First of all, you might want to read this remarkably insightful blog post featured in Paola Tubaro’s Blog – about a recent article on social network size, online friending and Dunbar’s number published in Cyberpsychology. Here’s the complete reference to the article:
Pollet, T., Roberts, S., & Dunbar, R. (2011). Use of Social Network Sites and Instant Messaging Does Not Lead to Increased Offline Social Network Size, or to Emotionally Closer Relationships with Offline Network Members Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 14 (4), 253-258 DOI: 10.1089/cyber.2010.0161
As for the analysis, let me just quote from Paola (it’s not that I’m lazy, but I tend to agree with pretty much evertything she says, especially because she draws heavily on previous posts and conferences of mine dealing with the same subjects ;P)
What I would like to add here is just that the article might not be all that interesting, weren’t it authored by Robin “Dunbar’s number” Dunbar himself. You might recall, Dear Reader, that as of recent I have been playing with the hypothesis that one of the actual effects of online social networking might be to enlarge personal networks by providing some kind of cognitive enhancement. That’s why Dunbar’s number (148) has subsequently doubled according to Peter Killworth, and in 2010 reached the surprising figure of 610 advanced by Matthew Salganik.
In my own private delusion (I don’t know Dunbar personally nor have I met him at scientific symposia), I was positive he would be on the same page. Turns out he’s not that hot about tuning-up his number. Neocortex size, apparently, matters more than any socially constructed electronic interaction environment. At least the results seem to attest just that: that our brain is social up to a point, and that point do not include social enhancements à la Facebook.
These are the kind of results that’ll get the guy a Nobel Prize, eventually. A Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine, methinks, mostly because the one in Human-Computer Interaction has yet to be created…