Facebook’s in-house sociologist, Cameron Marlow, has revealed some really fascinating data showing that the number of “friends” we have on Facebook is a poor indicator of how many actual friends we have and how many people we actually maintain any kind of communications. I’m defining an actual friend as someone you have two-way communications (e.g. messages or chats). If you just post comments on a person’s status updates, photos, or wall, then I define that someone for which you just maintain communications.
Cameron found that the average Facebook user has 120 friends which is more in line with Dunbar’s number of 150 which is the cognitive limit of the number of people we can actually remain social relationships.
The average male Facebook user with 120 friends:
- Actual friends: 4
- Maintains communications: 7
The average female Facebook user with 120 friends:
- Actual friends: 6
- Maintains communications: 10
The average male Facebook user with 500 friends:
- Actual friends: 10
- Maintains communications: 17
The average female Facebook user with 500 friends:
- Actual friends: 16
- Maintains communications: 26
Interesting to see that a four fold increase in friends doesn’t increase in a four fold increase in actual friends or just maintaining communications. Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, digests the numbers. She said it’s not that these people are “networking” but rather “broadcasting their lives to an outer tier of acquaintances who aren’t necessarily inside the Dunbar circle.”