Your Facebook friends have more friends than you

February 3, 2012

The average Facebook user has 245 friends. But the average friend on Facebook has 359 friends.

So says the latest study by the Pew Center’s Internet and American Life Project. But how could it be true that your friends, on average, are more popular than you?

It’s just the digital reflection of what’s known to sociologists as the “friendship paradox.” In 1991, sociologist Scott Feld found that, generally speaking, any person’s friends tend to be more popular than they are. The reason, he said, is fairly simple: people are more likely to be friends with someone who has more friends than someone who has fewer friends.

This is true on Facebook as well, the study found. A small number of people are isolated and don’t appear on many lists, but popular people show up again and again.

Another interesting result of the study finds that Facebook users tend to get more messages, friend requests, likes and photo tags than they give, pointing to the existence of a few Facebook “power-users” driving the site’s activity.

Keith Hampton, a professor at Rutgers University and the lead author of the report, said that power users make up around 20-30 percent of Facebook’s users, and that there are three specialties within these power users. Some users send a lot of friend requests, while others most frequently “like” posts and pictures. A third kind of power user tends to make a lot of photo tags.

The study also had some numbers that provided snapshots into how average Facebook users interacts with their networks.

On average, users tend to make seven new friends per month — three frienships they initiated and four they’ve accepted. Eighty percent of all friend requests initiated are accepted. For every status update any given user makes, they contribute about four comments or likes.

One thing to note ahead of the Timeline switch: Users can reach an average of 150,000 other people through friends of friends, but less than 5 percent of users hid content from another user on their Facebook feed.

With the new format, posts will hang around much longer, so that may be one habit that’s about to change.

Related stories:

Facebook warns investors more federal probes may come

Facebook’s Timeline has some vocal dissenters

Facebook IPO: How does Facebook make its money?

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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