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Facebook Friends by the Number

Last night, in a dinner out with friends, we had a conversation that I was still mulling over this morning, which was not really how you decide whether or not to friend people on Facebook, but how many.

One woman was nearing 100 friends and she thought 60 was her upper limit.  She wanted her online experience to be a conversation with people she would talk to on a regular basis offline, yet because people use Facebook for different reasons, she had been friended by people who wouldn’t really fit that description over the years and now it became a dilemma of how to keep Facebook filled with only actual friends in a world that also uses Facebook to network.

I could relate — when Josh and I were getting married, I told him I didn’t want more than 114 people there because that was how many students I had in the middle school and I knew that was my upper limit of how many people I could briefly connect with over a multi-hour period.  I didn’t want anyone in the room that didn’t know me fairly well (in other words, the friends that our parents invited had to be people who also knew us).

Yet my Facebook friend list is certainly more than 114.

Once she said it, I was like, “oooh, that is such an interesting concept” because I had never considered putting a cap (at least mentally) on my Facebook friend count.  My number is sort of organic and it will grow to whatever size fits the guideline I use to accept or request a friend.  I don’t look at my interactions there as something special like my wedding — frankly, I’m not on it enough to groom it that well — but more like a boisterous Oscar awards party where you want people close to you there, but you’re also happy to have old friends crawl out of the woodwork and new people connect with you (not that I’ve ever won an Oscar, but this is how I imagine the actresses party that night, a night which is a special party, but not as special as their wedding.  I’m also assuming that wedding would trump Oscar win).

And then there is a third route I’ve seen people take where they admit aloud that they want to grow their friend list.  I once had a friend who asked me to connect them to more people so they could friend them and tack on another 30 people to their “friend” count.  The reason they are on Facebook is for networking, and it made sense because they wanted a fan page vs. a personal page and you need 5000 “friends” in order to have a fan page.

Or even less direct than that, people who would like their friend list to grow because in their experience, more is better.  It’s sort of like the wedding idea — some people want an intimate wedding where they know everyone well in the room and the people there are not just their friends, they are their close friends.  But it can be equally fun to go to a 300+ person wedding where everyone is joyously celebrating the couple.  Sort of like this guy’s experience, which was to turn his Facebook account into what amounted to a giant party that he could jump in and out of, snatching bits of conversation.  It became a well of creativity he could rummage around in, examining society.  Which sort of sounds cool too.

So, for someone who has never thought about her Facebook number, it was interesting that I could relate with either end of the spectrum — understanding the smaller number as well as the larger number — but since I thought both directions made sense, ended up still here at my organic number of whatever.

What is your sweet spot with Facebook friends?  Would you prefer to keep your list small?  Are you fine or even happier as the party grows louder as the list grows longer?  Or have you never considered it and whatever will be will be based on your criteria for accepting or making a friend request?


1 Barb { 10.24.10 at 11:23 am }

I prefer to keep mine small and am VERY much like your friend. I find myself wanting to prune my fb numbers, but don’t want to offend. I genuinely like 99% of the people on my list and want to know how they’re doing, but since I’m so far from my closest friends and family, I want to use FB as a way to keep up in their daily lives and have daily conversation with them whereas I wouldn’t otherwise. Due to time constraints etc, it’s very hard to use it for that purpose with so many on the list. If I had my druthers, I’d prune it down to my closest IF friends (most of whom are on there already), any of my family, only my VERY closest friends here in FL and my good friends who live elsewhere. But it’s hard.

2 Tigger { 10.24.10 at 11:29 am }

I prefer a smaller list, but I don’t really keep track. My close friends and family are on my list, a few people that I used to be close with when I was active on the webmd boards oh-so-many years ago are there, some friends that are not-so-close are there as well…and then is a group that serves only one purpose: They invited me because of one application or another. They have fairly limited access to my page and friends, and should they not be active participators in those applications, I have no problem removing them. Even those people, though, don’t always get accepted. I get random requests for friends simply because I comment on an applications post – and that I don’t like. The people who have invited me who get accepted are usually ones that are “friends” with one of my ACTUAL friends.

3 loribeth { 10.24.10 at 11:44 am }

Interesting. I have no limit or ideal number in mind. I’m at a little over 90 at the moment. I don’t send out a lot of friend requests myself. I feel kind of shy about asking most people. But so far, I have only ignored one request that I’ve received. The bulk of my FB friends are relatives of either mine or dh, & I’ll admit I’ve enjoyed being able to keep in better touch with them this way. I have a fair-sized group of FB friends I’ve made through our IRL pg loss support group, a couple of high school & university friends, & some online friends from the loss, infertility & scrapbooking worlds.

