The Facebook friends box & how it selects who to display

1450thumb.jpgYesterday I published a story asking exactly how Facebook calculates who is shown in the friends box on the new profile pages. Well today Facebook rang me up and told me, or rather gave me some general statements explaining some of the factors that the algorithm might take into account when choosing whether Tom rather than Doris shows up in the list of friends on your wall.

Facebook choose people you are good friends with
First things first – the listing here has changed. It used to be relatively random, based on the alphabet, now it aims to select people according to how good friends you are with them. The idea is that you will be more likely to see your sister and your best friend popping up there than you will be to see Doris from school whose you never see or talk to on Facebook.

How it decides whether you are good friends with somebody
So how does Facebook decide whether you are good friends with let’s say, Tom? Well, yesterday I was told by Facebook via an email that it bases the selection on public interactions you have had with those people in the past one and a half months.

That didn’t seem to be the whole story – for example people I definitely hadn’t talked to in the past 6 weeks had cropped up on mine – so today I got some more information and a slightly more convincing explanation.

The new explanation

The spokesperson today went into a little more depth, she told me that the algorithm that decides the friends list on your Facebook page uses a variety of other bits of data – but that all of them are public. She said that the algorithm was very complex and she couldn’t know for certain everything it takes into account..

These are the things it probably takes into account:

>> the number of photos you are both tagged in [apparently this is upweighted a lot]

>> public interactions: how often you write on their on their wall, how often you share links with them, how much you comment on their photos or status updates

>> the number of friends you have in common

>> how long you have been friends [that would explain a few randoms from the past turning up on my wall yesterday]

She said that potentially it could be people that Facebook thinks you should interact with more: ie, you don’t talk very much but have 60 friends in common (remember the “Why don’t you reconnect with xx” feature? – it’s a bit like that.)

What Facebook promises to never make public
Again she categorically stated that everything it takes into account is public: it won’t take account of how often you chat to someone on Facebook chat, or how many private messages you send them or whether you poke them or not, nor as we speculated yesterday – how often you click on their profile.

The Facebook spokesperson reiterated that nothing on Facebook will ever make what you look at public – so browsing and er “stalking” are still an anonymous and safe activity.

When Facebook do track what you look at
However Facebook obviously do track where you click and what you look at for some things – for example for displaying relevant adverts to you and for determining what ends up in your newsfeed – I click more on John, I see John more – of course that’s fine for me, because only I see that. The thing with top friends – is that it’s not just me who sees that, it’s everyone.. If it ever did emerge that some newsfeed-like algorithm got used to generate the top friends, then that would be breach of privacy. Currently though, we will take their word for it that they don’t.

One final issue I have is that anyone I’m friends with can see my top friends, even if I have them on limited profile. So they may not be able to see how I interact with my friends -what I or my best friends write – but they could see which friends I am interacting with. . It’s a small thing, still…

Any thoughts? We’re keeping an eye on this for the meantime….

Anna Leach


  • Actually, others can’t see your top friends. What appears in the square when you look at it is different that when others look at it.

  • I know this is from 2010, but it was never true. I always had people with no public interaction show up.

  • I think they are mostly people you interact with most, but they also have some random so that you might see an old friend and start interacting more…

  • Learn How to get the limited no of Friends from Your Facebook Friend List randomly…

  • My top friend on facebook is this guy I'm practically in love with. We interact mostly on facebook chat or message system, not so much public postings (status, picture comment) Also I've put him on limited profile list and checked off so I can't see his news-feed. I'm doing it because I'm trying to move on and get over him. But I will say that I view his profile a lot (twice a day) And despite not much public contact, he is always the number one friend listed. And always has been even when there's no interaction for months. So I'm guessing profile views plays a big part! Either from me or him.

    Also i can't tell who his top friends are because what I can see when I view his page and what HE can see are different. Also you cannot see yourself listed as a top friend on someone else's page. You will never appear. So this guy will never be able to see that he's number one unless he logs in on my account.

  • I agree with some of the other posts that Facebook is lying. Their computers are so good at calculating other things, I don't think that they just happen to be bad in this one area.This article was helpful. For me, I have a coworker, a friend who was close in two different cities (we interact never) a close friend who lives in the same city, Two cousins who I do not contact often, but are both listed as family) an X who I am still close with, a student who takes multiple classes, my childhood next door neighbor, and a stalker from another country. Of this list, I have told facebook to block all posts from one of the people and I have almost never interacted with posts, (But have viewed somewhat regularly. The old neighbor was actually a fairly recent addition and we don't interact much, so I am quite confused that it is listed.

    I did remove two events in which I was linked to one of the people. It will be interesting to see if this changes things.


