Human-sized networks nested in a continuum of trust

Close-knit and emotionally bonded communities like music bands, sport teams and startups are social environments that naturally provide mutual support as members are tied by similar intentions, joint responsibilities and shared outcomes. Being interdependent, they rely on trust to frame their relationships. As such, they choose to take the risk of being vulnerable to each other knowing that they can actualize a greater value together. This human-sized approach where social trust can propagate more easily among peers does not yet translate on the social Web. The proposal of the Internet of Communities is to explore how individuals can better leverage the power of the groups they belong to, act as bridges between different communities, and exchange intelligence within a more robust recommender system anchored in social trust.


Investing trust in others, the social portfolio

If trustworthiness is a belief in the integrity, ability and benevolence of a person, trust is a willingness to depend on someone [1], trust is therefore a willingness to take a risk, the risk of being betrayed. Because of this, those special relationships can only be shared with a limited set of peers. [2] Everyone knows people who can be trusted for certain human qualities, expertise, knowledge, know-how, street wisdom and unique life experience. This trusted social fabric one has access to, is here understood as a social portfolio of talents and expertise that can be easily mobilized (Fig. 1). Indeed, due to the nature of their privileged relationships, the real value of this social portfolio or social capital [3] comes from the ability for individuals to engage each other. Everyone is therefore the gatekeeper and the potential catalyst of a social asset.

Within those special relationships, the art of populating a social portfolio comes from the ability to achieve a balance between those who are known to be reliable thanks to an extensive shared experience and track record, and those who are believed to be the most helpful and still trustworthy enough though their shared experience might be thin. “The fewer indirect contacts one has the more encapsulated he will be in terms of knowledge of the world beyond his own friendship circle; thus, bridging weak ties (and the consequent indirect contacts) are important in both ways”. [4] Therefore individuals are encouraged to team up with those who have strong social ties as it adds resilience [5] to the portfolio, and with those who are more risky in terms of reliability but who are also more likely to increase their chance to connect with new social landscapes and meet new opportunities.


Fig. 1. People are at the head of a social asset: a social portfolio of human qualities and expertise.


Key elements
  • Individual networks are populated by people who are trusted for certain expertise and human qualities they may have, from professional skills to “street wisdom”. These networks are invitation only.
  • Thanks to their privileged relationships, members of a social portfolio are able to easily mobilize each other.
  • To balance risks and opportunities, these assets are made of those who are known to be reliable and of those who are believed to be more able to create favorable circumstances.


Everyone a bridge and a potential catalyst between many social portfolios

Being at the center of their own micro social worlds and at the verge of many others (Fig. 2), individuals can act as middlemen between the demands and offers that are flowing in different social portfolios. In this example, medium sized users are the intermediaries between big sized user and small sized users. The incentive for individuals to bridge different micro social worlds is manifold. Some may wish to expand their trusted social landscape and access additional resources. Others may wish to relay opportunities to their peers in the hope that somewhere down the line they will receive in return. Some to be the catalysts of a potential success story, and others to impact together while being recognized for their very own input.


Fig. 2. People are both at the center of a micro social world and at the verge of many others. Social portfolios being limited to 150 individuals, the number of people belonging to adjacent portfolios (pool of expertise within easy reach) can stretch to a useful pool of maximum 22,500 people (150 x 150).


Key elements
  • Because everyone has a foot in many different communities, each person is both the owner of a social portfolio and a member of many others. Everyone can therefore act as a bridge and as a potential catalyst between requests and offers that flow across the multiple portfolios they belong to.
  • The limit of this 2D representation is that Big sized user should in fact be represented within Medium sized users’ portfolios while not belonging to Small sized users’ portfolios.
  • While peers might include each other in their own social portfolio, social portfolios are unique to individuals. In other words, there are no two social portfolios that are identical.


Toward a recommender system that is more proactive, robust and privacy friendly

Following that everyone is both at the head of a social portfolio and an intermediary between multiple portfolios, the IoC intends to take advantage of the interconnectedness of individuals. Sharing first-hand information only, this yet to be intelligence network could provide a more proactive, robust and privacy friendly recommender system.


Fig. 3. Clear view of own portfolio, limited visibility of adjacent portfolios.



Because the pool of available resources is greater in adjacent portfolios (friends of friends) than in own portfolio (max 22,550 individuals compared to max 150 individuals), the system performs a search and notifies the common trusted peer of an opportunity to match a request with an offer, much like an Intelligent Personal Assistant (IPA) would do. [6] The one who expresses a demand and the one who has a service to offer are kept out of the loop at this stage. This allows the common trusted peer to ponder the relevancy of matching the requester and the provider together while avoiding the social embarrassment of refusing insisting solicitations and the management of an overflow of requests, most of which would be denied, therefore seeding mistrust among users.