I do think that some people just like to “collect” friends — not sure if it’s a status thing or they need more people to rope into playing their Farmville games or what. (I rather suspect that’s why one of my cousins, who posts very little but plays every game FB has going, has more than 1700 friends. I’ve had to block most of of her game-related posts.) I’ve had friend requests from some of dh’s cousins’ kids who are 12,13 & 8 (!) — I really don’t have much to do with them, and I can’t imagine they are that interested in what I am doing (& I am really not interested in the 30 new “likes” I get every day — no joking — from the 13-year-old girl) — but am I going to say no to them? And if I accept a friend request from one of dh’s cousins, I can’t very well refuse another cousin, can I?

I would probably start drawing the line if I started getting friend requests from people I knew in high school but haven’t given much thought to since leaving. I’ve run across a few of them on FB because they’re friends of friends. I’ll admit I’m mildly curious about what they look like now & what they’ve been up to & how many kids they have, etc. — but not enough to give them access to my own thoughts & photos on an ongoing basis. (Which is why I don’t have my high school listed on my FB profile.)

4 Melissa G { 10.24.10 at 12:03 pm }

I’ve never considered restricting the amount of friends I’ll have on FB, but I am certainly methodical about who I accept as a friend. Quality over quantity, is paramount in my heart.

This might sound harsh, but I’m very deliberate about the people I keep in my life, odds are if we haven’t talked in ten years – there’s a reason for it.

5 mrs spock { 10.24.10 at 12:13 pm }

I think I have a little over 160 in there, including some fellow bloggers like yourself. many of those FB friends don’t update frequently, but I do enjoy keeping up with the folks who do, especially since I’ve disappeared from the blog world a bit. I think I’m at my sweet spot right now, with a small amount of wiggle room for a few new friends.

6 HereWeGoAJen { 10.24.10 at 12:35 pm }

Well, I accept friends, but rarely ask anyone else to be my friend. (I think I am too afraid of rejection.) So I’ve got 60 right now and I had to check when you asked. I tried to keep it really low for a while, but then I ignored a request from a friend of the family that I used to babysit her kids and hadn’t seen or spoken to in like ten years. And she sees my sister all the time and complained to my sister about it. So now I accept whomever. But I do use the Hide feature for people that I don’t care about the status updates of. So my actual Facebook stream or whatever you call it is very manageable. I can scroll down it and see updates from everyone usually without having to click to make the page larger, even if I haven’t looked at it all day.

7 nh { 10.24.10 at 12:45 pm }

I supposed I keep my facebook friend number small, I know people who have over 600 friends, and my question is if you have 600 friends, how do you connect with them all. But you are right – people use facebook in different ways, and therefore maybe I should consider adding more friends.

8 Quiet Dreams { 10.24.10 at 2:13 pm }

Another option with FB, for those who want to have a more intimate experience, is to be “friends” with people, but limit who you have in your feed or to whom you give your updates. Not everyone gets every update of mine; some get none. I also have “hidden” a number of people from my feed (mostly when they annoy me, but you could also do this to limit your interactions to more intimate ones).

9 mash { 10.24.10 at 2:50 pm }

Hmmm good question. I never say no to a facebook friendship if I have met the person, because I feel rude doing that. I refuse to be friends with people I haven’t met. I have to say though, there are many people “hidden” on my facebook. I’m not interested in what party my friend’s teenage daughter was at (and OMG do kids have a different language now, does anyone actually UNDERSTAND those updates?). I have absolutely no interaction with any applications on facebook. My main goal is to see what my friends are up to, and see their photos. It’s kind of like reading the news. In the beginning I LOVED catching up with people I hadn’t seen for years, and have rekindled some very special friendships across the globe as a result!

10 Carlita { 10.24.10 at 3:36 pm }

I must be very old-fashioned. I’m afraid I just can’t take Facebook that seriously. It is a useful tool to find people and it’s nice to be able to share snippets of life with others but I see it more as a kind of reservoir of contacts. Anything more than that, say friendship for example, deserves actual dialogue in my book and, call me crazy, but maybe even some face to face contact. From this perspective, the number or quality of my “friends” doesn’t really matter much.

