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Social Networking and Dunbar’s Number

My Facebook friends list has reached close to 140 (give or take 3 pending request...
SNS and extending the ‘sphere of influence’

Facebook, Twitter and other SNS are not just about social relationships; it i...
Maybe your neocortex size may not increase…. But your online social network surely will

May your network increase 

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Social Networking & Dunbar Number


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My thoughts on maintaining a stable online relationship on Social Networking sites vis-a-viz Dunbar number

Published in: Education, Technology
  • great insight - thanks for sharing. Let me add a comment I got on a blog post from Axel Schultze about social networking and the Dunbar number
    In accordance to Dunbar, an average human being is limited to about 150 social relationships as a meaningfull number. The limitation is our neocortex. But just a few hundred years ago we couldn’t fly, we couldnet lift much more than our own body weight and had many other limitations. What the industrial revolution did to our physical productivity - the social revolution does to our social productivity - So my 'Axel-Factor' is to be able to socialize with 10 times as many as Dunbar’s number is - or about 1,500 people thanks to the social tools we have.

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Social Networking & Dunbar Number

  1. 1. Social Networking and Dunbar’s Number My Facebook friends list has reached close to 140 (give or take 3 pending requests). One of persistent thought I have been having for past few days is the fact that the number of people in my social network is close to Dunbar‟s number (148 appx) – my neocortex limit for maintaining stable relationship Dunbar's number (also known as the Dunbar number or the Monkeysphere) is a value significant in sociology and anthropology. Proposed by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, it measures the "cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships". Dunbar theorizes that "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." You could read more about Dunbar’s number at ('s_number) Here is a personal experience I had. In the early days of the Internet in India, a few of us cousins divided by geography but linked through Internet decided to form an online group in Yahoo! It started with 6 members (all first cousins)… we had the usual banter, funny forwards and the usual „do you remember _?‟ set of updates. Everyone spread the word about this group and more cousins joined along with internet savvy uncles & aunts. All this happened within the first 3-4 months. The growth of the group was phenomenonal and soon there were members I never heard before, family members who were previously non-existent. Soon the member base of the group was around 100. The original moderator changed, the responsibilities shifted to newer and more active members. More members joined… the 3rd, 4th, 5th cousins, their friends… networking through the group was getting more confusing… negative comments were floating around, embarrassing updates, and a few enterprising cousins were using the platform for business purpose… the group was now un-recognizable and to us, the original members, we were finding the growing new member base cumbersome – and soon decided to move to newer and better platforms of Orkut. In hindsight, I realize that somehow the growth of the group and the lack of any system in place to maintain order, led to us move away from the group (or maybe sidelined by the more active members) However, I have this feeling that with Facebook that the limit of Monkeysphere would not hold true. The reason(s) for the same are: Not Just a Social Networking Site First and most important reason is Facebook is „not‟ just a social networking site… It is a platform, a tool. Social Networking happens to one of the primary services but it has much more to offer, and to interact than just create and maintain social relationship. The apps, games, mash-ups, calendars, etc all in someway help Facebook members to be active and increase their level of interaction and also expand their network. This is unlike the early days of Yahoo! Groups which just had a moderator and event calendar functionality.
  2. 2. SNS and extending the ‘sphere of influence’ Facebook, Twitter and other SNS are not just about social relationships; it is also about „broadcast‟. It is human nature of extending one‟s sphere of influence. Evolutionary psychology studies have shown that people tend to have the behaviour of influencing others in the group or beyond either through their actions or words. Simply put it is all about conquest, and the more people in your network means the more popular you are. The existing Social networking sites play an important part here too. A quick glance into the status updates of most Facebook members is NOT about what they are doing or thinking at that point of time. Most of updates are about the individual‟s „status‟ upgrade …. a generic quotation, story, links to something interesting, update enhancing the role they play, or category you belong to, etc; Thus, influencing the outer circles (and also inner circles) is another key factor for the increasing number of members in the network. It is this reason why many people accept requests of people they hardly know. And why people send requests to join someone who is a stranger is mentioned next. Identification & acceptance into larger (popular) group/network The core reason for the being of Social Networking Sites is the fact that “man is a social animal.” Even before our evolution into human beings, as primates, we lived in groups. The prime reason for the same is attributed to security and comfort of food gathering. For many people on the social networking sites after the initial relationship building with people in the intimate and near influence circle; they look out for members within their friends, whom they can relate too. Also they would be looking to join group where most of the „action‟ happens. These are usually seen in sites like LinkedIN wherein user groups are formed basis interest… and Facebook users joining and commenting on innumerable fan pages that are created. In case you are popular on Facebook or any other SNS site, you will realize that you get friend request from people completely unknown. The reason for the same I would say is „online grooming‟ Grooming is the prime way of maintaining relationship in the wild. In the digital world, it is more about whom you follow, and why. Whose update needs to be read and responded too, and invariably you would choose the more popular one… Most of the comments left in my updates are either from people who are in my intimate circle, or guys I hardly know (personally or professionally)… and the later being a classic case of online grooming While the member base in your online social network would keep increasing. The Dunbar‟s limit will still hold true. Your „active‟ relationship with members in your group would be limited to the few in your inner circles…. The rest would largely remain as numbers, activated only when necessary Briefly put, SNS is not just about maintaining social relationship online. It is also about personal advertising.
  3. 3. Maybe your neocortex size may not increase…. But your online social network surely will May your network increase  Santosh E.G. |Digital Marketing Director | MRM Worldwide| McCann WorldGroup | (+91)98737.04842(M)