May 10, 2013

Facebook: A Book of Unrecognizable Names?

(Artwork courtesy of Vladimir Milovanovic)

Most of us have somewhere between 300 and 3000 Facebook friends.

Few of whom we talk to regularly, but most however, we do not talk to at all. We don’t post updates or comments on their walls, we don’t tag them in photos and we don’t heed any attention to their statuses.

For the most part, the Facebook ‘Friend’ concept is quite ironic: we’re disconnected from the majority of those Facebook connections, we don’t share any intimate or personal details with those people and we probably forgot many of those peoples’ faces, where we met them and why we added them to begin with.

Here’s a bit of an experiment for all of you, which will segue into my own findings below. I want you to go to your friends’ list and scroll through the first 25-50 connections and try putting a name to the photo you see (without looking at the name) or try putting a face to the name you see (without looking at the photo). See how many connections you are actually able to identify via name or face…

In addition to asking you, my fellow readers to partake in this experiment, I also set up a survey on my Campaign ”GenerationYNot?” members page, to collect data from other connections.

With 13 volunteers’ feedback, it was thus deduced that the majority–almost 60 percent–had over 500 Facebook contacts, while only two people had under 200. Out of those 13 people, it was then established that again, 60 percent perceived only five to 15 percent of their Facebook contacts to be their closest/primary contacts, while almost 70 percent of their Facebook contacts were from high school and their college/university.

This small-scale survey made me think about my off-screen friendships and Facebook connections, the two—while often overlapping—are mostly entirely separate entities. This dichotomy sprouted an idea—a larger-scale, two-fold experiment if you will.

Facebook Friends: On and Off-Screen (Visual graph courtesy of Vladimir Milovanovic)

First part: The ‘’Face-to-a-name Facebook Friend Identity Test’’

I began by extracting only the names (no photos) of every Facebook connection and then, proceeded to sift through every name to see if I could mentally attach a faces to each of them. Just like the majority of my 13 surveyors, I also have 500+ Facebook contacts (945 to be exact) out of which, I was able to identify 588 (approximately 60 percent) via name. The remaining 357 (about 40 percent) I could not recognize via name.

Second part: The ‘’Facebook Friend Filter Test’’

I then broke the list of 588 identifiable contacts down into two specific categories to further assess my relationships with those contacts: 1) ‘’How I Met My Facebook Friends’’ and 2) ‘’How I Talk to My Facebook Friends.’’

The first category establishes where I have met each of my identifiable contacts. The outlets include ‘Work (and Internships) ‘Travels’ (i.e. academic and personal, domestic and abroad), ‘Through Friends’ (i.e. second degree friends, through others’ introductions), ‘Relatives,’ ‘Other’ (i.e. neighbors, family friends and relatives’ friends, community members), ‘High School’ and ‘College’ ( and Universities).

Similar to the results of my 13 peers, my results showed that the majority–more than two-thirds–of my identifiable contacts were from my college/university, followed largely by high school contacts and trips/travels acquaintances.

The second category establishes the level of interaction with those identifiable contacts. This category is thus divided into three sections: ‘On&Off FB’ (in addition to Facebook, communication via e-mail, text messaging, phone calls, Skype and in-person), ‘FB Only’ (those I communicate with solely via Facebook: status updates and comments, photo sharing, ‘likes,’ private messaging) and ‘Neither’ (interaction is little to non-existent; and no off-screen contact).

Results showed that there is deeper and more consistent interaction with only about nine percent of my contacts (within the ‘On&Off FB’ category). This result would subsequently, reflect the opinions of my 13 surveyors, where the majority perceived less than 15 percent of their Facebook contacts to be their closest/primary friends. Communication with the majority (71 percent) of my identifiable contacts however lies within the ‘’Neither’’ category.

Social media has unequivocally, changed the way we network and communicate with friends, family, colleagues and co-workers around the world.

It has also inevitably, blurred the line between friend and friendly, or family and familiar. And as my results have shown, only about nine percent of my identifiable contacts are those I consider my primary contacts and closest friends, both on Facebook and off-screen. So, what happens to the other 91 percent of recognizable contacts, with whom I occasionally or never speak? What about those 357 contacts whom I could not recognize by name?

All of us use Facebook and many of us have 500+ friends, but can we really put a face to each of those friends, or are they simply, lost in a book of names?


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Ed: Kate Bartolotta


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