Facebook Top Friends: Why the randoms show up – finally explained

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:

mia [here]
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?
For example:
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.

Has Facebook got too complicated? Site doesn’t even “notice” latest data leak

Anna Leach


  • Soooo has anyone else discovered the rather drastic change in top friends when viewing your profile as yourself, and then as other people? —

    I just want to know, it's driving me crazy.

    • I agree Santos. There is a lady I interacted and I know that if I view her page a lot , that might be a reason for her to show on my 9 people. I intentionally, do not view her page and yet she is always on the 9 people that show, along with noted family members of course. I think it has to do with them viewing your page a higher percent than they are visiting other pages.

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  • 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.

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  • thanks I was wondering why this whore kept appearing on my bf’s friend list -_-

    I thought maybe if you interacted with them a lot it would show, so I was getting mad thinking my bf was talking to her a lot lol

  • all my top friends are ex-girlfriends. they’re the people i interacted with the most, and will forever have interacted with the most. But I don’t want to DEFRIEND them. Why can’t facebook fix this problem?

  • all my top friends are ex-girlfriends. they’re the people i interacted with the most, and will forever have interacted with the most. But I don’t want to DEFRIEND them. Why can’t facebook fix this problem?

  • I published a post about this a few days ago that fits well with your post I discovered thx to a friend. Long story short:


    Given that the only clear and unquestionable result got from my data is about H4, that is the fact that some of my Facebook friends with whom I did not interact at all or almost did not interact neither recently nor during our whole common friendship tend to be displayed on the list – on average 23% of the list is unexplained by the number of common interactions in my data – I decided to develop new hypotheses from there.

    To note that Facebook states in its FAQ that “[…] The selection includes many friends who you publicly interact with the most […]”, this “many” could then be understood or read as the selection includes a certain percentage of x% friends who you publicly interact with…

    H5) A possible hypothesis would be to consider the existence of a ranking system that always displays the friendships that are the most active w.r.t. the structure of the network and the few ones that are the most passive, e.g. my friend X has n friends and a total number of interactions I during the period T, where I is the sum of {i1, i2 … in} and where iz denotes the number of common interactions X shares with Z.

    Let’s first consider only X ‘s network made of n nodes. Here, each node/friend Z would have a score equal to iz/I for T. It would then be possible to build a popularity index by ranking those scores within the network of X. the largest ratio being the most popular connection or friend and vice-versa for X and T.

    Now, adding the same reasoning for my own network, the probability to have a friend displayed on the list would be the probability that the latter friend has a high ratio with me and I have a high ratio with him, i.e. P_X;me (High) x P_me;X(High). The inverse reasoning applying for the lowest ratios…

    Now, what is the economic reason of doing so? A possible one is as follows: Given that by including my most passive connections in the list, you possibly include some of the most passive Facebook users too, it can be an effective mean for the social network to ensure that its most passive users won’t be forgotten by their respective networks. Indeed, if I see X in my list, this increases the probability for me to visit X_’s profile and then to interact with _X. If I interact with X, Facebook will send a notification to X and this increases the probability for X to log into Facebook…

    Definition of an interaction: an interaction has to be understood in this context as the act to join a group, attend an event, post a status update/comment, tag a photo, like, etc.

    All the best.


  • Ms. Leach, a bit off topic here. Since you seem to be able to contact FB’s “top wigs,” would you mind asking them to return to the previous Chat format? The new Chat window is useless as it doesn’t show us who’s online. It just picks ‘random’ people. Thanks!

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