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Human Brain Places Limit On Twitter Friends

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the some-brains-do-it-better-than-others dept.

Twitter 176

Hugh Pickens writes "Back in early '90s, British anthropologist Robin Dunbar began studying human social groups, measuring the number of people an individual can maintain regular contact with, and came up with 150 — a number that appears to be constant throughout human history — from the size of neolithic villages to military units to 20th century contact books. But in the last decade, social networking technology has had a profound influence on the way people connect, vastly increasing the ease with which we can communicate with and follow others, so it's not uncommon for tweeters to follow and be followed by thousands of others. Now Bruno Goncalves has studied the network of links created by three million Twitter users over four years. After counting tweets that are mutual and regular as signifying a significant social bond, he found that when people start tweeting, their number of friends increases to a saturation point until they become overwhelmed. Beyond that saturation point, the conversations with less important contacts start to become less frequent and the tweeters begin to concentrate on the people they have the strongest links with. So what is the saturation point? The answer is between 100 and 200, just as Dunbar predicts. 'This finding suggests that even though modern social networks help us to log all the people with whom we meet and interact,' says Goncalves, 'they are unable to overcome the biological and physical constraints that limit stable social relations (PDF).'"

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176 comments

150 friends cap for Twitter, OK. But... (0)

denzacar (181829) | more than 3 years ago | (#36293714)

...how much is that in Facebook friends?

Or Libraries of Congress?

Re:150 friends cap for Twitter, OK. But... (3, Insightful)

davester666 (731373) | more than 3 years ago | (#36293804)

150 twitter 'friends' is equivalent to 150 trillion Facebook friends, because Facebook friends have no value.

Re:150 friends cap for Twitter, OK. But... (2)

Pieroxy (222434) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294078)

I was under the impression that twitter friends had the same (lack of) value than Facebook's ...

Re:150 friends cap for Twitter, OK. But... (4, Insightful)

wesleyjconnor (1955870) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294380)

150 twitter 'friends' is equivalent to 150 trillion Facebook friends, because Facebook friends have no value.

150 twitter friends is equal to one friends phone number.
maybe its just me, but if im not texting-calling you then really we aren't friends, we are acquaintances

Re:150 friends cap for Twitter, OK. But... (2)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294724)

I think it's just us, increasingly. Is a Twitter message directed at someone really less personal than an SMS? I see no reason why it should.

Re:150 friends cap for Twitter, OK. But... (1)

BreezeC (2040184) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294842)

Internet has changed our life so much.I'll leave internet for a while.

Introverts/extroverts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36294548)

It seems that the extroverts definition of friend succeeded for web 2.0

Rather obvious? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36293738)

This logic applies to a great many things.

Most humans own an average of 4 cars in a lifetime. Physical and biological constraints apply. No surplus of dealerships will change this.

Re:Rather obvious? (1)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 3 years ago | (#36293782)

Most humans own an average of 4 cars in a lifetime.

Hey, a good idea for a poll to indicate the age of active /.-ers.
Other than that, by this logic and in average, I must be already in my mid-life. Phew, I was under the impression I'm too old already - still enough time for a mid-life crisis.

Re:Rather obvious? (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294140)

I just got over my mid-life crisis and now I find out I've been dead for at least 200yrs.

Re:Rather obvious? (1)

drunkennewfiemidget (712572) | more than 3 years ago | (#36293786)

Wait.. were you just making that fact up as an example, or is this really verifiable?

I ask because I currently own 3 vehicles. I've owned *counts* 6 in my lifetime and I'm 28 years old. Oh, and I'm planning on another purchase this year.

I realise that's anecdotal, but I can't think of a single person I know who has been driving for > 10 years and isn't already past or on their way to more than 4.

Re:Rather obvious? (2)

MaskedSlacker (911878) | more than 3 years ago | (#36293812)

If all humans lived like your rather narrow social circle then maybe that would be relevant.

Re:Rather obvious? (2)

mini me (132455) | more than 3 years ago | (#36293828)

Averages are tricky. There are a lot of people on this earth who will never own a car. Most of them, in fact. Four does seem very low for the regular car buying American in my opinion.

Re:Rather obvious? (2)

cbope (130292) | more than 3 years ago | (#36293904)

For a typical American, I'd agree. As someone living in Europe, I'd say 4 is about right over a lifetime. My wife, who was born and grew up in a major European city (~500k people) did not even get her driver's license until she was 40. She had no need for a car or for driving one, we have something called public transportation. I realize this is a hard concept for Americans to understand (sarcasm aside, I am an American... just living abroad for many years). I actually *gasp* lived abroad without a car for ~5 years. Many people I work with do not own or drive a car, and I live and work in a very technically modern EU country.

