Just How Far Can We Push The Dunbar Number?

Posted: December 21, 2008 in Data Portability, Emerging Media, Interoperability, Metrics & measurement, Social Media, Society & Culture, Web2.0

brainI’ve been meaning to put the pen to paperkeyboard to blog on this one for a while now…

Have you started to feel overwhelmed by your growing social networks? We all have growing networks of friends and followers. Not only are our networks growing, but they are growing across multiple platforms – social networks, blogs, microblogs, video subscriptions, photo sharing, forums and other social media platforms. With many of these platforms we unintentionally obtain a new “inbox” of sorts. Trying to keep up with the barrage of communications and updates, and maintaining relationships can easily overwhelm you. Even with the influx of aggregation systems, increasingly people are starting to have a hard time keeping up. Between the pressure from peers (and old high school friends that you may have fallen out of touch with on purpose) to connect, and for marketers the seemingly equivalent pressure of keeping up with the Joneses, it’s sometimes enough to drive someone crazy. Earlier this year I learned about the existence of the Information Overload Research Group …but I was too caught up in my own information overload to attend their conference at the time – ah the irony. Last April the NY Times even ran a story about bloggers dying from trying to keep up.

You are not alone. Enter the Dunbar Principle.

The Dunbar number (first published in 1992 by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar and made popular in the marketing industry by Malcom Gladwell in 2000) is “a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships”. According to Dunbar, “this limit is a direct function of relative neocortexsize, and that this in turn limits group size … the limit imposed by neocortical processing capacity is simply on the number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained.”

For the record the approximate number is 150. Although it makes sense that new technologies will facilitate the growth of the Dunbar number, just how far can it go?

A recent HP report “Social Networks That Matter: Twitter Under The Microscope“, shows a unique effect of technology facilitating pushing humans past the Dunbar number. As the graph below points out, gaining followers (growing your network) is easy, but as followers increase, your true social connections rapidly become near meaningless. Interesting theory. Think about the ramifications as social media matures and our networks thin out a bit. Deeper social connections versus larger and less valuable ones.

From "Social Networks That Matter", HP 2008
From “Social Networks That Matter”, HP 2008

 Long story short, social media is still in its infancy and has a long way to go. We are about to enter into the era of data portability, where you can take your social graph with you anywhere you go online, rather than simply watching your networks grow at specific destinations. That’s huge – absolutely huge. The ways in which consumers interact with each other and consume content will continue to eveolve over the next several years, not to mention that the monetization models for the platforms will need to emerge for them to stick around. The crossroads where consumer desires meets social media platform monetization has proven thus far to be an elusive place and a disproportionate one. Yes I mentioned monetization (better yet and more accurately, profitability). After all, it must happen eventually and continually sweeping it under the carpet is absolutely the wrong thing to do, as many self proclaimed “social media experts” tend to do. No it is not straightforward, it may not even be on the immediate horizon, but it will happen – it must happen. But make no mistake about it – that crossroads and balance will exist. The consumer has a taste of experiential freedom, and you just can;t put that genie back in the bottle – nor would we want to.

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Comments
  1. […] clipped from thedigitalblur.com […]

  2. […] relacji. Wpływ mediów społecznych na liczbę Dunbara opisał Jason Heller w artykule „Jak bardzo można zwiększyć liczbę Dunbara”? (na podstawie raportu HP). Jak pokazuje poniższy wykres pozyskiwanie nowych znajomych – […]

  3. […] growth, I have written several times about the growing issue of information and inbox overload, and the dunbar number and ambient relationships. I’ve observed a segment of consumers going on social media diets, if you will, eliminating […]

  4. […] growth, I have written several times about the growing issue of information and inbox overload, and the dunbar number and ambient relationships. I’ve observed a segment of consumers going on social media diets, if you will, eliminating […]

  5. […] to Jason Heller’s article, “Just how far can we push the Dunbar Number?” published in December 2008 and the “Social Networks That Matter: Twitter Under The […]

  6. […] l’article “Just how far can we push the Dunbar Number?” publié en Décembre 2008 par Jason Heller, et l’étude « Social Networks That Matter: […]

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