The Economist had a fascinating post on how the Dunbar number appies to social networks. For those who may not know, the Dunbar number is a “theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships ” – 148 (see Wikipedia). The conclusion:
Put differently, people who are members of online social networks are not so much “networking” as they are “broadcasting their lives to an outer tier of acquaintances who aren’t necessarily inside the Dunbar circle,” says Lee Rainie, the director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a polling organisation. Humans may be advertising themselves more efficiently. But they still have the same small circles of intimacy as ever.
I find that fascinating. I always thought, and assumed others did too, that the main reason to join LinkedIn or Facebook was to increase your network and reconnect with old friends. However, the data shows that most folks join to keep in touch with a smaller group of friends, and maybe read up on what others are doing, but not really interact with them. So essentially, Facebook has become a replacement for email, with of course enhanced features like photos and profiles. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but does this mean that in the year 2012, we’ll be communicating mostly via Facebook? Do people already do that and I’m missing the boat (I despise the fact that I can’t reply directly to a message when I get a new Facebook inbox notification, unlike LinkedIn where it is possible. I hate logging directly into Facebook just to tell my friend thanks for wishing me a happy birthday)?
Maybe Google needs to build a Gmail app on the Facebook platform to avoid irrelevance (not happening anytime soon), or perhaps integrate Gmail with Orkut. Now that would be interesting…