Though requests and offers are available to portfolio members, the system is not a large billboard where people list their demands and offers across multiple communities. Instead, the idea is to empower those who are at the middle of a possible transaction. If they choose to relay an opportunity, they can do so when they feel it timely. Yet, if they choose not to relay an opportunity, they create a bottleneck effect. Yet, others who have the same requester and resource in their portfolio will also be notified by the system. These peers might bridge the gap too and benefit from the new created opportunity. If individuals relay too much or inappropriately they might become less attractive to their peers which might decide to end their interactions (see upcoming article on qualitative easing), therefore successful interactions are a matter of curating appropriately opportunities for the social portfolio. Knowing this, responsiveness is likely to increase as individuals are challenged to become the most relevant catalysts of potential success stories.



First, trusted intermediaries have a fine assessment of the personalities, level of expertise and human qualities of the individuals they might connect. They are therefore able to provide timely, contextualized and personalized information that better encompasses the complexity of individuals well beyond what reputational metrics can offer. Being reductive by nature, metrics fail to convey if the information is relevant to a particular individual or situation.  Second, members of a social portfolio being tied by collective reputation, joint responsibilities and shared outcomes, their enlightened interest is to provide honest recommendations if they do not want to be repelled by the other members of their social portfolio (see upcoming article on collective reputation). Third, common trusted being catalysts and creators of new social connections, they remain in the loop in case there is a need for moderation or conflict resolution.


Privacy friendly

Without being absolute, a first-hand recommender system might prove to be more privacy friendly. First, portfolios being private groups and because trusted peers are the brokers and potential catalysts with those who are not yet known, individuals do not have access to the identity and track record of people belonging to adjacent portfolios (see Fig. 3.). Advanced settings might further increase or decrease permissions that are granted to out-group members. Second, by delivering specific recommendations that are timely, personalized and contextualized, individuals do not have to operate a full disclosure until an agreement is met. As a result, privacy is not absolute but function of the social distance between individuals. Common trusted peers are therefore more able to provide first-hand, complex, contextualized and personalized information while respecting the privacy of their groups.

As individuals weave a social fabric made of trust across multiple human-sized communities, bottlenecks fade away as new channels emerge, and the chance to successfully meet new opportunities increases while social trust remains intact. Based on trust, the Internet of Communities is a declaration of collective empowerment.


Key elements
  • Individuals are empowered to gauge the relevancy of meeting new opportunities while avoiding the social embarrassment of declining inappropriate solicitations and the personal burden of dealing with an overflow of demands.
  • Individuals might not be the only catalysts available for a particular demand, therefore bottleneck effects are avoided while responsiveness is poised to increase.
  • Contextualized, personalized and timely information that is more useful than reputational metrics that reduce complexity and relevancy.
  • Recommendations are secured by collective reputation (see next article).
  • Portfolios being private groups, there is limited visibility of adjacent portfolios.
  • Trusted peers are the brokers and catalysts with those who are unknown.
  • Privacy is not absolute but function of the social distance between individuals.


Human-sized networks in a nutshell:

  • Intention: Navigate the social landscape through a continuum of trust.
  • Basic assumption: People we trust, trust other people we do not know yet.
  • Opportunity: Thanks to improved connectivity, we can easily extend our trusted social horizon.
  • Proposal: Intermediate all new social interactions through common trusted peers.
  • Desired output: Small social clusters where individuals better leverage the potential of their groups.



Human-sized communities are believed to be the optimal environment for social trust to spread and for social engagement to thrive.



[1] David Gefen , Izak Benbasat & Paula Pavlou (2008), A Research Agenda for Trust in Online Environments, Journal of Management Information Systems, 24:4, 275-286.

[2] Anthropologist Robin Dunbar found a cognitive limit known as the Dunbar’s number that prevents people to maintain qualitative relationships beyond a limited set of peers. Robin Dunbar, Neocortex Size as a Constraint on Group Size in Primates , Journal of Human Evolution 20 (6), 1992, pp. 469-493.

[3] Francis Fukuyama defines social capital as a capability that arises from the prevalence of trust in a society or in certain parts of it . Francis Fukuyama, Trust: The Social Virtues and The Creation of Prosperity , Free Press, 1995.

[4] Mark S. Granovetter, The Strength of Weak Ties, American Journal of Sociology, Volume 78, Issue 6 (May, 1973), pp. 1360–1380, p. 1371.

[5] Resilience: “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change”, Merriam-Webster.

[6] Intelligent Personal Assistant on Wikipedia.

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