cocktailparty-thumb-300x247When Justin Moore-Brown of Mobo Media (and the man behind the design of this site) told me he wanted to experiment building a social network, I told him it would be a fun project to do together.

About a month later, over coffee, I said to him “OCJobTalk”, and a couple of weeks after that, we launched the site.  A little more than a month later, we have 153 members who have created profiles, posted jobs, links, blogs and photos, all in an effort to help each other find work in a tough economy.

Having both read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, we were aware of the notion that 150 appears to be a magical number at which most social interactions for human beings are maximized.  After 150 people, there is a change in the dynamic.  In cognitive psychology, the concept is known as channel capacity.  It’s the same reason why phone numbers are seven digits.  After seven digits people have a tough time memorizing numbers.

The relevance for us is what is known as a social channel capacity, which was put forth by anthropologist Robin Dunbar.  Dunbar found that 150 appeared to represent the number at which you could have a genuinely social relationship.  In his research, he found the number coming up time and time again.

He looked at 21 different hunter-gatherer tribes worldwide, that have historical records and found the population average to be 148.4.  The same pattern holds true for military organizations.  Military planners all seem to agree that functional fighting units should not exceed 200 people.  And then there are the Hutterites, a religious group living in self sufficiency for centuries in Europe.  They maintain a strict rule which declares that every time a colony reaches more than 150, it must split and start a new one.  They know, intuitively, that as groups get too large, something is lost that can never be regained; that smaller groups are closer, more effective and more successful at community life.

We see all of this in effect at OCJobTalk.  It is a small, high-quality group.  We are easily able to engage with most members in a timely manner and we have already had some early successes helping people find work.  We feel like a part of the group and not above it or out of it.  And we want it to stay that way.

At the same time, as business owners (and competitive guys) we like to set benchmarks and measure growth.  So we are a bit torn.  We want to grow.  But we don’t want to lose what we have right now.  So we have been encouraging our members to join our industry groups and so far that looks to be successful.

We shall see.

We are hoping to create something that can actually be effective and deliver on its promise.

If we can help people find work, then we are easing and enriching lives…not a bad thing.

But if it just becomes a numbers game for the sake of numbers, we will most likely fall on our face.

It’s still an experiment.

And so far we haven’t blown up the lab.

What do you think?

Does the Rule of 150 even apply to online social networks?