Do Growing Friend Lists Mean Shrinking Facebook Use?

Uncontrolled growth of friend lists might explain recent fluctuation in U.S. and Canadian Facebook traffic.

Stan Pugsley, iCrossing senior director of analytics, decided to further investigate what our sister blog, Inside Facebook, said last month about large Facebook traffic drops in the U.S. and Canada, polling a “few dozen” of his co-workers on their use of the social network.

“I wanted to gather more insight into the decline,” Pugsley wrote for iCrossing’s Great Finds, “so I did a highly nonscientific survey with a few dozen coworkers at iCrossing to find out how their relationship with Facebook had changed over the last year.”

Pugsley found that while about 30 percent of the co-workers he surveyed were using Facebook more than they did one year ago, some 40 percent were using the social network less, with the two primary reasons cited for the decrease being:

  • the novelty of Facebook is wearing off, and
  • conversations become less personal and private when friend lists expand.

(We can’t help thinking that if people learned to use the privacy settings, they’d have more personal conversations that might infuse some novelty to the Facebook experience!)

Pugsley also mentioned that several of his co-workers are exploring Google Plus, with mixed feelings about the Circles used to organize contacts in that social network. But what if Google Plus experiences the same type of growth as Facebook did?

On the effects of growing friend lists, Pugsley wrote:

If you want to see the network overload effect, take a closer look at your Facebook friends who have more than 300 connections. I would be willing to bet that you’ll find them typically using Facebook as a channel for professional promotion.

Now look at your Facebook friends who have more than 50 friends but less than 300 (which may be the majority). Unless they are unusually extroverted, I would be willing to bet that their posts have become less personal and frequent as their network has grown. My theory is that when your network exceeds 50 friends, the network changes from a personal one to a social one. And as your network of friends grows into the hundreds, it will collapse as a social network unless other motivations come into play, like professional self-promotion.

Or put in another way, your posts change from “I’m so glad I got to spend the week with Jane” (personal), to “Just got back from a great trip to Hawaii” (social), to “Check out these great deals on timeshares in Hawaii” (professional).

Readers, have you noticed any changes in your Facebook usage and habits as your list of friends has grown larger?