Re:Rather obvious? (2)

Seumas (6865) | more than 3 years ago | (#36293974)

This seems kind of like making the tired point that 'people in Europe travel WAY more than Americans and Americans are durr durr durr durr", which really tends to forget the point that there are plenty of european countries crammed into the size of an American state, while I can drive for six days in a line and still be in the same country and have to cross an ocean to reach anything but North and South America. Likewise, if I lived down the street from where I work, I wouldn't care about a car, either. However, if my employer is on the other side of town, I can't really add four or five hours a day to my commute just for the joy of riding on a bus or light rail filled with smelly homeless people and meth heads shooting up in the back.

I don't have a car (I gave it away). I've never had a license. I have no interest in ever having one. I don't care to drive. I hate driving. I hate traffic. I hate commutes. I'm in a fortunate position where I don't have to worry about such things - but I'm in a very *rare* position.

Re:Rather obvious? (1)

unity100 (970058) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294304)

your approach is wrong. for any travel that is bigger than an american state, you already use aircraft. it is not logical or economic to haul over a car that long a distance. not surprisingly, europeans do the same - take the plane, or the train to those distances. the difference in between you and europeans is that, for big distances, they can take not only the plane but the fast trains too. rarely when they need to go on a family trip they use their car, and this is no different from americans, nor more frequent.

so, the approach of the grand parent stays valid.

one other point of worth mention is your hilarious misconceptions about commuting for 5 hours on a bus. really really funny. no such thing in europe.

Re:Rather obvious? (1)

ShakaUVM (157947) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294360)

Cars make more sense in low density environments and less sense in high density ones.

I'll let you use your big brain, Brad, and figure out which better matches America vs. Europe.

Re:Rather obvious? (1)

unity100 (970058) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294460)

europe has considerable low density settlements which are tied to main network through rail and public transportation and people are as much happy.

Re:Rather obvious? (1)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294630)

Not really. I lived in the middle of nowhere Germany for a while, and calling the public transport options "limited" would be a compliment. The closest train station was 16 km away and buses came maybe about 5 times a day, with the last bus leaving the station at around 5:30 pm, and that was on the weekdays. On Saturday there was 1 bus, and only in 1 direction. Sundays and holidays there was nothing. I opted to live without a car(fortunately I love cycling and most of the winters I was there were incredibly mild), but I would venture well north of 90% of households had a car. It was simply a necessity. A lot of rural Germany is like this, public transport is fairly well developed in the central and northwest parts of the country, but outside of that it's not much better than the US in that regard.

Re:Rather obvious? (1)

unity100 (970058) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294634)

firstly, if you really opt to live in middle of nowhere, you would experience the same in ANY country. but secondly, germany is not a country that prioritizes public transportation as much as the others. first, it had a very treasured auto industry. and, it had roads built to enable the cars that are produced by it to go to full capacity. what was the speed limit there ? 200 km/h ? you cant find top notch public transport in a country that prioritizes its cars, and in the middle of nowhere.

Re:Rather obvious? (1)

hat_eater (1376623) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294056)

I live in one of the EU countries. I'm 41 and I owned 7 cars. I drive since legal age, although initially not out of any real necessity, just because I could and I love to drive. Two of my cars were brand new when I purchased them. One was a mistake.
I'm curious about the methodology of the study that gave rise to this factoid. If there was any.

Re:Rather obvious? (1)

GooberToo (74388) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294034)

Your account is by far, very abnormal. BTW, by any chance, as so many do, are you confusing ownership with leasing? Many people completely confuse the two, which of course, completely changes the perception of actual ownership. If you have been leasing, which is likely, then your actual ownership is probably zero.

For ten years and six cars, that's basically a new vehicle every two years which falls on a typical lease schedule. I seriously suspect you've deluded yourself into believing you've owned six cars when in fact you've owned zero.

Not so abnormal.. (1)

wjlafrance (1974820) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294306)

Why is that so hard to believe? I got my first vehicle when I was 16, sold it two years later and got my parents old car, which was later destroyed (not-at-fault accident) and I got their next oldest car (my parents have a lot of cars). I eventually traded up for a newer car, and now own a motorcycle. Unless it doesn't include used cars, I doubt this is unusual. Most of my peers around my age are on their second or third car, and several (but not most) of us own two vehicles (car + motorcycle, or car + truck). I'm not doubting the average of four across all humans living today, though. I just think the average for the United States is much much higher.

