Your Twitter brain is now over capacity.

June 13, 2011

It took 3 years, 2 months and 1 day for Twitter to hit 1 billion Tweets. Now it only takes 1 week for Twitter to syndicate 1 billion Tweets.

With sites like Twitter helping to change the way we interact and form relationships, it may seem only human to question the validity of some of these relationships.

Twitter’s approach to easy social connections allows users to form large networks at a rapid rate. Some celebrities attract followers in their millions and even the mere mortals among us can generate a following well into the thousands, with or without the use of automation tools.But what are all these connections worth? Surely it must be highly improbable that a person can interact with thousands of people on a regular basis?

Long before Internet-based social networks existed, British anthropologist Robin Dunbar (University College of London) hypothesised that “there is a cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable social relationships, that this limit is  a direct function of relative neocortex size, and that this in turn limits group size…” (Co-Evolution Of Neocortex Size, Group Size And Language In Humans).He estimated that this number was between 100 and 230, with 150 being the most commonly used single value. This has become known as “Dunbar’s Number.”

A team of scientist led by Bruno Goncalves from Indiana University decided to put Dunbar’s Number to the test by analyzing the Twitter activity of 1.7 million individuals. They found that Twitter users’ relationships topped out in the range predicted by Dunbar: 100 to 200 maximum.

While new users start out with a few active friends, as identified by frequent and regular exchanges, the number of these relationships grows over time. Then, even for the most active users, their social bandwidth plateaus – and they simply can’t keep building active, sustainable relationships.

The correlation of social network friend limits to Dunbar’s prediction for in-person relationships suggests that he was on the right track in suggesting that there is a neurological constraint at work.

So, don’t be impressed by people with many thousands of Twitter friends and focus on quality over quantity; chances are, their real friend count is well below Dunbar’s limit. (I include my own Twitter numbers in that caution!)

Full paper –

Original source:


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