RapLeaf Survey Confirms Dunbar's Number

Dunbar’s number, “is the supposed cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable social relationships: the kind of relationships that go with knowing who each person is and how each person relates socially to every other person.” While no precise number has been proposed, the average number cited is 150.

Rapleaf recently embarked on the largest social networking study ever and sampled over 30 million people across various social networks including Bebo, Facebook, Friendster, Hi5, LiveJournal, MySpace, Flickr and others. The results? Here are a few key statistics:

  • 80 percent of members surveyed had between 1 and 100 friends
  • Another 19 percent had between 100 and 1000 friends
  • People with over 1,000 friends accounted for 0.68 percent of the sample set.

The data was definitely skewed as approximately 21.6 percent only had 1 friend. This isn’t a measure of human behavior in general but instead human behavior on social networks in general. This means 21.6 of users tend to create an account and never come back. Additionally, spammers could make up a large portion if Myspace in particular was weighted move heavily since every user on Mysace has Tom as a friend at a minimum.

So is this news? Not really but I’m sure that Rapleaf made a substantial investment in generating these statistics. What I found interesting about this report is that even in the online world, users tend to be constrained to the number of relationships that they are able to maintain. One thing that is not displayed is how these numbers differed between ages.

Many younger people that I know in college tend to collect friends on Facebook as though it’s nothing special. Maintaining those relationships is a whole other story. Personally, I have found that as you increase the number of contacts you have, you end up with the classic email overload problem. It would appear that this problem may be limited to simply those that are highly connected.

Unfortunately I don’t know the distribution among people between 100 and 1,000 friends so I can’t come up with an approximation of people that have more than 150 contacts. My guess is that this group is no more than 10 percent of the population. For that 10 percent though, email and other communication channels have become overwhelming and developing a solution to that is critical.

How many contacts do you have on your various social networks? Have any of the current technologies made it easier for you to maintain relationships with more people?