More friends, more interactions? The association between network size and interactions on Facebook

  • Joanna C. Yau University of California, Irvine
  • Stephanie M. Reich University of California, Irvine
  • Yiran Wang University of California, Irvine
  • Melissa Niiya University of California, Irvine
  • Gloria Mark University of California, Irvine
Keywords: Facebook, social networking sites, network size


With social networking sites (SNS) such as Facebook, individuals have immediate access to hundreds of people from different aspects of their lives. On one hand, this may increase the number of people that individuals can interact with directly because communication now requires less effort. On the other hand, individuals may still only interact with a small portion of their networks because humans have limited time and resources. Mayhew and Levinger (1976) proposed that because of time and resource constraints, individuals in larger networks spend, on average, less time with each contact. Thus, while people may have opportunities through Facebook to interact with more people, they may not actually do so. Using logging software, we explored the percentage of their Facebook network that individuals sent direct messages to and whether individuals with larger networks sent direct messages to a smaller percentage of their networks. We found that in line with Mayhew and Levinger’s claim, users messaged a very small percentage of their networks (less than two percent) and that users with larger friend networks sent messages to a smaller percentage of their friend networks. This suggests that while Facebook may enable users to connect with more people than ever before, there are still limits to the number of ties with whom individuals actively interact.

Author Biographies

Joanna C. Yau, University of California, Irvine

Doctoral candidate in education at the University of California, Irvine.  Her interdisciplinary research uses techniques from psychology, education, and human-computer interaction to understand the effects of technology and media on interpersonal relationships, well-being, and learning.

Stephanie M. Reich, University of California, Irvine

Associate Professor of Education, Informatics, and Psychology and Social Behavior at the University of California, Irvine. Reich’s research explores direct and indirect influences on children’s health, education, and well-being, specifically through the family, online, and school environments.

Yiran Wang, University of California, Irvine

Wang’s research interests are in human computer interaction (HCI) and social computing and she studies the use and effects of social media in college life. Currently, she conducts user experience research at Google.

Melissa Niiya, University of California, Irvine

Niiya earned an MA in Education from UC Irvine and a BFA in Writing for Screen and Television from the University of Southern California. She works at Portland Public Schools, where she supports data-driven policy-making. Her research interests include technology in literacy education, using digital technologies to close opportunity gaps, and using data to promote equitable decision-making.

Gloria Mark, University of California, Irvine

Professor in the Department of Informatics, University of California, Irvine. Mark’s research focuses on studying how the use of digital technology impacts our lives in real-world contexts. Her current projects include precision tracking of people’s digital media use: how it affects mulittasking, focus of attention, interruptions, mood, and stress. She uses sensors and other mixed methods to study this. She received her Ph.D. in psychology from Columbia University. Prior to UCI she worked at the German National Research Center for Information Technology (GMD, now Fraunhofer Institute) and has been a visiting researcher at Microsoft Research, IBM, and National University of Singapore. She is a research affiliate at The MIT Media Lab. She has published in top conferences and journals in the fields of human-computer interaction (HCI) and computer-supported cooperative work. She is the general chair for the ACM CHI 2017 conference, and is on the editorial board of the ACM TOCHI and Human-Computer Interaction journals. Her work has appeared in the popular press such as the New York Times, Atlantic, BBC, NPR, Time, and the Wall Street Journal and she has presented her work at SXSW and the Aspen Ideas Festival.

How to Cite
Yau, J. C., Reich, S. M., Wang, Y., Niiya, M., & Mark, G. (2018). More friends, more interactions? The association between network size and interactions on Facebook. First Monday, 23(5).