Re:Rather obvious? (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294098)

You own 3 cars at the same time? Sounds quite unusual to me. Or do you count all the cars of your family? In that case, the average is of course lower because you have to divide the number of cars by the number of people in your family.

Re:Rather obvious? (1)

ShakaUVM (157947) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294344)

He's most likely making the number up or not using Americans for his population.

In America, the average time between cars is ~five years, according to insurance company and EPA estimates.

So I think the GP is trying to say we live only 20 years after we start driving.

Re:Rather obvious? (1)

polymeris (902231) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294912)

World population is around 6,500 million. World car "population", slightly more than 800 million. (Both according to google) That is, there currently is about 1 car every 8 people.
As a very rough approximation, let's assume the average person is in mid-life and trends will continue as-is. Based on that, 4 people will own 1 car over a lifetime, inverse to what the GP postulates.

Or put another way: Over a person's lifetime the average car will own 4 humans.

Re:Rather obvious? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#36293900)

I don't think so. Buying cars is a costly task (for most people) while making friends in a social network in theory should be almost trivial. So if the number of active friends caps out at 100-200, it's a constraint of something other than the initial cost of making an additional friend.

thats plain wrong (1)

johncandale (1430587) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294610)

that's just plain wrong, which I verified with Google in 30 seconds. Furthermore it doesn't have anything to do with human capabilities or wants as is the point here. It has everything to do with economic means and cultures. Did you know in the 60s people used to buy cars every two years on average? Mostly because the cars sucked, sure they were a few classics mixed in there, but those weren't the bulk.

Rubbish (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36293752)

That's just wrong, and the "Neolithic" data is a confabulated version of history made by a judeo christian sect - 1 / 10 FAIL

Makes sense (4, Informative)

Max Romantschuk (132276) | more than 3 years ago | (#36293794)

Without modifying ourselves it's improbable that any technology can change the limits our biological make-up presents.

Re:Makes sense (4, Interesting)

bane2571 (1024309) | more than 3 years ago | (#36293832)

What's interesting is how this affects other interactions. For a modern example, imagine a World of warcraft player with an active player group of say 40 people. If the brain has a hardwired limit of 150, then that dos not leave much room for "real" social interaction.

Such a person might not be antisocial per-se they just might have hit a stack overflow.

Re:Makes sense (1)

Shadow of Eternity (795165) | more than 3 years ago | (#36293856)

Yeah I mean after all that's only 110 people left...

Re:Makes sense (1)

bane2571 (1024309) | more than 3 years ago | (#36293886)

So subtract 50 for work, 30 for family and 20 for postman/butcher etc.

110 is not a large number when it comes to social interaction. Losing 40 slots seems pretty limiting.

Re:Makes sense (1)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 3 years ago | (#36293956)

So subtract 50 for work, 30 for family and 20 for postman/butcher etc.

Let me point you that, in average, the real-world interaction of "a World of warcraft player with an active player group of say 40 people" is mediated by his mum and this happens sporadically during the day - specifically only when she comes to drop, in the basement. the pizza and the energy drinks ordered over the Internet.

So, don't worry about work, family, postman, butcher - they are already non-existing for the subject.

Re:Makes sense (4, Interesting)

Seumas (6865) | more than 3 years ago | (#36293986)

You count your postman and butcher and 50 people at work that significantly? If they count against that number, then it seems you're probably investing FAR too much in these people who are essentially on the fringe of your life.

As for Twitter... nobody on there should count toward anything. Twiter is about whoring yourself out just like all the other social networks. It's about spreading yourself around to boost your ego (or your business). It's not about listening or having a bi-directional friendship.

Re:Makes sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36294070)

Yawn.

Re:Makes sense (2, Insightful)

Max Romantschuk (132276) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294126)

As for Twitter... nobody on there should count toward anything. Twiter is about whoring yourself out just like all the other social networks. It's about spreading yourself around to boost your ego (or your business). It's not about listening or having a bi-directional friendship.

I don't use Twitter, but I do use Facebook for real social interaction. In fact a lot of real world events I've gone to lately (meeting friends, parties, dancing events, even some business stuff) have been initialized through Facebook. As annoying as it is "social technology" has it's merits when applied properly and used like the tool it is.

Re:Makes sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36294358)

"Twiter is about whoring yourself out just like all the other social networks."

Amen, brother.

Re:Makes sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36295204)

> As for Twitter... nobody on there should count toward anything. Twiter is about whoring yourself out
> just like all the other social networks. It's about spreading yourself around to boost your ego (or your
> business). It's not about listening or having a bi-directional friendship.

