facebook has made socializing on the Internet normal. But now there is an opportunity to return to intimate socializing.” He started with an upper limit of 50 friends per user and last year increased it to 150. It is available only on smart-phones and boasts over one million users already. Its user has an average of 40 friends.

FamilyLeaf is restricted to family members only and even more restrictive. Pair, started by Canadians just connects to one friend, hence the name. It is available only on smart-phones. These two companies were funded by Y Combinator from Silicon valley.

It is interesting to see how the social networking is entering its next phase.


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