11 aisha { 10.24.10 at 5:06 pm }

Interesting- I friend requested you actually- I know we’re not “friends” but I guess reading your blog, and following your twitter, and communicating here and there via e-mail made me think it was okay. My standard was someone I’d feel comfortable reading my page- it could be a virtual connection or a real connection but it had to be a connection.

Its all a moot point currently since I deactivated my account to focus more on other things but interesting conversation!

12 Angie { 10.24.10 at 7:52 pm }

I actually really like Facebook because it is like the intersection of all my lives and worlds. I never thought to think about my friend count. I mean, I notice when I post about Lucy or her death, I lose friends. And that just stings. Always. But I also think I have learned so much from small talk of Facebook about etiquette and what people appreciate, and I know that when I am low and go to Facebook, someone is always there with a kind word, even if it is someone I haven’t talked to in twenty years. It makes me feel okay about humanity that people offer compassion in a place that can be at its best a little shallow. Right after Lucy died, I found Facebook really hard precisely because of its shallowness, and the strangeness of interaction. Everything about me was heavy and here was this light place, and yet, the people that offered support there, said they were sorry, kept checking in with me here and there, remembering with me. I don’t know. I use it for everything–keeping in touch, networking, lightness and collaborative work. I just don’t really think about my friend count.

13 Toni { 10.24.10 at 8:24 pm }

I’ve always approached it as you have, which is I make the decision based on the requests I’ve received and whom I’d like to friend. I never thought about it this way.

I do not hang out on Facebook enough to really gain something by having hundreds and (apparently) thousands of friends, so I guess less is better for me. I did have one very interesting experience the other day, which is related to this discussion. I met someone in person for the first time whom I was already Facebook friends with. I accepted his friendship because I thought it was someone else; he found me through the page of another friend. It was really odd. So I’d say that I’d like to keep my number low and only to people I actually know; it doesn’t have to be really well or currently, just someone I’ve actually met, cause that was kind of awkward.

14 Heather { 10.24.10 at 8:39 pm }

See, I grew up in this super tiny town where everyone knows everybody—and their business.
So, my facebook list is kind of large…but most of the people are related…I have my best friend, her mom, her grandma, her dad, her sisters and brothers, their wives and husbands, the cousins…

It’s weird. But I’m Ok with it–mostly.

15 Orodemniades { 10.24.10 at 9:35 pm }

Between Mr Oro and myself, we have 86 friends. Including TwoFortyTwotheSheep. And a couple of local stores. And Barack Obama. And The Onion.

Maybe I shouldn’t even bother answering this question…?

16 alison { 10.24.10 at 10:15 pm }

My rule is that I only keep my fb friends to people I would actually speak to (and not duck and cover) if we ran into each other in the mall (or some other public place). There’s some rannnndom people from my past that sort of came out of the wordwork after B was born, and that really annoyed me. So I have 300ish friends, and would gladly carry on a conversation with any of them.

17 debbie { 10.24.10 at 10:25 pm }

I was so certain that your post was going to post about this. hmmm.

18 a { 10.24.10 at 10:44 pm }

I don’t take FB very seriously. I’m not a very social person – but I have met a lot of people in my life, and I always wondered what happened to them once we’d gone our separate ways. So I have 156 friends – most of whom I don’t speak to regularly. But as someone who loves to live vicariously through others, FB was created for me! I can see what people are up to – how they spend their time, what they find interesting. You don’t get that much info from me, but you can probably pick up some info through my comments, the links I share, etc. Also, I love Bejewelled Blitz and I love kicking my sisters’ asses at it. It’s the place where I get to exercise that tiny little kernel of evil that resides inside me – beating my sisters at a meaningless game…

19 Justine { 10.24.10 at 10:49 pm }

Interesting. I’ve been using Facebook “professionally” for longer than most people my age have been on it, because I started using it to chase down my wayward college students … and that’s where I’d find them. Later, my worlds began to intersect there, as more colleagues joined, and more Real Life friends. My “friend” list now numbers in the 900s, but I’m careful about what I post, and when I post things that are *really* for friends, I make sure to change that setting on the status. I find that my news feed tells me about my friends and my students, but that my “most recent” tells me more about students, where “top news” tells me more about my friends. So it’s seemed to work itself out, and it’s been a useful way for me to network, when I’m not naturally very good at it. 🙂

20 Grace { 10.24.10 at 11:55 pm }

oh, goodness…my fb friend list is getting out of control…my number hovers somewhere over 600 and it’s too overwhelming to keep up with so i’ve actually been a lot less active lately. but i’d feel badly de-friending people, too! it’s just a lose-lose!

