Dunbar’s Number– Meaningful Social Networking Connections: Facebook, Tweeter… Oversimplification, Irrelevant, Unrealistic…

Dunbar’s Number is the theory that one person can only manage a limited number of social relationships due to limitation of the human brain, but with emergence of social networking sites, such as; Facebook, Twitter… we might want to question-rethink this limit…

Dunbar’s Number says that one person can only have 150 friends, connections… at most– and even Facebook, Tweeter… cannot expand the true social circle: Because the human brain isn’t big enough to cope...

Robin Dunbar, British anthropologist, used correlation observed for non-human primates to predict a social group size for humans. Dunbar noticed that there is a tight correlation between the size of primate’s brain and the size of the social group its species generally forms. On this basis humans should only live in groups of around 150. The neat thing about this prediction was the way it seemed to fit the number of good friends most people have, as measured by– length of address books, size of hunter-gatherer bands…

Apparently, we-humans fit in a pattern; we have social circles beyond it and layers within – but there is a natural grouping of about 150… Also, recent  studies have suggested that Dunbar’s number is applicable to online social networks, as well. According Drake Bennett; Dunbar’s work has helped to crystallize debate among social media architects over whether even the most cleverly designed technologies can expand the dimensions of a person’s social world…

According to Duncan Watts; just as simplicity popularized Dunbar’s ideas, it also opened him to charge of reductionism. We want to apply this single monolithic idea that reduces all the complexity of the world to just one dimension, and just one number… According to Drake Bennett; Dunbar’s model of friendship is a series of circles of intimacy, which is a massive oversimplification: In real life, people don’t have better friends and worse friends, they have different sorts of friends

Researchers that used different methods to measure the size of a person’s social circle have come up with numbers that don’t match Dunbar’s. One set of studies by the anthropologist Russell Bernard and the network scientist Peter Killworth found a mean social network size of 291. Another paper, published in Journal of American Statistical Association, came up with 611… Among social network architects, some see Dunbar’s number less as a wall and more as a hurdle.

According to Cameron Marlow, at Facebook; the topic of Dunbar’s number comes-up often… and in a lot of contexts it’s a compelling framing of some data that we have about people’s relationships… Although Facebook’s limit on the number of friends is a generous 5,000, the average user has about 190… Also, research found that on Twitter the average number that a user regularly interacts with is between 100-200 people…

Bottom line, according to Nick Humphrey; humans evolved big brains not to understand the world but to understand each other… the more fellow apes you need to understand, the bigger the mental engine you need…

In the article You’ve Got to Have (150) Friends by Robin Dunbar writes: More than anything since the invention of the postal service, Facebook has revolutionized how we relate to one another. But the revolution hasn’t come in quite the way that the people behind it and other social networking sites assume. These sites may have allowed us to amass thousands of ‘friends’ but they have not yet devised a way to cut through the old-fashioned nature of relationships themselves.

Our circle of actual friends remains small, limited not by technology but by human nature. What Facebook has done is provide us a way to maintain our circles in a fractured, dynamic world. Social networking and other digital media have long promised to open up wonderful new vistas, all from the comfort of our own homes. The limitations of face-to-face interaction that have until now bound us to our small individual worlds– the handful of people we meet in our everyday lives– would be overcome.

However, the critical component in social networking is the removal of time as a constraint. In the real world, according to research, we devote 40% of our limited social time each week to the five most important people we know, who represent about 3% of our social world, and a trivially small proportion of all the people alive today. Since the time invested in a relationship determines its quality, having more than five best friends is impossible when we interact face-to-face; it’s one person at a time.

Instant messaging and social networking claim to solve that problem by allowing us to talk to as many people as we like, all at same time: We can broadcast, literally, to the world. I use ‘broadcast’ because despite Facebook’s promise– that is the fundamental flaw in logic of the social-networking revolution.

Developers at Facebook overlooked one crucial component in the complicated business of how we create relationships– our mind, our brain.  Put simply, our mind is not designed to have more than a very limited number of people in our social world. The emotional-psychological investments that a close relationship requires are considerable, and the emotional capital we have available is limited. Indeed, no matter what Facebook allows us to do, I have found that most of us can maintain only around 150 meaningful relationships– online and off– and this has become known as Dunbar’s number.

