An example of a social network diagram.Image via Wikipedia

Every day, you will see someone complaining about the noise on FriendFeed. Typically, the user will talk about how they are going to trim the subscriptions. Contrary to what some people say, this is probably a good idea, not only on FriendFeed but everywhere there are social subscriptions. If you begin to get uncomfortable with the amount of work your network requires, then it is probably too large for your purposes. Many people will point to Robert Scoble and say he has thousands of connections, so why should they have less? You should have less connections specifically because you are not Robert Scoble. He is a special case when it comes to social media because of his amazing information processing skills, and his job is to use these sites and determine their usefulness.

For the rest of us, when it comes to your social network, size does not matter. It is how you use it. For example, on FriendFeed if you are complaining about the noise from various people, unsubscribe from them. Part of the power of a network are the friends of a friend. Most likely, you will still see some of the content from the unsubscribed person because your connection will like or comment on the shared item. So, you still get to see some of the content. Do you feel like you are going to miss something? Get over it. If it really is that interesting to you, more people in your network will find the item interesting. The probability that nobody you are directly connected to finds something interesting that you would like to see are fairly slim. That is another benefit of the networks on content related sites that have a social component. Benedikt Koehler has a great post regarding the “network magic” where he states:

Your network will eventually become saturated.

The idea is that if you are targeting specific types of people, like techies for me, there is only so much content you are going to find within your network.

What about social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn? When using these sites, it always seems like a larger network will yield bigger gains. However, having more of something does not mean that it is always better. First, many social sites are setting limits to the number of people you can be a friend of. Granted, many of the same sites have ways to “whitelist” your username, but it is a hassle to go through the process. Having 5000 friends would be nice, but if you cannot find that guy you talked to at a conference who was interested in doing some part time web designer work, what good are the 5000 people? The social network sites do have search capabilities, but trying to find one person in your network of 5000 can be difficult.

In a social network, large numbers can be more manageable than the content oriented sites. Again, how you use your network is immensely important. Chris Brogan explained the vital importance of your network last week. In the post Chris explains that using and managing the network are the important tasks.

If you lose your job today, how many people can you reach, and who would be helpful? Think harder about the names of those people. Have you talked with them lately in ANY form?

I will not get into how to keep your network “active” and updated, because Chris has some fantastic advice that I can not really improve on. Even in the social network sites, you may want to keep them on the smaller side or even use different networks for different purposes. I have heard many people say that they use LinkedIn for their business network, and Facebook for their social network. I am not going to recommend this as it seems to increase the amount of work you need to do, but the idea does have some merit if your networks are larger.

So, if you are trying to manage noise on a social content site like FriendFeed, then maybe you need to review your subscriptions. On social networks, really think about why you are connecting with someone. Remember, if someone subscribes to you that does not mean that you need to reciprocate. It just means they are interested in your content. If someone wants to connect, consider whether having them in your network would be beneficial to either of you. Social networks are not a numbers game, it is about the content in your network.