21 meggo { 10.25.10 at 12:41 am }

My FB friends list has never been about numbers, nor do I give it a single purpose. Much of my friends list is comprised of childhood and high school peers; and old, but distant, friends— I don’t talk to them much, if at all (except to say “Happy Birthday” when FB says it’s time). But FB keeps us connected, in the same way that passing each other in the hallway or sitting behind them in Sociology once did. In a delightful way, it makes my high school reunions unnecessary. FB has opened up doors for me to connect with a few peers as adults, in a way that was not possible as teens— we bounced around in different circles then, but now we find ourselves sharing the same interests. While I have this everlasting latent reunion going on with 90% of my friends list, I have regular conversations and keep updates with the remaining 10%, my close friends and family. I generally accept anyone I once knew or shared an experience with, as long as they left at least a neutral with me, and I feel I can trust them with my information.

I also don’t think too hard on friending and de-friending people. I don’t see FB as an extension or expression of my offline relationships. It’s merely a tool, like the telephone or email. Someone would have to REALLY cross the line for me to “de-friend” them; it hasn’t happened yet. I don’t take offense when I realize I’m no longer a friend of Suzie-Q… there could be many reasons why that “relationship” ended, so I don’t think hard on it. With close friends and family, it is a little more sensitive, but still… if we have a good relationship outside of FB, then it shouldn’t matter what happens with us on FB. The “ignore” feature is a beautiful thing.

22 Mic @ IF Crossroads { 10.25.10 at 6:22 am }

I’ve begun to control the amount of information I share on FB. For example, I will accept friend requests from random high school/college friends but I won’t allow those people to see what I write on a daily basis. Using the security controls, unless you are in my allowed network, you won’t be able to see my status updates, pictures, wall, etc. I like it that way. Yes, people have gotten offended (because some of the people that aren’t allowed to see my wall include distant cousins that I haven’t spoken to in 10 (+) years) but it’s my life. But as far as how many friends, really, to me, the number is irrelevant. I can’t “deny” people like my boss who send me a request, so I am forced to accept. But I don’t really count my boss as a friend. Hell, I’ve had people whom I’m interviewing with send me a friend request. I *wish* I could deny those.

23 Carrie { 10.25.10 at 7:18 am }

I only accept friend requests from people that I know, but I have also created a special “list” of ones I actually read. Initially I did this because it was taking me way too long to get through my friends’ status updates but I didn’t want to delete anyone because it wasn’t like I was mad at them or anything. So I narrowed down my reading and “cut” those who I know and who I am friendly with, but we just aren’t close, never talk much and/or don’t have the same views on things. For example, one girl I went to high school with but we have vastly different political views, which is all she seems to ever post about. Therefore, I didn’t include her in my “everyday” reading list. There’s another one that ONLY posts random quotes that I don’t care to read everyday. (Usually they are all cryptic and not very inspirational to me anyway. He also tends to post song lyrics all the time, which I find annoying.)

So I have the list that I check daily and then the rest of them I check randomly when I’m bored or thinking about someone in particular and want to see what’s going on with them.

Sounds stalkerish when put that way. 🙂

(To do the list, click on account > edit friends. Click on the “create list” button, name your list and then start picking people. The list will appear in the left column of your page – but you have to click on “friends” first. It’ll show up under “recently updated” and “status updates.”)

24 Terry Elisabeth { 10.25.10 at 7:20 am }

Hm. I kind of keep my friends list at 130 and less.
I only accept people I know or have known. And I only want some people at my “wedding” (only 20 or less FB friends make that list) so most of my friends list is what would be acceptable for “Oscar” night which means they are on my limited profile list. They don’t see everyhting I post, do or write.

25 Jenn { 10.25.10 at 8:52 am }

I never thought about that before! I have no limit, I just add people as I find them (or they find me) Most of my friends on FB I know in person, friends, family and co-workers. But I also have about 20 girls from one of my message forums and I like to be able to see what they’re doing in their personal lives.

