As with other social technology websites in this project to make society work, the black arrows represent interpersonal compatibility, while a red arrow represents incompatibility or hostility. By choosing their friends carefully, they can all avoid that unpleasantness. At first I considered only these benefits, however new software has also many dangers, especially in the hands of the wrong people.
The front page of this website, Explosive Recombination, illustrates what can happen when interpersonal compatibilities are suddenly revealed, causing the breakup of all marriages. This is a simpler example, one in which a gradual optimization is possible.
Consider three acquaintances, Andrea, Barbara and Cecilia. At first, Andrea has little contact with Cecilia. Barbara does, but the two do not get along. These relationships can be improved if Barbara goes out of her way to avoid Cecilia. But to remain connected, Andrea now cultivates a friendship with Cecilia. Barbara can still communicate with Cecilia, but only indirectly, through Andrea. Communication is maintained but hostility is avoided.
I have used the term social network optimization for decades to refer to methods for improving the social environments of individuals, with the ultimately goal of making society work better for everyone. See the page on compatibility levels for more information.
My own use of the term social network optimization dates back to 1979, but first appeared on the web in 1999. I used it only reluctantly, because as a friend said to me, “nobody wants to be optimized”. Because of that, I later broadened scope of my discussions to social technology, a more inclusive term, and a less controversial one. Perhaps it was not controversial enough, since it has taken many years to attract any attention at all.
As in the early days, my interest has been on a specific kind of problem, the creation and improvement of social structure. Because people are interconnected, this structure takes the form of a network. This network would be improved if it was easy for every single person to find a compatible spouse, for each of us to have a best friend and a good job, which not only makes the best use of our skills, but meets our preferences.
The contemporary social media do not help. Indeed they are probably harmful, because they decrease the signal to noise ratio — our needs and preferences are barely visible in the sea of noise. Facebook, for example, makes it easy to have hundreds of low level friends. What we need are a few high level friendships.
In general, I think that using the social network for anything like marketing can only hurt it, and that weakening it with dangerous social media is even more harmful. Our current social technology, including what is now being called social network optimization spreads noise and adds distortions not unlike the diseases spread by microbes before the germ theory of disease and the need for sterile operating procedures was known. What I have called social network optimization and advocated as social technology is different, something based on mathematics and capable of changing society with surgical precision, to make it work without the “infections” of war, famine, violent crime and poverty.