138 is a pretty small number

The past month seems to have been a major turning point for Facebook.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen a very sharp and sudden spike in people I know getting onto it — I’ve gone from one or two new friends a week to several a day.

Along with that, I’ve given in and started to pay attention to my News Feed.  This is a big change for me: I’m an old LJ guy, and (like so many LiveJournal users) have tended to treat the Facebook News Feed as a shallow imitation of LJ postings.  But if that’s where the people are, I’ll make an effort to follow it.

It does lead to some thoughts about scale, though.  I’ve deliberately been more open about friending on Facebook than on LJ — the culture is different, so I’ve taken an attitude that I’ll accept a friend invite from almost anybody I know.  The result is that my Facebook friend list is already larger than my many-years-old LJ one, and growing much faster.

And the thing is, I don’t care about all those people equally.  I’ll friend the folks from my high school, but honestly — I only care about actively following maybe half a dozen of them.  So when I have hundreds of friends, I want to filter my News Feed pretty aggressively.

Now, Facebook does provide explicit filters nowadays — I can list people who I do and don’t particularly care about for my News Feed.  But those lists are limited to 138 people each.  When I noticed that the other day, I was brought up short.

On the one hand, 138 people seems like a lot.  But the way my friend list is growing, it won’t surprise me if I wind up with 500 people on it within a year, and most of those will be people who I don’t need to hear about regularly.  At that point, 138 may start looking kinda small.

(And of course, the geeks in the audience are now going, “138?  What kind of number is 138?”  No idea — it is oddly arbitrary.)

All of which mostly drives home the point that, in the new online social world, you can’t underestimate the problems of scale.  It’s not the physical world, and numbers that seem large in realspace can be kind of small in cyberspace…

3 Responses to “138 is a pretty small number”

  1. Chad Says:

    I wonder if it isn’t a typo, and it’s actually 128.

  2. Justin Says:

    Interesting hypothesis. Could be: 128 would actually make sense (at least in a geeky way)…

  3. metahacker Says:

    138 is the small Lucasian number. (1138 being the large Lucasian number.)

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