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© 2015. We use data on frequencies of bi-directional posts to define edges (or relationships) in two Facebook datasets and a Twitter dataset and use these to create ego-centric social networks. We explore the internal structure of these networks to determine whether they have the same kind of layered structure as has been found in offline face-to-face networks (which have a distinctively scaled structure with successively inclusive layers at 5, 15, 50 and 150 alters). The two Facebook datasets are best described by a four-layer structure and the Twitter dataset by a five-layer structure. The absolute sizes of these layers and the mean frequencies of contact with alters within each layer match very closely the observed values from offline networks. In addition, all three datasets reveal the existence of an innermost network layer at ~1.5 alters. Our analyses thus confirm the existence of the layered structure of ego-centric social networks with a very much larger sample (in total, >185,000 egos) than those previously used to describe them, as well as identifying the existence of an additional network layer whose existence was only hypothesised in offline social networks. In addition, our analyses indicate that online communities have very similar structural characteristics to offline face-to-face networks.

Original publication




Journal article


Social Networks

Publication Date





39 - 47