  • Keep in mind though, what 9 friends show up on your home page, don't necessarily show up when someone else looks at your profile. For example, when you use the “view as..” feature, you can see that one of your friends sees a different set of 9 people, based on other factors, such as, mutual friends. :)

  • COMPLETE LIES! I am friends with someone i never correspond with via fcbk however i regularly facebook stalk him and he keeps showing up in my top 6! In fact, I just found this article by googling this very subject!

  • it can't be a coincidence that everyone thinks it's how often you view profiles.personally I think it's a combination of both facebook activity and that.a crush comes up every single time for weeks LOL. but we mostly text..

  • I did exactely the same with my sister's account ( the same situation like with you and your dad, she rarely use it, we almost never interact ), and the very next moment, when I switched to my own account, I could have seen my sister's picture poped up in my 6 friends box, and ALSO in my 8 friends box! But what suprises me, even 5 days later, when I refresh my account my sister's picture is still there ( not always, sometimes, but both in my 6 and 8 friends boxes ), and I know that she didn't evem opened her account, nor I in her behalf.

    I wonder for how long you have,  not to view at all , someone's account to be able to dissapear from his/her 6 friends box? 

  • Err, she HAS to be lying about the private messaging thing. Someone I was seeing about six months ago appears in the little box of 6 friends repeatedly – probably every third or fourth time I refresh the page. Back at the start, we were private messaging all the time, but aside from that we had no public interaction on facebook whatsoever: no wall posts, no 'likes', no friends in common, no photos. The only *possible* factor that would cause facebook to 'prioritise' him as a friend would be that private interaction.  Even before we were 'friends' on facebook, we stalked each other, and facebook therefore wanted us to be friends. If I typed the letter “O” into the search box, his name was the first in the dropdown list, above even all my official friends! At the time I was like, 'FACEBOOK KNOWS I FANCY HIM!!'  I'm lame and am still trying to get over him – so I have unsubscribed to his feeds, try not to look at his profile (still working on the de-friendship!!)… certainly don't message any more… But he's still popping up! There's gotta be something in this. The other 'regulars' are generally people who I have listed as 'close' friends – and I'm theirs – but there has to be other factors at play. 

    • Wow, dear, I have the same problem. I used alot to excange private messages with my crush, but we rarely interected one with another in terms of likes, comments, etc. but I have been viewing his profile like mad, browsing through his pictures, listening to the YouTube songs he posted. At that time I did not pay attention on who are the people who regularly appear in my 6 friends box, I think he was there regularerly. But I thought it was beacause I was, basically, stalking his account,actually accounts, 'couse he has 2 accounts. 

      Things did not worked for us, and I decided to get over him ( like you did ) and unsuscribed from his News Feed. It was like 2 weeks ago and I never looked at his profile, not a single time, eversince. But he's still appearing in my 6 friends box ( both of his profiles ) but never on my 8 friends box? I wonder if he's too ( and still ) checking my account? 

  • the top friends, then that would be breach of privacy. Currently though, we will take their word for it that they don't.

  • My boyfriend had a few women appearing in his top ten list for months in a row that were not close friends.  I confronted him, he admitted to looking at their profiles, and what do you know?  They never appeared in his top ten list again.   I have a friend that works for FB corporate, I really need to ask them for clarity. 

  • Yeah, not sure how this is working. I stopped talking to this girl I was really into about two weeks ago, when i noticed that she was (and still is) in the #1 spot on my friends list. I've even begun having extensive conversations with other people and looking at their profiles in order to unseat her position…no luck.

    We sort of put things on pause, but this got me wondering. Maybe I should nix things all together…stalkerish.

  • I agree with Guest -facebook is lying. I have someone showing now in my Top Ten who is a remote acquaintance with whom I rarely interact and with whom I have very few friends in common. Rither their algorithm is very poor or there is something they are not telling us.

  • Facebook is lying. I know for a fact that you can see a persons picture in you top six box and you bottom 8 box even if you have no common friends, no pictues tagged together, no public or private contact … you only view EACH OTHERS profile. I have a special facebook friend that I communicate with in other ways, but never on facebook. He pops up in both 6 box and 8 box on my timeline ALL the time.

  • I did come across this:

    It seems Facebook ranks people you may search on FB ranking for the people who you’re probably searching for on Facebook, and people using this bookmarklet seem to believe that it’s not just you searching them, but also them searching for your page that matters…

    I’ve not used it so can’t yet vouch for its authenticity (and there are more technically adept folks to do that, no doubt), but it’s an interesting idea….

  • I did come across this:

    It seems Facebook ranks people you may search on FB ranking for the people who you’re probably searching for on Facebook, and people using this bookmarklet seem to believe that it’s not just you searching them, but also them searching for your page that matters…

    I’ve not used it so can’t yet vouch for its authenticity (and there are more technically adept folks to do that, no doubt), but it’s an interesting idea….

