Sorry, You Can’t Be My Online Friend

Validation of Dunbar’s number in Twitter conversations

Bruno Goncalves, Nicola Perra, Alessandro Vespignani

Modern society’s increasing dependency on online tools for both work and recreation opens up unique opportunities for the study of social interactions. A large survey of online exchanges or conversations on Twitter, collected across six months involving 1.7 million individuals is presented here. We test the theoretical cognitive limit on the number of stable social relationships known as Dunbar’s number. We find that users can entertain a maximum of 100-200 stable relationships in support for Dunbar’s prediction. The “economy of attention” is limited in the online world by cognitive and biological constraints as predicted by Dunbar’s theory. Inspired by this empirical evidence we propose a simple dynamical mechanism, based on finite priority queuing and time resources, that reproduces the observed social behavior.

via [1105.5170] Validation of Dunbar’s number in Twitter conversations.

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