Online social networking platforms allow people to develop social networks with ties to thousands, and in some cases millions, of others. When a personal network grow beyond a certain size the relationships seem to lose their intimacy and the sense of community is suffering.
The social brain
The reason for this may be that there is a limit to how many social relationships the human brain is capable of processing and synthesizing information on, referred to as The social brain hypothesis. Research has found that all humans, independent of culture, have a hierarchy of social groups with fixed sizes that are likely to have been the same since prehistoric times (source: Discrete hierarchical organization of social group sizes).
Social group sizes
The support clique is made up of the tree to five people closest to us we, who we would seek personal advice or help from in times of serious distress.
Beyond the support clique is the sympathy group of twelve to twenty people we have special ties to and keep in touch with regularly.
The next level are bands of thirty to fifty individuals, the same size as overnight hunting and gathering groups. These bands change in composition but are all pulled from the same larger group.
The clan is a larger group of about 150 individuals. This is also called Dunbar’s number, after the scientist who found that this is the maximum number of people with whom a stable personal relationships can be maintained. This is the same size as traditional small societies.
There has also been found evidence for at least two larger groups, a megaband of about 500 people and the tribe of about 1000-2000 individuals.
What are the consequences for online social network platforms?
So what are the consequences of these findings for online social networking platforms? How can they be redesigned to better support traditional social group sizes?