Posted by: Marshall Sponder | May 30, 2008

Too many friends?

I’ve been thinking about friendships on Facebook and keep quoting the study mentioned by Robert Scoble a while back that having more than 800 Facebook friends meant your bound to be insecure – and what happens if you have 5,000+ Facebook friends – are you more insecure?

But that’s just a line I use – I don’t really believe that much that having 800+ Facebook friends will be a sign I’m any more insecure that the 470 or so Facebook friends I have now.

Still, it’s refreshing to read How Many Friends is Too Many? by Josh Catone in Read/WriteWeb where it’s mentioned we, as a species, might have a biological limit to the number of friends we can be close to based on the structure of our brains and nervous system:

Research by Robin Dunbar indicates that 100 to 150 is the approximate natural group size in which everyone can really know everyone else. “Human beings ought to live in groups of around 150 people, judging from the logarithm of our brain size; and sure enough, studies of hunter-gatherer groups, military units, and city dwellers’ address books suggest that 100 to 150 is the natural group size within which people can know just about everyone directly,” writes Jonathan Haidt in the book “The Happiness Hypothesis,” drawing on research by Dunbar.

I don’t know if that’s true or not. I mean, since we’re exposed to so much more stimuli now, might it be that our brains have adapted to handle more input? More friends?

It was also pointed out on Twitter, having too many followers can be a problem, what if they want to engage with you all at once?

Ryan Carson of app developer Carsonified wrote yesterday that 3,000 followers on Twitter was too many for him. The problem, according to Carson, is that with so many followers every tweet he sends out generates about 4 @ replies. Replying in kind to those replies ends up littering his feed with one-sided conversations that most of his followers can’t possibly, well, follow.

Lately, I’ve noticed some of my friends, real world and virtual friends, have needed to take breaks off the web, cut themselves off from contact – it may be that a threshold is reached on what that person can handle.

But, what I’m beginning to notice is the architecture of how we interface with friends in Social Networks and Social Media is affecting how we define “friendship” in the first place.

For example, because I use Facebook alot, I’m finding what I’m doing with friends can be, in some cases, envisioned by what I can do with my friends in Facebook (add a friend, delete a friend, set up an event with friends, post a link to my friends, read about my friends, send instant messages to my friends, video chat with my friends, leave a podcast for my friends….you get the idea).

In other words, instead of Social Networks imitating life, life is beginning to merge with the platforms of we use to manage our lives – and that hasn’t really got the same biological limits that living with 150 close friends being the biological limit of what we can handle.

I think Social Networks and Social Media may have re-defined some aspects of what we call “friendship” and “virtual friendship” / “real friendship” have merged.

The limitations we had, biologically, might no longer apply.

Then again, I’m not really sure since there many not have been any research that validates my point of view, at least, that I know of.



  1. I am a believer in Dunbar’s rule. At least in regards to maxing out at 150 “close ties” – but I don’t think we have nearly this limitation on the number of “loose ties”. And I think that’s what most of social networking is – loose ties. I just don’t get as close to people I only know online.

    From a social perspective, my close ties are what matters to me, but from a professional perspective, loose ties are what makes people “connected”. Ultimately I think the business side of social networking will outperform the personal side.

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