As with ANYTHING social (IRL or not) twitter is what you make of it. I use it to talk to close friends, to talk to acquaintainces, to follow occasional news feeds. It's always what YOU choose it to be, and what the people you interact with choose it to be. You can be involved with no people at all and have a private feed, in which case it's a private journal - or you can follow the kutchers, biebers and their fans and have every tweet re-tweeted to the world. Your choice.

If you find social media to be about whoring yourself out, then that points precisely to what you and your friends are about, not twitter the service.

Your statement makes about as much sense as claiming email is about those with something to hide, paranoid anti-government freaks, or pedophilia.

Re:Makes sense (1)

thunderclap (972782) | more than 3 years ago | (#36293988)

And you are saying that a World of warcraft player with an active player group of say 40 people has "real" social interaction? The time it takes to get to the upper levels precludes it. So I would say that confirms it.

Re:Makes sense (1)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294762)

But not all "slots" have the same size. From those 40 WoW players, you'll probably have a strong connection with a small number of them, and the rest will just be acquaintances.

It's the same as in any group; we're usually not really friends with all our colleagues in high school, despite knowing them all.

It seems my brain limits my number of Twitter ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36295018)

friends to zero.

Seriously, folks, get real lives - they're vastly superior.

Other Constraints Also Exist (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36293798)

People are also constrained by the amount of time that they (can reasonably) dedicate to twitter. Their definition of 'strong bonds' seems to be bonds that require time, frequently communicating with 150 people back and forth is a time consuming endeavor and the more people you communicate with, the more saturated your time will be and so the less time you will be able to dedicate to each individual.

Re:Other Constraints Also Exist (1)

JamesTRexx (675890) | more than 3 years ago | (#36295050)

That's what restricts me in the use of social media. At the end of a long day after work, cooking+eating, more work, etc. I often lack the energy to go through a long list of updates.
Maybe when all the difficult projects are done I can reserve time for regular use of twitter/blog/etc.

Not true. (1, Insightful)

elucido (870205) | more than 3 years ago | (#36293820)

In one IRC chatroom alone there could be 150+ regular chatters. Across a dozen of these there could be well over 1000.

It's not difficult to be in contact with hundreds of different people every day for months.

Re:Not true. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36293878)

The summary points out the difference between people you might occasionally talk to and people who you have relationships with. You aren't having actual social relationships with all 1000 of those people, are you?

Re:Not true. (2)

elucido (870205) | more than 3 years ago | (#36293912)

If you talk to them on a daily basis, what do you consider that?

Re:Not true. (1)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294774)

Do you talk to each and everyone? Or to "the group" and who happens to be online? Do you actually maintain individual conversations with each person every day, or at least very regularly?

Re:Not true. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36293888)

And out of those 1000+ chatters, how many do you regularly chat with?

This study isn't about how many people we randomly chat with during our lives, it is how many we maintain regular and meaningful contact with. I doubt you are having regular and meaningful conversations with all of these thousands of IRC users.

Meaningful? (1)

elucido (870205) | more than 3 years ago | (#36293930)

How is meaningful defined? If you mean regular social contact with then it's easy to talk to 1000 people in a day.
If you are talking about talking to 1000 people in different chatrooms on a regular basis thats also easy but it would probably be on a weekly basis.

How do we determine what a meaningful conversation is? Is this conversation you and I are having meaningful? How would I judge?

Re:Meaningful? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36293952)

... it's easy to talk to 1000 people in a day.

not unless you do it for a living!

Re:Not true. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36293902)

Is specifically says "relationship". Not just "contact".
Something lasting.

Ok, I know, as a Slashdot lurker, this is something that's hard to imagine.... FOREVER ALONE ;)

Re:Not true. (2, Interesting)

Leo Sasquatch (977162) | more than 3 years ago | (#36293922)

Technically, if you have 500 Facebook friends, then every time you update your status you are in contact with 500 people. But Dunbar's number is a measure of the fact that you are not just in contact with people, but know something about them. You'd recognise them, you'd remember their first name if you met them in the street or at work, you have some idea if they're married or single, have kids or not.

It's also a handy indicator of the efficiency of a group. A group of people smaller than Dunbar's number can be updated on the status of all the others quite quickly, probably in a single pass. More than that, and you start getting so many people who are unavailable at any given time, that you need multiple updates to make sure you've reached everybody and the amount of work needed to simply keep everyone informed rises dramatically as a result.

And ? (0)

elucido (870205) | more than 3 years ago | (#36293938)

You can surely remember more than 150 different screen names you've communicated with and you probably can know a bit about all of them.

What is your point? George Bush remembered the names of virtually everyone he met, again whats your point?

