Edo the Reliable

Like, How Many Friends Does Facebook Need?

In Social Networks on May 11, 2010 at 7:05 am

Is Facebook stretching the cognitive boundaries of friend management?

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Guest post in The Product Guy Blog (tpgblog.com)

April, 2010:  (2:50) Facebook’s CEO Zuckerberg brings Head of Platform Dev. Bret Taylor to talk about the magic number 5, part of the Dunbar series

According to official stats, the average Facebook member now has 130 friends. Is this too many Friends? Can you have too many Friends? In fact, you can. 130 is dangerously close to 150, also known in anthropology and social media as the Dunbar number.

Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist and evolutionary biologist, argued in 1998 that there is a cognitive limit to the number of relations that any one primate can maintain. Researching gossip, grooming and human history Dunbar formulated that people can only keep gossip with 150 people at any given time. According to Dunbar,

“this limit is a direct function of relative neocortex size, and that this in turn limits group size … the limit imposed by neocortical processing capacity is simply on the number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained.”

The Dunbar number is discussed in some length in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Tipping Point”. Dunbar himself blames the Internet for simplifying his theories into a “Dunbar number”, but the title of a recent (2010) anthology of his writings seems to wink to the Facebook generation: “How Many Friends Does One Person Need?” (see Dunbar speak here, mentioning Facebook).

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