by [anonymous]
2 min read26th Apr 201228 comments


Personal Blog

From Crowdsourcing The Availabiliy Hueristic:

There are people who already utilize their social network to the utmost, and who expand it strategically, adding people just to enhance the diversity of available viewpoints. But I will take a chance, and state that most of us probably don’t. And as a result, we aren’t able to recognize all of the resources available to us, to optimally use those we do recognize, or to realize optimal strategies for approaching our goals.

From Sympathetic Minds:

Who is the most formidable, among the human kind?  The strongest?  The smartest?  More often than either of these, I think, it is the one who can call upon the most friends.

There's a lot more where that came from, but you get the point. Your social network could be the biggest, most valuable resource you have.  I think we should spend more time and thought on strategies to optimize our social networks.

We have dabbled lightly in the importance of social skills, fashion, and so on, but I haven't seen discussion of *explicitly, strategically optimizing social networks*. If such discussion exists, please link me.

Anyways, after being hit by subtle hints like the above all through reading LW and other resources, and reading Dale Carnagie's How to Win Friends and Influence People, I have realized that I should work explicitly and strategically to optimize my social network. I think the rest of you are probably in the same boat, so we could all benefit from a good brainstorm on this topic.

Some Ideas:

Clubs. I belong to the local hackerspace, where technical-minded people hang out, talk about cool stuff, share ideas, help each other with projects, and share tools and resources. I also try to keep the local LW meetup in good repair, partially in the service of having a bunch of rationalist friends. I only just realized that the useful properties of these clubs probably apply to a good portion of possible clubs.

The useful property of clubs is that the relationships take drastically less overhead to maintain than more unstructured social networks. Instead of having to stay close to each friend individually, you hang out in a place where you end up dealing with them a lot, so you can get full benefit with way cheaper social bonds. Think of the difference between a bunch of objects individually tied together versus a bunch of objects in a bucket.

Being Valuable. When you give stuff to people, they feel obliged to give back. It might be a good idea to get that mutual help vibe going on in your social networks. When you have an interesting converstaion with someone, send them some relevent links afterwards. When you hear that someone has some interest, try to hook them up. Give people gifts, buy them lunch, etc. I don't know how effective this is at cultivating good relationships, but it's one of the major lessons in How to Win Friends and Influence People, and seems like it ought to work. It's also a nice thing to do that has benefits for your own well-being. Need more discussion and especially experimentation on this front.

Crowdsourcing. Be transparent; let everyone know what you are interested in, ask for help, etc. Need more experimentation to see what works and what doesn't, but wow what a good idea. Not as useful for improving your social network as for sqeezing it, but maybe there are some atmospheric/social-vibe effects to take advantage of, too. I would like to see more discussion of this.

Your Ideas:

I haven't done much research and I'm not particularly good at this social stuff, so your ideas are probably worth more than mine. What ideas or knowledge do you have for optimizing your social network and sqeezing it for all it's worth?

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On Being Valuable: it is more effective to get people to do you favors. This gives them an opportunity to feel good about themselves.

edit: you can look up the relevant studies under the name "benjamin franklin effect"

I vaguely remember a claim that getting others to do favors for you actually makes them like you more, and that this effect is significantly stronger than when you do favors for them.


I was thinking about this when I wrote

let everyone know what you are interested in, ask for help, etc. ... maybe there are some atmospheric/social-vibe effects to take advantage of, too.

Good to have it have it pointed out explicitly. Thanks.

Possible concerns: it feels like asking for favors and such would just get annoying. We should have some discussion or find/do so research about what kind of favors are best for this.

EDIT: example:

Say I want to build a 3d printer, and I have a friend who knows more about it than me. What is the best approach:

I want to do this, can you give me some help? (general favor fishing)


I know you have contacts and sources for this part, can you hook me up? (specific request)


I want you to help me work through the details of my design, is Wednesday night good for you?

I dunno. What sort of favor-requests would annoy people, what sort would make people feel awesome?

make it easy for them, couch it in terms that make it clear you are only asking for help because you think they are so awesome. After a favor has been granted mention how awesome this person was for helping you to others in the social group, this will commonly get back to the person and is more effective than thanking them directly.

I think what would work best with me are the following:

  • If you're in the very early stages, "Oh, I've been thinking about building a 3d printer." Basically this is a conversational gambit, not a request for a favor at all, and if I accept that gambit we can have a conversation about 3d printers in which I might tell you things that are useful to you.

  • If you have most of a requirements specification, "Hey, I'm planning on building a 3d printer. I know you know a lot about this stuff, would you mind looking over my overview? I have a printout here, or I can email it to you. Maybe we can get together for lunch on Saturday and you can tell me what you think?" I'd expect specific requests to work better than general ones if you're genuinely at a place where that's the specific concern you have; an arbitrarily chosen specific request in a field of equally significant problems will probably annoy me. That is, if you say "Yadda yadda, and I'm not sure how I want to think about scaling factors, what do you think?" and I look at your spec and my reaction is that scaling factors are the least of your worries, my instinct is to throw the spec against a wall.

