Jelly, a highly-anticipated social networking app by Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, was released last week. One of Jelly’s underlying principles is “it’s not hard to imagine that the true promise of a connected society is people helping each other.” While using Jelly over the past few days, I’ve seen people ask whether or not to exercise, make unsubtle plugs for their product, sell a car Craigslist-style, and get amnesia.

Wait, what? How are these questions representative of “a connected society,” especially since I don’t know any of the question authors?

Jelly tells its users that they can “help friends, or friends-of-friends with their questions.” The vast majority of the questions I’ve seen are from Friends of Friends. I’m Facebook Friends with people who have thousands of friends; the probability that I have something in common with those second-degree friends is low.

Websites like Jelly and even Facebook are now utilizing the content made by second-degree “friends.” Why am I seeing pictures and statuses from friends of friends, who are essentially complete strangers?

Facebook’s Farcical Friends of Friends Folly

A couple months ago, Facebook again tweaked the News Feed algorithm such that all new Posts on a friend’s Wall are shown on your News Feed, even if the person making the Post is a complete stranger to you.

Originally, Facebook showed posts in your News Feed that were posted on a Friend’s wall only if they were made by another Friend. If you are friends with both people, there’s likely a common link between all three of you, such as going to the same college or working at the same company. That can make the Wall post more relevant to your interests.

However, people have many social circles. What happens when a stranger not in any of my social circles posts on a Friend’s wall?

This post recently appeared in my News Feed:

I don’t know who the person with “1 mutual friend” is. (the “1 mutual friend” being the friend who received the post). I don’t live in Arizona. Why am I seeing this?

Although I may be Facebook Friends with someone, it doesn’t necessarily mean I should be Friends with their Friends. Facebook is showing me Posts that aren’t relevant to me at all.

This behavior also extends to your Friends’ birthday: all “Happy Birthday!” posts on your Friend’s Wall also display in your News Feed.

This entry was visible on my News Feed for an entire day:

Facebook really wants you to wish your Friends happy birthday.

I don’t need to see strangers with “1 mutual friend” wish my friends Happy Birthday. It’s just extra clutter on an already cluttered News Feed.

To be fair, other websites such as Twitter and LinkedIn push second-degree friends. Twitter’s new Discover feature highlights users who the people you Follow are themselves Following. LinkedIn shows your connections’ new connections so you can form connections with them too. But the difference between Twitter/LinkedIn and Facebook/Jelly is that both Facebook and Jelly push the power of intimate friendships, and imposing a sense of intimacy between strangers feels fake and intrudes on actual friendships.


Max Woolf (@minimaxir) is a Data Scientist at BuzzFeed in San Francisco. He is also an ex-Apple employee and Carnegie Mellon University graduate.

In his spare time, Max uses Python to gather data from public APIs and ggplot2 to plot plenty of pretty charts from that data. On special occasions, he uses Keras for fancy deep learning projects.

You can learn more about Max here, view his data analysis portfolio here, or view his coding portfolio here.