Friends of Friends

I’ve been thinking about social networks today, and how they grow. In particular, I’ve noticed that sometimes when I “make” a new friend on Facebook, I comb over their friend list to see if there’s anyone on it that I should try to friend.

And so, I’ve been trying to coin a term for this (maybe someone already has — probably someone already has). The first candidates I considered were friend-poaching, friend-lifting (via shoplifting), and friend-pilfering (to steal in small quantities).

A focus on going through the friend lists (rather than the act of making the friend request) might be called friend-prospecting (I like the triple entendre here — one of looking for precious minerals, the other of a salesperson sending out feelers, “looking for prospects,” and lastly, the image of scanning the horizon (of your network)); related would be “friend-foraging.”

I rejected words like pillage or appropriate because you don’t remove them (friend as non-zero-sum phenom). That imagery pushed me to think about friend-piracy, friend-cribbing, and friend-plagiarizing. Friend-sponging has the attraction by analogy to friends using friends. Friend-riding as a variation on free-riding captures something essential, especially among those who ONLY get their friends this way (thereby contributing little to other folks’ ability to do the same*).

I’m working on a simulation that analyzes how network structures change if this is the dominant mode of growth. Stay tuned for an online applet illustrating this.

Any ideas? Any of these strike you as closer to the mark to describe what you are doing when you scan friends’ friend lists? Or what you think about others doing this to yours? Or friends who are only connected this way (“you didn’t think of me yourself! you just saw me on X’s list!”)?

Thanks in advance for your thoughts. If you are interested, I also just started the “virtual focus group” blog as an experiment in collecting data on things like this.

*Important from network analysis point of view, though, is that this would not be completely true since if I forage among the friend lists of multiple friends, everyone I manage to snag becomes available to all of my friends.

Author: Dan Ryan

I'm currently an Academic Program Director at I've been a professor at University of Toronto, University of Southern California, and Mills College teaching things like human centered design, computational thinking, modeling for policy sciences, and social theory. I'm driven by the desire to figure out how to teach twice as many twice as well twice as easily.

3 thoughts on “Friends of Friends”

  1. “Any of these strike you as closer to the mark to describe what you are doing when you scan friends’ friend lists?”

    How about friendscanning? seems you gave the best answer in the question itself.

  2. i like the friend-prospecting because of the resaons you stated and in actuality that is what you are doing–mining for friends.

  3. I like friend-prospecting, though I think “friend” may not be the best term. One of my top pet peeves is turning nouns into verbs, which has happend with “friending” people. Since I can't really say they are actual friends, I typically refer to Facebook friends as “friendeds.”

    Have you read William Deresiewicz' article “Faux Friendship”? I've also written some about the Facebook friended phenomenoa myself:

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: