In a recent interview with The Economist called “Primates on Facebook” Facebook’s resident sociologist (hey Mark Z, got any more Sociology jobs at Facebook?) reports that even though we have a lot more projection of our stuff out to the web people continue to maintain the fairly small circles of friendships that characterize offline behavior.
If this holds across social networks it’s very important, suggesting that we are likely to struggle or fail to cope with the level of social interaction we set up online at sites like Facebook and Twitter.
I remain skeptical and would argue that the Dunbar number (about 150, suggesting the maximum number of people a single person can manage) will be increasing as we learn to cope with more online relationships. I simply cannot believe this is a physical constraint – my guess it that it’s more an artifact of our tribal evolutionary primate past than a determinant of our future.
The Economist notes:
An average man—one with 120 friends—generally responds to the postings of only seven of those friends by leaving comments on the posting individual’s photos, status messages or “wall”. An average woman is slightly more sociable, responding to ten. When it comes to two-way communication such as e-mails or chats, the average man interacts with only four people and the average woman with six. Among those Facebook users with 500 friends, these numbers are somewhat higher, but not hugely so. Men leave comments for 17 friends, women for 26. Men communicate with ten, women with 16.
… people who are members of online social networks are not so much “networking” as they are “broadcasting their lives to an outer tier of acquaintances who aren’t necessarily inside the Dunbar circle,” says Lee Rainie, the director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a polling organisation. Humans may be advertising themselves more efficiently. But they still have the same small circles of intimacy as ever.
Sure I have room for more Facebook friends, just tweet me at Twitter!