What’s the limit to the number of people you can maintain relationships with? What about online relationships?
British anthropologist Robin Dunbar suggests that 150 is the maximum number of people with whom any one person can maintain stable social relationships. That theoretical limit is known to sociologists and anthropologists as Dunbar’s number.
Might the number change when you’re talking about online relationships? Do tools like email, instant messaging, blogs, micro-blogs, and online social networks reduce friction and increase communication enough that the number of relationships you can maintain online might be greater than 150?
JP Rangaswami, who blogs at Confused of Calcutta, thinks his digital Dunbar number is higher than 150:
I’ve sensed that I have a Dunbar number of around 300 in the digital world, and I’ve been delighted to find I know most of the steady ones. Over the years I’ve actually met most of the community of readers, usually at conferences. The face-to-face contact, in turn, leads to a deepening of the relationship, and we land up creating and developing links in Facebook and Twitter. [I still land up with a smidgeon of LinkedIn requests, but to be frank the only reason I go to LinkedIn is to deal with Invitations to Connect.]
JP wants to get a conversation started about digital Dunbars and asks his readers:
How many Facebook friends do you have, how many regular readers of your blog, how many followers in Twitter, do you see a correlation between the three, if not why not, and so on. Do you tend to meet a core of this number on a face-to-face basis, if not why not? What other tools do you use, tools such as Dopplr and last.fm and netvibes and so on.
I’ve found I can comfortably follow only about 100 people on Twitter. Beyond that, I lose track of who people are and the experience feels more like noise than connecting. So I think my digital Dunbar might be below 150.
What about you? What’s your offline Dunbar number? Your digital Dunbar?