26 TheIdleMindOfBeth { 10.25.10 at 10:22 am }

I keep my facebook account pretty private -mostly close friends and family – for 2 reasons. 1) I’m a little paranoid, and 2) Grumpy is on the road to becoming a cop, and the idea that people he interacts with while on the job could search us out thru FB and find details of our daily life just creeps me out. BUT, not enough to dump FB entirely, as I’ve grown some connections that I know wouldn’t happen wihtout it.

27 Kristen { 10.25.10 at 10:33 am }

I don’t have a set maximum number. I accept friends or send requests based on who I feel comfortable sharing some of our personal lives with online. Mostly its people I know IRL, though I am friends w/some people from my adoption yahoo group who I’ve only met in person once or twice at adoption agecny events.

28 Ashley { 10.25.10 at 10:44 am }

I haven’t really considered it. I do only accept friend requests from those I want to hear about and i have gone through on a couple of occasions and deleted a few. I don’t use it to manage my strong real life relationships and only look in now and then. I guess fewer friends on fb makes it easier to see the updates that you really care about.

29 sharah { 10.25.10 at 12:56 pm }

A random bit of info I picked up somewhere years ago was that most people only have the mental capacity to maintain 200 relationships at once. I always think of that on fb when I see other people’s friend counts. If I added up my fb friends, my real life relationships, and my bloggy friends, I’m guessing I would be right at that 200 number (or less, as those groups overlap somewhat.)

30 Chickenpig { 10.25.10 at 1:04 pm }

For a person to be my Facebook friend it has to be someone I know and like personally. I have had so many requests from people I don’t even know that it scares me. If I know a thousand people well enough to call my friends than they can all be my FB friends, but they have to be actual friends or relatives. (I don’t think I know even 114 people well enough to call my friends. It was the same thing at my wedding. We invited all our family and close friends and we still had only 70 something people there. I tend to be more about quality than quantity. I would be thrilled to be your FB friend, though. 🙂

31 Jessica { 10.25.10 at 1:36 pm }

I have always just accepted people that I knew – whether it be I went to school with them, worked with them, etc. I will pretty much NEVER accept someone as a friend if I have no idea who they are. So I have never really paid attention to “how many” friends I have until more recently. When I started speaking about my miscarriages on facebook – mainly through my networked blog – I began to think more consciously about who my “friends” were. Every now and then I “edit” to make sure no one is around to leave horrible comments or offend me – obviously those people are NOT my real friends. It’s crazy really to have to put so much thought in it – but thus is life…

32 Keiko { 10.25.10 at 2:01 pm }

Your post prompted me to do a much needed friend audit, so thank you for the reminder. Also, not sure if anyone sent this to you or not, but did you see his article in Sunday’s WaPo? Found it fitting: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/24/AR2010102402642.html?hpid=topnews

33 Kristin { 10.25.10 at 3:44 pm }

You know, I honestly never really set a limit on it or even thought about a limit.

34 Bea { 10.25.10 at 6:28 pm }

“Whatever” since I can’t seem to get the hang of using it at any number. Well, I say that – I guess what I mean is I use it a little like a phone book. You can look me up and I can look you up but I don’t exactly call everyone all the time. Therefore it doesn’t intimidate me to have way more happening on my feed than I can possibly keep up with. (I did start off trying to keep up but my failure point on that front came ridiculously early so I would have to restrict it to about 7 friends and that seemed kind of pointlessly low, so I switched philosophy.)


35 WiseGuy { 10.27.10 at 9:55 am }

I have never really had any cut-off figure for how many ‘friends’ I want to have on FB. If the truth be told, I took to FB only after I became verrry interested in Farmville.

I do (though) have a criteria as to who I accept on the list.

I have accounts on both Orkut as well as Facebook and I tend to get a lot of requests from my students. I would accept a student on Orkut and deny the request on Facebook.

The latter’s composition is mostly IRL friends, ex-classmates, family, bloggy peeps, chatmates of a disbanded chat room (X-files) and about four students (two are ex-students). It allows me the comfort of saying what I want to and segregates my audience pretty well.

36 Cherish { 11.05.10 at 2:02 pm }

I hadn’t thought about numbers. I base my friends list on what keeps me happy/stable. If someone I don’t really interact with and just knew at some point in time posts their pregnancy, I will very likely unfriend them to keep myself emotionally okay. I will occasionally accept friend requests from someone I barely know, but put them in a ‘strangers’ limited access list. I occasionally clean house of people that I’m not interacting with, don’t care about their lives, and they are hurting me in some way (constant meaningless posts, rude, offensive posts, etc.).

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