“Grouped” book review

I recently received a copy of “Grouped” by Paul Adams (the Global Brand Experience Manager at Facebook), at a Facebook developer conference in London.

Grouped proved to be a quick, interesting read with some fascinating insights into the complex social and psychological workings of social networks and the people contained within them. This book contains a slant towards marketing/advertising/commerce types (in particular, the “Quick Tips” sections), but as a developer, I still found the content very useful from a social application-building perspective.

My copy is now looking a little sorry for itself – dog-eared and annotated – it has been my travelling companion on the tube for the last week. A few pages into this book, I soon found that I was marking pages with a small fold so I could revisit interesting concepts (and there were plenty).

A subject I particularly enjoyed was regarding the structure of our social groups. Based on research cited in the book, 80% of our communication is with the same 5-10 people. With the use of diagrams the book also displays the other “rings” of your friendship groups. The outer “periphery” ring (where our “least important” connections exist) is a concept that references observations by Robin Dunbar (an evolutionary anthropologist), who noted that as humans, we have a psychological maximum group size of about 150 people – this tends to be the size that we can maintain stable social relations with. When group sizes grow beyond this, Paul describes them as “weak ties”, and we as humans have trouble distinguishing these group members.  See this image for a visual representation of the rings.

Interestingly enough, the mobile app “Path“, has an imposed friend limit of 150 people for this very reason.

The book discusses advertising, and the changes that online social networks are having on the types of advertising we are now exposed to. I found the change from interruption-based advertising (annoying popups, banners etc) to passive advertising (“Friend XYZ likes Coca Cola”) really interesting. It’s something that is visually pleasing and something Facebook does well (through the use of Sponsored Stories) and I can see how this style of advertising can engage a user, and be more trusted compared to traditional forms of advertising.

I think that Facebook (and others) will have to be careful to limit the exposure of these passive marketing techniques.  Too much of an increase in passive advertising could lead to such an abundance that it almost becomes obtrusive (similar to the traditional advertising techniques). I think Facebook prevents this by allowing adverts to be “targeted” directly to people with interests aligned to the adverts being displayed, and I assume they limit/regulate the amount of adverts a user is exposed to.

Related to marketing, the research on “influentials” was interesting too. There appears to be a shift from the traditional “influential” model (where you get a big name to back a brand or idea) to getting people who really influence you (i.e. your friends) to back and share a brand or idea. As the book states, this movement is bringing digital social networks more inline with how traditional, non-computer based social networks (read: real-life) work – in life you value and trust recommendations from friends, not a stranger (who happens to be famous).

Grouped summarises many pieces of research into clear and manageable chunks, allowing a layman (such as myself) to grasp the core concepts that are redefining how business, design, advertising and marketing will interact with people in our new socially-networked worlds.

All in all, a great read. Get a copy 🙂