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Most Facebook users get more from it than they put in, study says

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The Pew Research Internet Project released a report about Facebook on Friday, providing insights into the company that you won't find in its IPO filing.

Rather than focusing on the company's financials, the report "Why Most Facebook Users Get More Than They Give" sheds light on how Facebook's 845 million users engage with Facebook and what they get out of it.

The findings show that social interactions on Facebook closely mirror social interactions in the real world.

For example, over the course of a one-month period, researchers found that women made an average of 11 updates to their Facebook status, while men averaged only six. Also, women were more likely to comment on other people's status updates than men.

"There was a general trend in our data that women use Facebook more than men," said Keith Hampton, a professor at Rutgers and lead author of the report. "This is a phenomenon that is not unique to Facebook. Women are traditionally in charge of social relationships offline, and that seems to be true of the online world as well."

The report says men are more likely to send friend requests and women are more likely to receive them. That's something else we see in the real world -- especially in bars.

The report also says that most people who use Facebook get more out of it than they put into it, which may explain why they keep coming back.

Researchers found that 40% of Facebook users in a sample group made a friend request, while 63% received at least one friend request. They found that 12% of the sample tagged a friend in a photo, but 35% were themselves tagged in a photo. And each user in the sample clicked the "like" button next to a friend's content an average of 14 times but had his or her own content 'liked' an average of 20 times.

Why the imbalance?

"There is this 20% to 30% who are extremely active who are giving more than they are getting, and they are so active they are making up for feeding everyone extra stuff," Hampton said. "You might go on Facebook and post something and have time to click 'like' on one thing you see in your news feed, but then you get a whole bunch of 'likes' on your news feed. That's because of this very active group."

He also said extremely active users tend to have a niche: Some are really into friending, others are really into tagging photos, and still others click the 'like' button a lot. Rarely is any one user extreme in all those ways.

I asked Hampton what he could tell me about these extremely active people, whom he calls Facebook "power users." Are they unstoppably social? Unemployed? Lonely?

"It could be people who are always active -- whatever they are doing in their life, they are very active. Or it could be that just in the one month we observed them they are active and another month a different group of people would rise up," he said. "It could be that there is something going on in their life that causes them to be very active, or it could be that some people think of it almost as a job to be active on Facebook."

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-- Deborah Netburn

Photo: A worker at Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park. Credit: Paul Sakuma/AP Photo

 
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