Re:And ? (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36294028)

The point is maintaining social contact. 'Knowing about' or 'remembering names' isn't the same as 'regularly speaking to and keeping up-to-date with'.

Re:And ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36294334)

Prove it. Please post email addresses, bank and credit card details for over 150 people.

Re:And ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36294356)

Do you guys just say this about every president? I thought it was about Bill Clinton, and that George Bush was the one who had the air of barely remembering any word he'd ever met.

Re:And ? (2)

wesleyjconnor (1955870) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294416)

That was Bill Clinton

Re:Not true. (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294966)

The speculation I have seen takes it deeper than that; 150 is (about) the limit for people that we know well enough to know how someone can help us with a problem, who will know more about it, and who not to ask to work in a group together (because they don't like each other or waste time together or whatever).

So it isn't that we are limited to knowing a little bit about 150 people, it is that we are limited to having a deeper understanding of about 150 people.

Re:Not true. (1)

LordLucless (582312) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294062)

Well, yeah. But this isn't trying to measure contacts, it's just using that as a metric. It's trying to measure "connectedness". The Harold Camping follower in the sandwich board at my rail station probably "interacts" with a hell of a lot of people. I wouldn't say he has a connection with them though.

Re:Not true. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36295124)

I don't think you can measure connectedness. I have a number of relatives and close friends from whom I know quiet a lot of stuff. Then I have less closer friends, colleagues. Then I have people I may contact with once a month. And even in each subgroup, I don't know the same stuff from everybody nor I have the same degree of contact.

This study is quite pointless, because it depends on everybody's degree of contact with anybody.

If you try to say that the max number of people with whom I can have a total knowledge, confidence and contact as with, let's say my partner, is 150. Ok, fair enough. Nobody is even trying that, but hey, probably it doesn't hurt to know the limits.

But don't try to tell me I cannot follow +500 people on a social network. I probably follow a few quite often, another set only from time to time, yet another set a bit less, and I may have someones standing there as contact just in case. The fact that I don't know what my father ate yesterday (this could be something posted on twitter that I didn't read) doesn't make us less connected.

The MonkeySphere (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294198)

It's not difficult to be in contact with hundreds of different people every day for months.

There's a huge difference between people inside your MonkeySphere [cracked.com] and people inside your chat room.

Re:Not true. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36294204)

In one IRC chatroom alone there could be 150+ regular chatters. Across a dozen of these there could be well over 1000.

It's not difficult to be in contact with hundreds of different people every day for months.

Not true, "Not true." What you're saying would be like using the workplace as an example. Since you go to work every weekday, and many companies have over 150 workers in the same building, you would be regularly seeing at least 150 people, most of whom you will be acquainted with over the years, and most of whom you will have had conversations, and thus be keeping contact with on some level.

What the author is referring is an actual network that you maintain not just happen to be in due to coincidence of [cyber/physical] space or time, The size of this network is related to evolutionary and internal processes that govern how many social connections we are capable of handling, and thus truly want at any given time; now what all those teens new to facebook who friend everybody and their grandmother think they want in terms of social networking is a different matter.

Re:Not true. (1)

maofunction (1537913) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294222)

Agreed.

Re:Not true. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36294372)

The Dunbar number refers to the amount of people you can keep healthy relationships with at any one time.
This means that you "know" them and can predict their actions to a certain extent.

Re:Not true. (1)

elucido (870205) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294710)

So you mean family? or are you talking about something else?

150? (1)

Requiem18th (742389) | more than 3 years ago | (#36293830)

That's like 50 times more than I could ever handle.

How is strength of link measured? (1)

elucido (870205) | more than 3 years ago | (#36293834)

By importance? Importance is very difficult to quantify for any study because it's completely subjective.

Re:How is strength of link measured? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36293950)

I thought that too. Actually, it isn't. But then it is again.

Importance = How useful is that person to you.
useful = amount of resources (low-entropy matter / energy / information) you can get, divided by the amount you lose.

Problem: It's the perceived usefulness. And the longer the friendship, the more in the long term too.

Of course, people think more the same, as we like to admit. We're all humans after all. That alone makes already most of it. Then the immediate environment of the life....

Are you still reading? No? Ok, then... *pulls off all his cloths and dances with the circus monkeys* ;)

___
The beauty of AC, is that you don't start living in the perceived reality of others, because you don't care about the badge and the slap on the back.

Re:How is strength of link measured? (1)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 3 years ago | (#36293972)

Importance is very difficult to quantify for any study because it's completely subjective.

Would you waste much time with a person if it wouldn't be important to you? (simply the number of message twittered on a topic may reveals something about the importance).