Yes, you can ‘friend’ 500, 1,000, even 5,000 people with your Facebook page, but all accept the core 150 are mere voyeurs looking into your daily life… Furthermore, and contrary to all hype and hope, the people in our electronic social worlds are, for most of us, the same people in our offline social worlds. In fact, average number of friends on Facebook is 120 to 130, just short enough of Dunbar’s number; which allows room for grandparents, babies… people too old or too young to have acquired digital habit. This isn’t to say that Facebook and imitators aren’t performing an important even revolutionary task– namely, to keep us in touch with our existing friends…

In the article Dunbar’s Number: Reinvent Social Connections? by Russell C. Smith writes: In the ever accelerating information age, it’s easy to think the sky’s the limit. Facebook lets you have up to 5,000 friends, you can collect millions of Twitter followers, and new social media platforms are emerging, each wanting to be next big breakthrough platform. But according to evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar, our meaningful social circle can’t ever exceed between 100 and 230 people (with an average of 150 people).

How did Dunbar’s number come about? Robin Dunbar figured-out that there’s a direct relationship between the size of human brain and size of our social group– that this is both a social and cognitive number… And, that there’s a ‘set number’ of people that we can maintain stable and meaningful social relationships. However, having thousands of social media ‘friends’ isn’t the same as having ‘friends’ with meaningful personal interactions…

Also, ‘loose’ friends, connections… matter more than ever… there are people on far-fringe of an established social circle that might be very important, e.g.; the ‘loose’ friends may see opportunities, possibilities, contacts… that your ‘close’ friends may not be able to imagine. For example, you’re more likely to hear about a next job, new apartment, cultural or social opportunity from a ‘loose’ friend, connection… who might be better informed, connected… than from your ‘close’ connections.

Moreover, we don’t generally interact with 150 people in a given week or sometimes even within a month’s time, but we will easily interact with 150 people over the course of months, year… Especially when you consider the cross-over between business-personal contacts, and ways social interactions overlap into many other areas. So, think about your connections, grow your network, and realize the fluid world of social networking is an evolving concept, but also that there might already exist a defined number built into it…

Facebook itself did a survey of its accounts about a year ago and found that the average number of friends was between 120 and 130… However, there are some people who really do number their friends in the thousands, but they are few and far between. In fact, many of these cases are actually professional accounts held by writers, journalists, celebrities… that use Facebook… as a fan base.

According to gregmeyer; I’m not sure Dunbar’s number has same meaning in the age of the Internet in describing ‘loose’ connections, friends… that we form with people we meet on Internet. Consider this oddity– you may meet people for the first time online that may have some of the same your interests and find that the connection(s) is like a real ‘friend’.

The meaning of ‘friend’ in a social media sense– clearly range from an ‘acquaintance’ to actual ‘close’ friend– and that is not exactly what Dunbar is getting at when describing sizes of social groups as defined by biology. He acknowledges  that community size has grown over time, and I would argue that social networking has– for at least some of us– increased our Dunbar’s number in ways we don’t yet understand… 

When you think of the ability to reach out to people you know (either passably or reasonably well) on a given subject or topic and get a response, you realize that Dunbar’s number may need rethinking. According to Chris Gayomali; team of researchers at Indiana University decided to test Dunbar’s theory on Twitter. The researchers looked at over 380 million tweets to find patterns in user behavior, and they concluded that there was indeed a finite limit to the number of Twitter users we could follow before becoming overwhelmed: somewhere between 100 and 200…

According to Seth Godin; humans just aren’t cognitively organized to handle-track large numbers of new people easily, without external forces… human tribes tend to split in two after they reach Dunbar’s number of 150. That’s why, for example; WL Gore Company limits size of their offices to 150 (when they grow larger, they build a whole new building). Facebook, Twitter, blogs… fly in the face of Dunbar’s number to become connected, friends… with tens of thousands of people at one time; and, guess what? It doesn’t scale. You might be able to stretch to 200 or 400, but ‘no’, you can’t effectively engage at a tribal level with a thousand people… the nature of the relationships change…