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StumbleUpon falters on friend limit

Monday, 11 February 2008 — by

StumbleUpon forms a major part of my Social Media & Social Networking activities. I find content which I bookmark to share with people who I meet and befriend — all 200 of them and not another person more, it would seem…

StumbleUpon logoYou see, StumbleUpon is hamstrung by the entirely arbitrary number 200, which is the limit to how many friends we can have on StumbleUpon.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about StumbleUpon. Some of you have read some of my 5 essential StumbleUpon power points or my list of 9 things wrong with StumbleUpon.

While I have favourite web services, I don’t allow myself to become blind to their flaws & weaknesses. I’m always re-evaluating my my relationship with these services.

How I managed to StumbleUpon the 200 friend limit

I encountered this upper limit one evening last when trying to add a friend of Kate’s. Instead of being able to reciprocate his friending of me, I saw: “You have reached the maximum number of friends (200)”

At first, I thought the number was an error code — like 404, 503 et cetera. Later, it was explained to me that 200 is the total number of friends I’m allowed on StumbleUpon.

After some thought I can find no obvious, justifiably logical reason for this.

Kate has a different view. She feels that this upper limit somehow encourages people to stay active. When she said this an analogy immediately sprang to mind:

“That’s like building the fastest stretch of road in the world and then building 2 feet high bridges at 5k intervals.”

That analogy probably isn’t quite accurate. A more accurate analogy would be that all the bridges are above 6 meters right up until the 200 kilometer mark, which is only 2 feet high — so something has to go before you can continue.

There are two ways of looking at this limit; 1. it’s an anti-Spam measure, and 2. it’s something akin to what Kate eluded to, which I don’t quite know how to articulate here.

If this seemingly random upper was some attempt to block people from creating small groups of fake profiles to boast article ratings and therefore drive traffic, then automated systems make much more sense and don’t impinge on platform scalability.

Using a numerical break-point to limit the number of friends we can have on StumbleUpon sounds more like a design flaw than a feature.

Software arms race — unsolicited messaging

Just look at how much time unsolicited Spam emails and messages waste, then look at the efforts that are made to block such things. Now look at the effort that is invested in defeating those filters and server-based counter-measures.

What you’re seeing is the remnants of a software technological arms race.

So does the number two hundred sound like the ideal solution to such an issue on StumbleUpon? No, because a static number can never defeat a dynamic problem.

A solution to friend Spam would be what I call Tag Locking — limit what type of content a person can send you.

If someone sends you stuff that isn’t appropriately tagged, then it doesn’t get through, it’s as simple as that. If people send stuff with the right tags but they’re not aligned with the content, then we mark the content as Spam.

Some could argue that the “Send to” feature is a tool for Spammers. Maybe it is, but it’s also a very awkward and clunky tool to use.

Solution? Add in a window like on Digg to send Shouts, but with the Tag Locking smarts in place to block unsolicited content being sent to us.

However, after discussing this with Kate, she feels this 200 friends limit has nothing to do with unsolicited messaging. She feels that 200 friends is fine and any more is wasteful because we can’t “know” all of those people.

I don’t agree.

The only reason we can’t “know” those people is because StumbleUpon doesn’t let us manage our friends in anything like a meaningful way, such as you’d expect on Facebook, for example.

Don’t agree? Well here’s a small example to consider: go onto your StumbleUpon profile page, Click on the “Friends” tab and look to the right-hand column where it says: “Meet people like you”.

StumbleUpon already knows who has the same tastes as you. So why can’t StumbleUpon organize your friends accordingly?

And, why can’t we then have a Digg-style Shout window that picks out people who have tags aligned to the article you just found?

And what of those networkers who do genuinely have more than 200 friends? People who’re serious about their networking habits will have a pretty good grasp of these people.

I’d say they’re getting a raw deal. I know I am.

In the world of Social Networking, “friends” are often mere passing acquaintances, but that isn’t to diminish their value in your network. Knowing their needs and how they might help address your needs is often where the real value is.

What’s disappointing is that the person I was trying to friend was someone who Kate introduced to me.

Now I have the onerous task of deciding who I feel is less eligible to be a friend and dispense with them to make room, which owes more to rudeness than remaining active.

What if other other Social Networks imposed strangely low limits on the number of friends? Facebook allows for 4,000 friends, which is plenty enough for most. As an example, Facebook is a tool for facilitating relationships, whereby more active members can act as mediators, suggesters and influencers, fostering a strong sense of community.

Not even the crippled MyBlogLog imposes randomly low limits to the number of friends you can have, so why StumbleUpon?

Another argument Kate put forward is that the 200 friend limit forces people to be judicious in their friending activities.

This is flawed reasoning in that it relies almost entirely on the assumption that the members of StumbleUpon will adopt a qualitative approach to their friending activities because they can only 200 of them.

I didn’t even know about this upper limit and I’ve been using and writing about StumbleUpon for quite some time. So I find myself quite perplexed in trying to see how this thinking is either enforceable or reasonable to assume.

In the end, it’s those like you & I using StumbleUpon who will suffer the most over time. And those that abuse StumbleUpon will figure out alternate routes to push their content, sure to avoid any low bridges on the Social Networking highway that StumbleUpon choose to erect…

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David Bradley → Tuesday, 19 February 2008 @ 19:47 BDT

200 is actually probably too high. If you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point you will have come across the notion that around 150 is the maximum number of people any individual can truly care about. It’s the reason certain communal groups, such as the Hutterites split their communities when they reach this limit. It’s the same reason that army units are limited to this order of magnitude, and it’s the reason why six degrees of separation could get way out of hand if we let it.

I didn’t actually check to see whether you had defriended me. I hope not, but I’ll understand if you did and will support you to the end…after all, that’s what friends are for. D’oh!

db

Wayne Smallman → Tuesday, 19 February 2008 @ 23:06 BDT

Social Media & Networking sort of change the rules.

A lot of the time, who call friends aren’t “friends” in the real sense, they often fall into two groups: followers and influencer’s.

In that sense, neither you nor I can afford to have our friend limit capped!

Nick → Wednesday, 12 March 2008 @ 10:03 BDT

Nice post. I would agree with the viewpoint that 200 friends are more than most people can keep track of. Maybe it does encourage activeness and longevity in the community, kind of like a “keep stumbling or loose you friends”. I mean, if you do have more than 200 good friends on SU, why not start a group?

Wayne Smallman → Wednesday, 12 March 2008 @ 10:26 BDT

Nick, thanks for the return comment!

Personally, I’d be loathed to start a Group just to keep my list of friends growing. Doing so would be too much of a kludge to get around a problem that shouldn’t even be a problem in the first place.

[Note to self: need to get back into the Groups on StumbleUpon!]

Speak soon…

Alisha → Sunday, 20 April 2008 @ 7:59 BDT

Be glad they let you have 200 — Something is wrong with mine — I have the “Phantom Friend Issue” I’m told LOL where it thinks you have more friends than you actually do. In 4 months I’ve written StumbleUpon at least 10 times and I’ve yet to even get a reply =( I even paid the $20 upgrade thinking that might help me get some answers but that didn’t help either LOL…

Narayanan Hariharan → Sunday, 17 August 2008 @ 14:58 BDT

Hey.. Thanks for visiting my blog.. That 200 limit was certainly the most irritating.. Wonder how they came up with the number.. As far as social networking is concerned, the extent is limitless!!

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