Facebook and social “grooming”

The Economist had a fascinating post on how the Dunbar number appies to social networks.  For those who may not know, the Dunbar number is a “theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships ” – 148 (see Wikipedia).  The conclusion:

Put differently, people who are members of online social networks are not so much “networking” as they are “broadcasting their lives to an outer tier of acquaintances who aren’t necessarily inside the Dunbar circle,” says Lee Rainie, the director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a polling organisation. Humans may be advertising themselves more efficiently. But they still have the same small circles of intimacy as ever.

I find that fascinating.  I always thought, and assumed others did too, that the main reason to join LinkedIn or Facebook was to increase your network and reconnect with old friends.   However, the data shows that most folks join to keep in touch with a smaller group of friends, and maybe read up on what others are doing, but not really interact with them.  So essentially, Facebook has become a replacement for email, with of course enhanced features like photos and profiles.  I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but does this mean that in the year 2012, we’ll be communicating mostly via Facebook?  Do people already do that and I’m missing the boat (I despise the fact that I can’t reply directly to a message when I get a new Facebook inbox notification, unlike LinkedIn where it is possible.  I hate logging directly into Facebook just to tell my friend thanks for wishing me a happy birthday)?

Maybe Google needs to build a Gmail app on the Facebook platform to avoid irrelevance (not happening anytime soon), or perhaps integrate Gmail with Orkut.  Now that would be interesting…


Let me begin this by saying that Yelp has been extremely useful in my transition to the west coast over the past 3.5 years.  When I first moved out here, I knew nothing, and although I had friends and family, they were relatively new to the area as well.  So Yelp was extremely helpful in finding things like restaurants, mechanics, Red Sox bars, whatever it may be.  I use it more than Google when looking up local places, I mean, who doesn’t want to read reviews about where they are going?  My friends would often call me weird, because I’d always know what to order even though I may never have visited a place (the mobile edition is great for this).  Yes it could be better (especially the mobile version, how can they have an iPhone app but not a Blackberry app), but for the most part it was extremely useful.

Which is why all the press last week has me concerned.  The East Bay Register published an article that alleges some serious stuff (also see Yelp’s response).  I seriously question the motivations some of the interviewees in the article have, and whether they might just be upset that their Yelp reviews may not be what they desire.  Case in point – listen to any politician who’s behind in the polls try to explain why, you’ll see similar lines of argument.  

However, I think there’s a good lesson to be learned here – and one Yelp I hope addresses ASAP.  While they have been showing effort with their blogging and such, they need to take it a step further, perhaps even more than a typical newspapers.  Newspapers generally have strong lines of separation between the editorial and the sales side of the house- as to avoid any semblance of bias.  Yelp really should do the same – put the teams in different offices, limit their interaction, and anyone on the sales team should not be allowed to review on the site (like it or not, their day job will influence how they perceive the businesses they review).  

And I think they should go one step further – air out their agreements for all to see.  This doesn’t seem too controversial to me.  Most businesses complain about deleted reviews, and Yelp maintains they have some algorithm on how to flag spam / fake reviews – well why not publish them on another part of the site?  Why permanently delete them?  Why not give specific reasons for deletion (perhaps even institute a Wikipedia-like moderation system)?  And regarding the “advanced” algorithm, why not just publish it for all to see?  Sure your competitors will see it too, but that’s not stopping them from beating you (it’s the traffic).  The problem is most consumers will have no idea about any of this – it’s really the small, local businesses that receive the worst, and could fail by any potential manipulation (on the part of Yelp or one of their business competitors).  And with consumer spending already way down, I can’t imagine being a small business trying to use Yelp to drive traffic and find out that my page is being manipulated.  

Anyways, here’s hoping Yelp responds with some good features and will continue to grow and improve – I’d hate to have to buy a Zagat guide again.

Let’s start

So I think I need to start regularly blogging here again (actually, more like for the first time).  It’s been awhile, but changing jobs (especially given the current market) and a new nephew, among other things, have kept me extremely busy.  I’m hoping I can churn out about 3-4 posts a week, but let’s see where it goes.  If you have any suggestions, please feel free to email me at me [at] rogupta [dot] com.    The posts on this site may cover a wide range of topics, but probably focus on technology, and maybe occasionally sports.  And in case it needs to be stated, the opinions on this blog represent my opinions only, and not that of my friends, family, or my employer.  Thanks and I look forward to the conversation.