Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

I use MSN Instant Messenger, AIM, Yahoo, ICQ and Jabber and generally tried to keep groups of friends distributed across the different networks so that I wouldn't run into the buddy list limit. Today I hit my AIM buddy list limit. I think the limit is 150. For some reason, people aren't supposed to have more than 150 friends. Now, every time I want to add a friend on AIM, I have to delete someone else. I guess this might be good discipline, but I think this is a stupid feature/bug.


So stupid! My gosh - I hit the limit myself. Why would you ever want to have a limit? Is it technology, I wonder, or social engineering - maybe they're gearing up for a premium service?

I suspect it's probably an issue with the amount of traffic the AIM network can handle. Maybe it's time to move to another network! Or use something besides iChat. Hurm.

(I submitted a complaint to AOL customer service about this two weeks ago).

Perhaps the 150 friends limit is to prevent mass broadcasts of spam. If that is the case, it's merely a speed bump because spammers could always establish multiple fake accounts.

I keep bumping up against the limit and having to delete people I don't talk to as much. On trillian, the limit is somewhere around 250 or something, and even that's a limit.

The biggest scaling issue w/ IMs is presence. There's more traffic on the network telling people this and that guy went on and offline, then actually conversations. Thus, you should now understand why the limit and that 150 is a lot. And by the way, MSN's limit is 150 also.

150, as in the number Dunbar says works for a tribe? You just need to tell AOL that your neocortex is substantially larger than average, and you can handle a bigger tribe.

Maybe the developers don't have a lot of friends.

Maybe the definition of "friend" needs an overhaul.

Can you not open more than one AIM/ICQ account and use them simultaneously? If you're using something like Proteus (which you should be!) then I think the experience of using several accounts together will be seemless.

danah boyd's been grumbling about this for months (as have plenty of others, but danah's comments tend to be about the best). Have a look here , and at other comments on the topic every few weeks. As for the number 150, she says

"Next, take the number 150. I've heard over and over again how the average person only knows 150 people. This is referring to research done by Dunbar. He was interested in understanding how many people humans could "groom." In other words, how many people did a human keep in their social network at any one point in time. Dunbar was interested in how monkeys groomed each other to keep up their social network. What he found was that there was a similarity between monkey grooming and human gossip. Just as monkeys groomed to maintain their networks, humans gossiped to maintain theirs! He found that the MAXIMUM number of people that a person could keep up with socially at any given time, gossip maintenance, was 150. This doesn't mean that people don't have 150 people in their social network, but that they only keep tabs on 150 people max at any given point."

The maximum number of AOL Instant Messenger buddies is 200.

I'm pretty sure that the next Buddy List is going to be the next mobile telephone operating system.

With Trillian, and Gaim, and a few other clients, you can aggregate any number of AIM, Yahoo, MSN, IRC, Sametime, ICQ, etc. screennames simultaneously, and have them all in a single buddy list. Just grab a 2nd screenname and set them both up in the client.

150 buddies? Never alone behind your computer. I can understand why you need a retreat.

I use Fire... It's OpenSource, but for Mac OSX only... Unlimited buddies and every major IM service at once!

150? 200 sounds more like it. All I know is that I have 176 right now in AIM...

I have complained about buddy limits in different clients for years. It's so pointless. I wish AIM/MSN teams would listen to the users who make the software possible.

I've experienced a 200-name limit in AIM. In the latest versions of AOL's AIM client you can create additional accounts and then link them so they sign on and off together. But that doesn't quite work right because it doesn't merge the buddy lists. The client doesn't show them all at once.

I agree, especially considering that the limits are usually relatively low (such as 150 or 200). If you're gonna set a limit, at least make it logical, such as 1000 or something.

i have the same problem. one of my friends said you can use some other program, and have 2 buddy lists for one screenname, so the limit would be 400. i was wondering if anyone can give me instructions on how to do this.

Update- Today an AOL developer announced that AIM BuddyLists have been upgraded to allow 250 total buddies. Details at

Great news! Thanks Nick. But 250 is still not enough. ;-)

no thats not the limit i have 478 buddies on my buddy list...

i think i also saw something that said [over] 500 buddies
but im not sure cuz i wasnt really paying attention to that..

yeah for some reason i have maxed at 407, what an odd #, aim can blow me

I have 222 friends and im scared..

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Buddy List Limits and Friends from Shane Conder's Whateveritis of Nothing
August 13, 2004 1:30 AM

So, I was reading this post from Joi Ito, as well as all of the responses. I find the entire thing quite amusing. At first, I was thinking, "Sure, why bother with a limit at all. It's just a... Read More