Dunbar’s number and online communities

It’s widely known that online communities tend to follow a certain pattern if they are successful. They get larger, and beyond a certain point, they start degrading. Slashdot, digg, reddit, usenet – there are countless examples.

My idle thought for the day: how might one go about reconciling the vastness of the internet with Dunbar’s number.

Dunbar’s number, which is 150, represents a theoretical maximum number of individuals with whom a set of people can maintain a social relationship, the kind of relationship that goes with knowing who each person is and how each person relates socially to every other person.

The ideal system would work to expose you to all the new and interesting things you can find only by interacting with a large group of people, yet keep the actual community aspects (comments, for instance) small, in order to facilitate happier, more interesting and productive communities, rather than the vicious circle turd-flinging matches that a lot of popular sites seem to descend into.

I don’t have a clear idea of how that might be accomplished at a practical level, but the idea interests me as a way to create something that grows a lot, yet doesn’t become unpleasant.

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