It’s already an established phenomenon that in the social networking era friendship is more virtual and 6 degrees of separation has now been reduced to mere 3 degrees. However, seminal work of Dr. Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist, concluded that the cognitive power of the brain limits the size of the social network that an individual of any given species can develop. Extrapolating from the brain sizes and social networks of apes, Dr Dunbar suggested that the size of the human brain allows stable networks of about 148. Rounded to 150, this has become famous as “the Dunbar number”.
However the Dunbar number represents a person’s wider network. The actual number of individuals that represents his social “core network” with whom individuals “can discuss important matters”, numbers only 3 for Americans.
1. Do social networks increase the size of people’s personal networks?
Research findings of Dr. Cameron Marlow, the “in-house sociologist” at Facebook, suggests that the average number of “friends” in a Facebook network is 120, consistent with the Dunbar number.
Image Source: Business Week
Interesting to observe here that the number of people on an individual’s friend list with whom he (or she) frequently interacts is remarkably small and stable. For example, an average Facebook user—one with 120 friends—generally trades emails or responds to the postings of only 7 closets friends. But, as Facebook’s team reveals, social network interactions as taken at Facebook brings users to passively engage with 2-2.5 times more people in ones network (passive friends with whom a Facebook user maintains either ‘one-way relationship’ or ‘just barely in touch’).
2. Is online social networking as local as offline social networking?
Researchers at Hebrew University analyzed the messaging habits of 100,000 Facebook users by zip code & observed that the volume of e-mail traffic as a function of geographical distance follows an inverse power law i.e. the more local the sender-receiver, the higher the density of messages.
Our take :
Highly interactive social platforms as Facebook can extend to a degree (“2x increase in connectivity”) the communication outside a person’s core network.
Technology would continue enabling an environment conducive to ‘overshare‘, but we would still maintain a pattern of intimacy preferably with those who are located over shorter distance.
Image Source: Universal McCann