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Group Sizes and the Internet

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Don't Believe Facebook; You Only Have 150 Friends. Listen Story audio GORE-TEX, the company that makes wetsuits, hiking boots and ponchos, is the subject of a famous anecdote in the world of sociology.

Don't Believe Facebook; You Only Have 150 Friends

It centers on the guy who founded the company, Bill Gore. "When Bill Gore set the company up, he set it up in his backyard," Robin Dunbar, a professor of evolutionary anthropology at the University of Oxford, tells NPR's Rachel Martin. From its modest beginnings, GORE-TEX grew and grew, Dunbar says, until Gore opened up a large factory. That, too, continued to grow.

Then one day, Dunbar says, Gore walked into his factory. "And he simply didn't know who everybody was. " Gore wondered why this was. Gore did some counting, and realized that after putting about 150 people in the same building, things at GORE-TEX just did not run smoothly. So Gore made the decision to cap his factories at 150 employees.

"Whenever they needed to expand the company," Dunbar says, "he would just build a new factory. Things ran better this way, Gore realized. NetworkAnalysis. Facebook, Dunbar's Number & Geometry - The Transportationist. NPR says: Don't Believe Facebook; You Only Have 150 Friends and discusses Dunbar's number.

Facebook, Dunbar's Number & Geometry - The Transportationist

Dunbar says there are some neurological mechanisms in place to help us cope with the ever-growing amount of social connections life seems to require. Humans have the ability, for example, to facially recognize about 1,500 people. Now that would be an impressive number of Facebook friends. Yet the problem with such a large number of "friends," Dunbar says, is that "relationships involved across very big units then become very casual — and don't have that deep meaning and sense of obligation and reciprocity that you have with your close friends. " One solution to that problem, he adds, can be seen in the modern military. Wikipedia says of Dunbar's number Dunbar's number is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships.

In 2-dimensions, one penny can be surrounded by exactly 6 pennies (of equal size) that it touches. Facebook, Dunbar’s Number and current killer apps. British anthropologist Robin Dunbar conducted research in the 1990s on the optimum social network size for primates.

Facebook, Dunbar’s Number and current killer apps

It turns out that there is a correlation with neocortex volume – the bigger the brain, the bigger the possible social network. This stands to reason, since being able to recognise faces and to know the pecking order for everyone in the group takes brain power. For humans, Dunbar’s Number is approximately 150. This means that to be able to know each member in a community and to know where they fit in that community, we are limited to about 150 as the community size.

Throughout history, 150 has appeared as a fairly common social grouping size in cases like villages and army units where there has been a strong reason (like war) to stay in close physical proximity and work together. Read more in The Dunbar Number as a Limit to Group Sizes (which has some interesting info on the size of online mutliplayer game groups) and Wikipedia’s article, Dunbar’s Number. Validation of Dunbar's Number in Twitter Conversations. OMG: brains can’t handle all our Facebook friends. Backstrom-2008-preferential. Preferential behavior in online groups. Publication Type: Conference Paper Source: WSDM '08: Proceedings of the international conference on Web search and web data mining, ACM, New York, NY, USA, p.117–128 (2008) Keywords: groups, incentives Abstract: Online communities in the form of message boards, listservs, and newsgroups continue to represent a considerable amount of the social activity on the Internet.

Preferential behavior in online groups Social networks: Primates on Facebook.