Facebook Friends II: Quantity and Quality ~ Brand Mix

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Facebook Friends II: Quantity and Quality

Yesterday, I was talking about Facebook friend types. Today it's about the numbers.

The Economist has an interesting story about the size of social networks. It takes a look at whether the fact that it's so easy to add Facebook friends and stay in touch with them has impacted what's known in Anthropology as the Dunbar number. That number (around 150) is the limit on effective and stable social networks based on our brain's cognitive processing power. Any more than 150 and we start to lose our ability to "remember who is allied with, hostile to, or lusts after whom, and act accordingly."

Well the Economist asked Facebook to run the numbers and it reported back that the average number of Facebook friends/person is around 120, supporting the Dunbar number. However, some people (those that would fall into the addict category from yesterday's post) had 500 or more.

But, digging a little deeper, Facebook also found that: "the 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." What this shows is that there's friends and then there's FRIENDS, the small, core network of people where there's real interaction.

As the article concludes, outside of the core, people 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."


Jeffry Pilcher said...

Note to marketers: You will probably never be anyone's FRIEND.

brien said...

Interesting article, Martin. However, I wonder if the size of our inner social circle is dictated less by cognitive abilities an more by the amount of time we have interact with other individuals on a meaningful level. It might be possible for new technologies like Twitter and Facebook to increase this number.

Another thought - the average figure of 120 includes high school students and post-college individuals that may not interact with many people who maintain Facebook accounts. I find that college students generally have many more "friends." For example, my fraternity alone accounts for at least 200 of my friends. But of course, as you suggested, many of my Facebook "friends" are not friends at all, and are just the result of networking.

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