Re:How is strength of link measured? (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294144)

For example, you might converse with a main developer of a software project not because you care about the person, but because you care about the software. If someone else would develop the software, you'd instead converse with that other person.

Of course, if you converse long enough with a person, chances are high that the person also starts to become important for you.

Re:How is strength of link measured? (1)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294230)

Of course, if you converse long enough with a person, chances are high that the person also starts to become important for you.

TFS:

created by three million Twitter users over four years

I have a suspicion that the study methodology statistically took care of this, including the temporal stability of a relationship factor. I mean, what's your estimation on the probability to have a large numbers of cases like the one you described?

Re:How is strength of link measured? (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294442)

Actually, in my Usenet time I spent considerable time arguing with persons who didn't interest me as person. That's because I was interested in the topic. And I believe I was by far the only one.

Re:How is strength of link measured? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36294514)

I've had ex-girlfriends that were important to me in my past. Wanna hazard a guess as to how important they are to me today? The importance of other people to an individual changes as circumstances change.

So what if, in the future under different circumstances, you'd talk to a different developer? The software project is important to you, thus the developer (and your conversations with him) is important today.

Re:How is strength of link measured? (1)

elucido (870205) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294720)

For example, you might converse with a main developer of a software project not because you care about the person, but because you care about the software. If someone else would develop the software, you'd instead converse with that other person.

Of course, if you converse long enough with a person, chances are high that the person also starts to become important for you.

So the person has to be personally important? That would probably be far less than 150 people for most. Probably far less than 50 people.

Re:How is strength of link measured? (1)

elucido (870205) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294716)

Yes of course. These conversations aren't usually important to me. I'm sure I spend maybe 20 minutes a day on this sites or sites like this.

Realistically I think even that number is too high (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36293854)

I'd say that number is even pushing it. I have approximately 175 people or so on my facebook list. It includes but is not limited to; real life friends, immediate family, extended family, co-workers, former classmates and people I've met online. Out of those 175 or so (plus co-workers I don't have on my facebook), Id say in a given week I probably interact with about 40 in any meaningful manner both in real life and online. Perhaps I'm the exception but I highly doubt it...

Re:Realistically I think even that number is too h (2)

Gaygirlie (1657131) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294120)

You're not alone there tbh. I have around 30 facebook friends, including family members and such, and I interact with about 4 of them on a frequent basis. I simply see no value in trying to "befriend" people whom I have nothing in common, nor do I value pointless chatter that much either. There's no way I could keep up with 150 people.

Re:Realistically I think even that number is too h (1)

Eivind (15695) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294836)

Nobody can. There's only so many hours in a day. Even if you spend 14 hours a day -only- being social (=100% of your waking time minus the time you eat and visit the bathroom etc), then 150 friends would still only get 10 minutes a day each.

And most people do other things than just be social, you know, stuff like holding a job or studying, shopping, cooking, doing housework, showering, etc.

A more realistic (but still high!) time-available estimate is 3-4 hours on weekdays and 10 hours on weekends, which gives you 35 hours/week, or 2 minutes a day for your friends.

On Facebook, "friend" tends to mean "someone I met at some point in my life and can recognize".

Re:Realistically I think even that number is too h (1)

adolf (21054) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294944)

There's only so many hours in a day. Even if you spend 14 hours a day -only- being social (=100% of your waking time minus the time you eat and visit the bathroom etc), then 150 friends would still only get 10 minutes a day each.

So many hours in the day, but I don't need to talk to each of my friends every day, so my time spent with friends doesn't need to fit into 10-minute increments.

I can spend a couple of hours with each of 150 friends every couple of weeks, on average, and still fit into your 14-hour social day.

But I don't average my social time across my "friends." Some friends might only consume a few minutes per month of conversational maintenance; better friends will use more time.

There's no good reason why I can't spend 5 or 10 minutes, per month, talking to my not-so-close friends, and a few hours a week with each of my good friends, and still have time for eating, showering, and work in a day. Even if I've got 150 "friends," and neglect none of them absolutely.

(On another note, I'm personally nowhere near as social as that and don't have any desire to be, but let's not let that get in the way of hypothetical conjecture...)

Re:Realistically I think even that number is too h (1)

polymeris (902231) | more than 3 years ago | (#36295046)

Dunbar postulated that the number is only reached in situations of strong environmental and economic pressure, like survival villages or military forces. Such a large social network takes a lot of effort in term of social grooming, so in most other cases it makes more sense for the individual to keep the number of social interactions down.

See the wikipedia entry for Dunbar's number [wikipedia.org] .