  • Facebook is lying, or rather hiding a few facts. It may be taking all the public actions like comments and likes and tags and what-not, but secretly it’s also taking into account who’s viewing who’s account to display that collage of people. I’ve actually tested it with my dad’s account whose password I had, I don’t comment of any posts of his because he rarely posts anything, I think he made an account and forgot about it. He and I don’t have any pics tagged or anything, we just don’t interact on Facebook. I never even visit his page. But I did this little test, I used his account and visited my account profile. The very next moment I signed in with my account in another browser, and there it was! My dad’s thumbnail was showing up in my top friends. Facebook should just come clean.

  • Yup. Almost 100% sure that it’s people who view your profile. I did a completely non-scientific test where I did not check the profile of this guy I like for a three week period. I then opened up Wordpad, and noted the times and days he showed up in my little “six-friend-square” over that period of time. The clincher for me was the fact that I’d heard from mutual friends (remember, I wasn’t checking his Facebook page) that he was out of country for the third week. He showed up consistently during the two week period, and increased his views (based on the time noted during the day), while he was out of town.
    Not only did I not check his FB page, but I only checked my Newsfeed and my FB profile, I didn’t go to any other profiles of mutual friends or mutual interests. The data was pretty staggering.

  • Yeah, doesn’t make sense. There are people in my top friends who I have unsubscribed to, haven’t viewed their profiles in weeks/ever, have zero photos with, but I can imagine why they might stalk me a little…

    There *are* people there I have hundreds of tagged photos with, but those date from over a year ago, and I don’t look at these people’s profiles. Again, though, I can imagine why they might look at mine (exes of brother, stalker-psycho-types…)

  • Thanks for giving us your opinion about the top friends.
    However I’ve got a friend who contantly appears on my facebook top friends, with whom I don’t speak since 3 months, but sometimes i look at his profile.
    I think facebook sometimes put in that list the people you look most (profile, pohotos…) or maybe the people who look at you profile, to suggest you to talk with them.

  • i think the official explanation is false, on my profile appear friends that i`m not connected from a very long time and we don`t have interaction,and we don`t have many mutual friends or other pages(likes or smth)… the only explanation i found was that they apper there by how often they view your profile :)

  • My freinds sister, who i be-friended last year is at the top of my chat bar, i have never chatted on fb with her or looked at profile. Recently It came out that she had a thing for me, and when i talked to her in the real world, it was clear she had been stalking. I would say that it uses profile veiws for this reason. Think about it,profile and page veiws are the direct link to your interests, why would they bother to program it any other way?

  • I can guarantee that facebook is putting people who view your profile on the suggested list of friends. I can guarantee this with absolute confidence because several psychotic blind date stalkers and an ex from long ago are on the list and I never use the profile. It was set up for me a few years back by a friend who actually thought I would want to put personal information online. For laughs, I logged on after a solid year of zero activity and my suggested friends list is nothing but a disturbing catalog of the nutjobs I’ve dated or been stalked by. Facebook, thank you for proving why no one on this planet should ever use a site like yours for the intended purpose.

  • anyone know why most people have ten friends displayed on their profile page but one person i know only has nine? is there a way to control how many friends are displayed or does the number change somehow?

  • Lynne – I feel your pain :/ …I swear Facebook is trying to start drama by putting certain persons in your own or certain other persons friends lists.

    I’m admittedly being bitter and trying to find out if there’s a secret reason that “that girl” is showing up in my boyfriend’s friend list. It’s driving me crazy and I’m pretty embarrassed I’ve resorted to Googling it, haha. To make myself feel better, I’m going to go with the “tagged photos” explanation…

  • I agree with Matt. There is absolutely something being left unsaid here by the Facebook rep. The friends that show up on my profile are actually downright embarrassing. It’s mostly a hodgepodge of my exes’ friends with whom I have never interacted on Facebook (or if I have, it was many months ago). I don’t want anybody involved in my situations noticing this!
    I’m getting the feeling tagged photos are important, as stated, because some of my most recently tagged pics are with these people. These recent ones must be hugely influential within the algorithm.

    I know I can block anybody and everybody from seeing my friends list. I might decide to do this, but I also kind of want to see how things change over time.

    By the same token, sure is interesting to see the friends that pop up on those exes’ pages… I swear I’m not bitter ;)

  • I remain totally unconvinced by the official explanation as to how this works. It makes no sense whatsoever with most of the people who’ve been selected on my page. The only reasonable explanations are that the pics are either chosen randomly, OR this is a privacy breech that shows who looks at your page the most. If it’s the latter no wonder Facebook is trying to cover it up!

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