A Couple of Thoughts on Groups

In the moments after a small win, a handful of people come to mind for me in sharing it. My Mom, the “Awesomest Turntable DJs,” Ryan, Kunal, Shiva, and my roommates to name a few. Thinking about this list of people, I wonder if it’s possible to gracefully scale this intimacy from a handful to a dozen. We tend to view scale and intimacy as an undisputed dichotomy.

While I believe this dichotomy is true on extreme ends of the spectrum (i.e. it’s difficult to have meaningful dialogues with hundreds of people), it’s fascinating to me how services like Snapchat affect intimacy through the features they do and do not offer. Moreover, this reminded me of a tangential topic: how groups partition over time.

Snapchat Threads

I imagine that Snapchat’s delay in releasing groups was somewhat intentional. The app cultivates closeness in both regular snaps (one user to many, in a directed fashion) or Stories (one user to many, undirected).

The beauty of this dynamic is that it allows individual recipients to maintain separate threads with the sender, as opposed to placing them all in a single, larger bucket1. This ‘bucketing’ is essentially what groups do. While groups reduce friction when firing off messages to specific friends, it’s nice to know someone chose to individually share a moment with you2. The latter almost feels like the digital equivalent of receiving a handwritten letter, especially when compared to the minimal effort required to toss a message into a bucket—whether named (group) or unnamed (Stories).

Group Dissolution and Subgroups

Another aspect of group dynamics that I’ve been mulling over is dissolution3. This stemmed from my interviews with Chorus back in the fall of 2016. While Chorus focuses on small groups to help users achieve their health and fitness goals, I had asked the team if they had any ideas on how to gently disband groups (especially those centered on temporal goals, like training for a marathon). The interviewers and I felt that forced ‘closings’ weren’t the right answer and leaned towards dismissal by inactivity (i.e. users gradually leaving when groups idle, much like Slack channels today).

On a personal level, I’ve noticed group threads will often spawn subgroups (along characteristic or situational divisions). For example, TNN has a separate thread for the handful of us who are single to recap our—often hilarious—experiences dating, without sidetracking the original group. Moreover, a few friends and I use a Discord4 thread (that forked from a larger server) to discuss dance music. On a larger scale, Peloton’s Facebook Group also exhibited a similar dynamic by splitting into subgroups. This make me wonder if there is sort-of “Dunbar’s Number” for groups, marking the point at which the size (and frequency of contact) of the group lends itself to subgroups forming.


Footnotes:

  1. Much like a form of “social bcc” when you think about it. 

  2. Even though Twitter isn’t typically associated with groups, I’ve experimented with one-to-many, public, directed sharing in the form of an ongoing Corgi picture thread. This approach sits between sharing with private groups or your entire following graph (i.e. one-to-many, public, undirected). Moreover, it has the added benefit of allowing the @-mentioned users to change over time. 

  3. I briefly noted about group formation at the end of my Featured Follow post

  4. Discord also facilitates channel trimming in an automated fashion with AFK Channels and Timeouts