Reminds me of very old cracked.com article (5, Informative)

tanveer1979 (530624) | more than 3 years ago | (#36293862)

the monkeysphere!
http://www.cracked.com/article_14990_what-monkeysphere.html [cracked.com]
I guess, with twitter and fb, the monkeysphere is expanding, and you cannot cope with it unless the brain is modified :)

Re:Reminds me of very old cracked.com article (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36294100)

You realise the cracked.com article was based on Dunbar's orginal research, right?

Re:Reminds me of very old cracked.com article (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294282)

You realise David Wong links to Dunbar's research in his brilliant and witty essay, right?

Re:Reminds me of very old cracked.com article (1)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 3 years ago | (#36295032)

I've always been skeptical about this kind of argument. Let's say there's no theoretical limit at all to the number of connections a brain can keep track of, or at least none as small as 100-200 say. Would we be able to observe this theoretically huge limit from studying human history?

Ancient history wouldn't really answer the question, since in ancient times, there was no significant opportunity to make more than 100-200 regular connections for a single person, and usually a lot less. For example, most people worked in a field all day, villages were pretty small anyway, so it was physically impossible day to day. Even writing letters, that would take time and there's only so many hours in a day.

What about modern(ish) history? Again, people are busy during the day at a factory or in an office, and until the internet and the telephone, communication could never be called instant anyway. Even if people were capable to handle more than 200 regular connections to different people, where would they find the time?

Which brings me to the internet. Technology is now capable of delivering more than 200 connections to an individual, so if people can handle a lot more than this, we'd expect to see this skyrocketing in the last few years, right? Wrong. While the network can easily switch the packets in an instant, the tools we use today are still not designed for 200+ connections.

Take something like email. Composing a message to a friend still takes time, and composing a different message to each of 10 friends takes about 10 times as long. Composing a unique message to each of 100 people would take most of the day, and people still have to eat, sleep, work, etc. So email is not the tool that could deliver massive connectivity to individuals. Of course it isn't, since email is modeled on letter writing.

You might point out that mailing lists and CC does go into that direction, but really that's kind of cheating, because the recipients all receive the *same* message in that case. So it's not fully independent communication to each of the recipients. The same goes for Twitter, or Facebook. It's all mass communication by replicating a single piece of information at a time and sending it or publishing it to multiple individuals.

If we truly want to test whether the brain can handle more than 100-200 regular connections between people, we need tools that we don't have yet. We need software that allows us to keep massive numbers of independent streams of communication which take a lot less time to service than email or twitter, but aren't merely mass copies. This will require personal AI assistants of some sort, but clearly nobody knows what it will be.

I don't know if the human brain is capable of being in regular contact with thousands of other people, but I'm fairly sure the data we have doesn't disprove it.

Someone got nervous (1)

repapetilto (1219852) | more than 3 years ago | (#36293876)

"This fifinding suggests that even though modern social networks help us to log all the people with whom we meet and interact, they are unable to overcome the biological and physical constraints that limit stable social relations," say Goncalves and co.

limiting factor: time (1)

Gravis Zero (934156) | more than 3 years ago | (#36293944)

People can only maintain contact with ~150 due to the speed at which they can communicate which includes processing what is being said. When we all have little implants that let us write what we think as fast as we think it the number will go up a little bit and when we can use eternal memory storage we will be able to have a lot more. However, when that happens we will be able to share our thoughts and memory which will lead to the downfall of mankind when women find out what men really think about.

Re:limiting factor: time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36294638)

here we go with the man bashing again. I know you will not digest this next statement at once but: that is just like making little racist remarks all the time in everyday speech about, say black people. It just lends it's self to more overt abuse over time. For the record we knew what women actually thought, about your job and money and chance to keep her in silk for the next 50 years, but not at all about you, and the elaborate construct they deploy to make you think over wise, it might just be as bad or worse. Honesty, I'm a man, I'm well past college years, and I'd never be afraid to have a women know what I actually thought in entirety at any given age, maybe you are just the pervert not every one? Posting AC because I'm way Off-topic

Not all social interactions are Tweets. (3, Interesting)

gsiarny (1831256) | more than 3 years ago | (#36293982)

The Dunbar hypothesis isn't a limit on group size. It argues that an individual can maintain only some 100-200 regular social contacts. Yet if, as the article suggests, a Twitter user stabilizes at a maximum of 150-200 regularly-maintained contacts, they're using up most, if not all, of their Dunbar-space on Twitter alone. So does this mean that people with 150-200 regular Twitter contacts must lose their pre-Twitter real-world regular contacts, or that their pre-Twitter contacts must become Twitter contacts? That seems a bit much to assume without evidence.

