Trawling the hundreds of fascinating comments on our Facebook Top Friends story which questioned who turns up there and why, we came across a comment that might just explain it.
I think someone has cracked it. Or at least, cracked the reason why randoms show up in there.
No-one is questioning why your good friends show up in that top ten - that's public interaction, like Facebook told us. But why does that guy you were friends with at university but haven't seen or Facebooked since, crop up in there?
Over to Mia:
I have the answer!
The majority of the people that appear on my list are those that i interacted on their profile and have recently been on line(usually 12 hours earlier).
Now some 3- 4 friends that constantly appear are those that at some point during the year i wrote on their wall (for example to say happy birthday) but they never replied and obviously don't log in anymore so facebook is trying to remind you to contact them again and maybe make them become more active.
It makes sense to me! Two other insights back it up.
1) Facebook does what it does because it wants to make money. It wouldn't simply introduce a feature that perplexed its users to no good end.
"to keep people interested so they can continue to make money - they will figure ways to keep us interested via having us interact with our favorite people. Why would they put random people up? It doesn't make sense to me. In the marketing world, they will do anything and everything to make a little extra cash.
2) Not all friends that are in that box have to have been selected by the same criteria. As Esther sagely pointed out:
"Has anyone considered that the friends list might have different functions?
x+y+z = 15
-X people you publicly interact with
-Y people you've gone through their entire photo album at least once
-Z people are completely random
just a thought."
So -pulling these three ideas together we can work this out: Facebook puts your good friends in that friend box so that when you go to your own profile, you see them and feel happier and are more likely to click on them and see what they're up to.
Facebook want to make money and that means getting as many of their members to spend as much time as possible on the network. If you see your good friends, you stay on there longer.
But say not all friends in that box are selected by the same criteria. Say 2/3 out of 10 might be there for different reasons to the other seven. These ones are the randomers - old friends you haven't facebooked for months or even years. Why are they there in your top friends box?
Well perhaps this isn't about Facebook trying to engage you. Perhaps this is about Facebook trying to engage them and using you as nice juicy bait. Say these people haven't Facebooked you for ages because they rarely go on - their profile is all but inactive. If they turn up on your page there's a chance you'll click on their profile, wonder what they're up to and write a polite something on their wall.
They'll get a message saying "Anna has just written on your wall" and it might tempt them to log back in again and even get back into Facebooking more regularly. Exactly what Facebook want.
The Facebook rep I talked to back in December suggested this: she said that Facebook might use that top friends box to suggest people they thought you should reconnect with. But they're not suggesting that you reconnect with them for the benefit of your own social life - it's because they want to pull those people back into Facebook and want to use you to do it.
Again, I can't be certain, but this is the most cogent and rational explanation that I can think of for this. It probably doesn't explain everything either - like why your ex-boyfriend or your dead friend turns up there, but it does explain the randoms - always the most puzzling element for me.
Thanks also to curiouser and Anonymous for their comments and investigations.