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.