I suppose further research will explore how the real-world-and-non-Twitter social life of the twitterati changes as they near their Dunbar limit on Twitter. Perhaps, as the article boldly suggests, "social networks [do] not change human social capabilities" (Conclusions, 7) and the Dunbar limit is indeed resistant to technological circumvention. But this article doesn't make that clear. By not examining the full social space of its subjects, the study does not actually address the possibility that Twitter has increased the number of regular contacts - of all types - that an individual can maintain.

Re:Not all social interactions are Tweets. (1)

ShakaUVM (157947) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294412)

Assuming the Dunbar limit is real, and not just hand-waving of the sort that appeals to Malcolm Gladwell, it applies to the exponential space needed to store the square of the relationships maintained, not the time spent maintaining the relationships themselves.

In other words, it's not that its hard to remember stuff about 150 people - I interact with thousands of people at my lectures every year and remember their personalities if not their names - but rather trying to remember what Person A thinks about Person B and so forth. This is much more difficult.

Because of that, I'm skeptical of this researcher's findings having anything to do with it. If I have 100 friends or 500, it is just as easy for me to do my updates. Reading them all also isn't terribly difficult, but there's a lot of people that post nothing interesting, and fewer worth replying to.

Re:Not all social interactions are Tweets. (1)

elucido (870205) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294746)

Assuming the Dunbar limit is real, and not just hand-waving of the sort that appeals to Malcolm Gladwell, it applies to the exponential space needed to store the square of the relationships maintained, not the time spent maintaining the relationships themselves.

In other words, it's not that its hard to remember stuff about 150 people - I interact with thousands of people at my lectures every year and remember their personalities if not their names - but rather trying to remember what Person A thinks about Person B and so forth. This is much more difficult.

Because of that, I'm skeptical of this researcher's findings having anything to do with it. If I have 100 friends or 500, it is just as easy for me to do my updates. Reading them all also isn't terribly difficult, but there's a lot of people that post nothing interesting, and fewer worth replying to.

Yeah but most of the time why would we care what person A thinks about person B even if they tell us?

Unless it influences or has to do with how you think about them or they think about you, why would you remember it?

Re:Not all social interactions are Tweets. (1)

XFire35 (1519315) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294690)

There could be a degree of overlap between the people they follow on twitter and their real-life friends.

bu..sh.t (2)

seabasstin (304888) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294024)

human brains also couldn't deal with speeds over 75mph. human brains adapt, that is the game. under estimating this is total bull

Re:bu..sh.t (4, Insightful)

captainpanic (1173915) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294368)

Well... Human brains indeed cannot deal with speeds over 75 mph on ancient roads... we've had to build huge nearly straight roads where you have an excellent view and where you can anticipate things half a mile ahead. If we would be going 75 mph on roads of the quality of the 1800's, we'd all be dead within a year.

Humans adapt their surroundings a lot faster than they'll adapt their own brains.

Re:bu..sh.t (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36295036)

If we were going 75 mph on roads of the quality of the 1800's, we'd all be dead within a year, but not because of our vision limits, but because of vehicles not being stable in a poor quality road and much dangerous to drive at high speeds.

There is no need of straight roads. There you have professional racing drivers, for instance. Limitations currently are mostly in the car technology. The technology in the regular car we see every day in the streets is simply not enough to allow driving safely at high speeds in roads with a lot of turns. You don't have enough grip, you have too much inertia, so you have to slow down.

On the other hand, it's actually true that we cannot react to unexpected situations fast enough (although up to a certain point, we are talking again about inertia and physics. Maybe you are fast enough to press the brake, but the car will need some time to completely brake), but that happens quite before the 75 mph.

So.... 640 Friends ought to be enough (1)

2phar (137027) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294124)

for anybody!

One-way interaction = friendship? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36294480)

Like with an RSS feed, twitter and facebook can be full with single-sided interaction. Does that count as "friendship"? Or "social interaction"?

Some even claim twitter and facebook are replacing RSS, since the idea is the same; you subscribe to updates of something (or someone) you find interesting. The option to interact is there, but doesn't have to be used.

Splendid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36294672)

So I still have place in my brain for 145 more friends. Great news.

Re:Splendid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36294770)

My thought exactly. Five is more than enough.

Definately makes sense. (1)

Taomach (2214660) | more than 3 years ago | (#36294918)

I have a big problem with keeping in mind all those human interactions. This number of 150 seems too big for me. Although I have no problems with new acquaintances, it's difficult to me to keep them all in mind. Maybe it's a reason why I don't as interested in facebook, twitter and all that as all people are.
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