  • If you have most of a design, the same strategy as above, though acknowledging that a design review is much more of an investment in time and attention. I would probably respond best to a design document that had both a high-level design and a detailed design, with the explicit understanding that if I don't choose to invest the time in a detailed design review I can just review the high-level design. Often, if the high-level design isn't crap, it will draw me into the details anyway.

  • In fact, the same pattern as above applies all the way through. The general principle here seems to be that I want evidence that you are actually putting effort into this, and are genuinely looking to me for assistance, rather than trying to manipulate me into doing the work for you.

Depends how expensive it is to show your value. If you are an expert in some useful field(e.g., a lawyer), then throwing around free advice to non-specialist friends is easy, fast, and likely to be deemed quite valuable.

Pruning your social network is the hardest part. How do you exclude someone who's not valuable enough? When I get excluded, people never tell me; they just ignore my messages and don't send any of their own. And I've done just the same.

But if that was good practice, HR wouldn't bother to send rejection letters, right?

It is easy with people you have clear reason not to associate with, say a drinking problem. But if the matter is just that my time is limited and I'd rather spend it elsewhere - is there something better than silence?


Well, there is the possibility of telling them you're busy. Even my best friends who I see frequently have to tell me they are busy at times. And from the sounds of it (specifically, 'my time is limited and I'd rather spend it elsewhere') you ARE busy. From your description, these people seem like the kind of people who would be vaguely useful to know and talk with if you had near infinite time (if not, then let me know that I'm misreading it), it's just you have other priorities. I have an old friend I haven't talked to in about a year or so. I think the last time we talked, the conversation essentially was "We should meet and catch up some time." and so far we haven't. (Scheduling, work, etc.) He didn't ever officially stop being my friend, and he's a great guy, but we're both married and he lives an hour away, so the connection just slowly faded out. There's no reason to simply not return his calls or to make an official pronouncement of "Sorry, this friendship is over." But neither of us have the time to maintain that particular link.

That being said, the type of social connections you are establishing or maintaining can affect whether this works. so it may not work for you specifically.

To say "I'm busy" is essentially to say "I'd rather do something else", but doesn't make the value comparison so explicit. I guess you're right, so I'll try that. Thanks.

Do you mean to say you will, or have tried, explicitly stating to friend x that you'd rather do something other than spend time with friend x? If you don't mind appeasing my curiosity, how well did the measure work?

But if that was good practice, HR wouldn't bother to send rejection letters, right?

When I applied for positions and got interviewed, I got rejection letters only about 30-40% of the time. Maybe law is different than your field?

I think this is an incredibly interesting topic that has yet to be really deepened--for example, it's not just about how many friends/followers you have, but also about how much use you make of them. Having sample sizes of 300-400 people is enough (assuming random populations) to run some small statistical surveys about issues and ideas. A big way I've found to engage friends online is to post moderately interesting studies/articles/ideas from different areas on your own page. This allows for people who have those differing areas of interest to have a reason to look at them.

As far as gaining followers/friends, I don't think it's as much joining clubs and doing things as it is doing things that have as little overlap as possible. I have over 1000 friends (at least, according to Facebook!), but it's because my main areas of interest (skating, academia, gaming, theater) all have relatively small overlap. Contrast this to people I know with far fewer friends but work on more areas than myself.


That's a neat idea, I like it.


Good idea. Have a fixed number of friends and evaluate who to add and who to drop. Like building a magic deck.

What ideas or knowledge do you have for optimizing your social network and sqeezing it for all it's worth?

Is this really the best attitude to take? I tend to think that friends you can tell anything to, and who can tell anything to you, are the most valuable contacts.

Why not both? Eg. optimizing for a few really close friends and many more useful acquaintances/friends?

All that means is that you have a different definition of value for your friendships. It's important to focus on what exactly you want from your friends, but I see no reason that definition of value would be incompatible with trying to consciously cultivate stronger and better relationships.

So let's run with that. What can one do to intentionally try and grow those sorts of strong bonds with people? I'm reminded of a quote from HPMoR:

"One of my tutors once said that people form close friendships by knowing private things about each other, and the reason most people don't make close friends is because they're too embarrassed to share anything really important about themselves."

All that means is that you have a different definition of value for your friendships.

Or he has different preferences than you do, but is using the word "value" in roughly the same way that you are.


You guys postulated differing values too easily.


These statements are compatible. You can optimize your social network for good friends who you can really talk to, and then make maximum use by really talking to them. Sounds like a good idea.


Ending with this is stylistically awful. Also, everyone uses frisbees now.


It adds nothing. Removed.

You'll have to explain your reference to frisbees. I am lost.

It is a pune or play on words, discuses are throwing disks.

I see what you did there.

Figure out what sorts of traits you want people in your social network to have, then figure out what the surface appearances of those traits are, then look for people with those surface appearances. Once you've found them, interact, and check to see if they had those traits by looking for alternative explanations, and seeing if those explain the data.

For instance, I value people who are able to do things. They're able to get around trivial inconveniences, and do things for reasons.

So, I go to places that have trivial inconveniences to get to (conferences, for instance), and places that have no norms for or against going to them. If people show up at places that other people don't talk about, they probably did it for some particular reason.