Facebook Chat Definies Friendship? I Don’t Think So.

February 27, 2009 at 3:22 pm 4 comments

facebook-chat-with-brian-copyThe idea of measuring an individual’s social network contacts and communication by a standard other than gross number of friends/contacts/connections (depending on the platform) intrigues me.  Via ReadWriteWeb I learned about this Economist report applying anthropologist Dr. Robin Dunbar’s theory of network growth to Facebook’s platform.  Excerpt from ReadWriteWeb:

How many friends can you really have on Facebook? According to Cameron Marlow, Facebook’s “in-house sociologist,” that number is four if you are male and six if you are female. As theEconomist reports this morning, Marlow’s research indicates that the average Facebook user has a network of about 120 friends, but only has two-way conversations with a very small subset of these ‘friends.’ Interestingly, even for those users who have a far larger number of friends (500+), those numbers barely grow (ten for men and sixteen for women).

Those numbers cited above are for friends that users actually email or chat with. When it comes to more casual one-way interactions like leaving comments on photos, status updates, or writing on somebody’s wall, those numbers increase slightly and the average male would then have seven friends on Facebook and the average female about ten.

As I also commented on ReadWriteWeb’s post, this is interesting information in application, and I would like to see this broken down by age demographic. I would venture to guess these numbers are much higher for younger verses older Facebook users.  I consider the high number of daily Facebook interactions I have, as compared to my mother who might have one every two weeks (We’re working on that! She’s requested on my next trip home I teach her to “Facebook better”).

As an early Facebook adopter and avid user, I think there’s also a layer missing here.  In regards to my closer friends, I definitely look at their content, and might make what this report considers “casual” contact (ex: commenting on their wall, photos or posted items), but for our significant communication I go to other mediums — either gmail, gchat, AIM, phone or text.

I communicate with people on Facebook chat or message because they are part of my less intimate network, and I generally don’t have other contact information for them that I use regularly (meaning that I probably wouldn’t text them on the phone number I got off their Facebook profile, or email them at the address their profile provides).  There are of course exceptions, but this is my general rule of thumb.  Honestly, I often turn off Facebook chat because it’s an inferior messaging service and anyone I really need to talk to has other, multiple means of contacting me.

So from my experience, the Facebook friends that I value the most, have the most personal communication with and who’s Facebook content I look at first, I rarely, if ever, communicate with in the manner this report uses to determine “friendship.”

(Thanks to OneSeventeen team member and Conversion Scientist, Brian Massey, for his help with the graphic!)

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Entry filed under: Great Blogs, News, Relationships, Research, Social Media, Social Networks. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

Online Time Critical In Teen Development Kids Find Balance Between Online and Offline Life

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Drew C.  |  February 27, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    Great article, Amy. I couldn’t agree more with your commentary and ReadWriteWeb’s post.

    I also find it interesting that the younger you are the more likely you are to add me as a friend after the first interaction we’ve had in person. Is this a way of younger people telling me they want to be better friends or adding to their “friend total?”

    • 2. Amy Strecker  |  February 27, 2009 at 11:44 pm

      Thanks for your thoughts Drew! I definitely think you’re on to something about the eagerness for younger people to friend brief contacts vs. people they’re actually friends with. I thought about this a bit in the last week because I friended a few people I met just last weekend. For me, it wasn’t because I want more Facebook friends, but because I genuinely liked these people, and if I had the occasion to see them again I would (they live in a different state). So if I friend them right after meeting them it’s not a big deal and we’ll keep up with each other some. However, if I were to friend them in a year from now when I might be heading to their part of the country, that would be kinda weird. It makes me wonder if there’s almost been a switch? It’s now stranger to friend someone a good while after meeting them vs. right away?

  • […] to two stories I’ve posted about in the last week:  social networking making us dumber and measuring friends on Facebook.  She’s right on too. “The bigger issue is that performed network ties […]

  • 4. Amy Strecker  |  March 11, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    This post makes much more sense out of the question posed by the Economist.



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