Thumbnail images depicting the face of a social actor were the most common type of image used in hard-news stories on the home page of the Sydney Morning Herald online (smh online), a high-circulation Australian daily broadsheet, between 2002 and 2006. While not all online newspapers use such images to the same extent as the smh online, close-up thumbnails of faces are commonplace on online newspaper home pages in general. This paper examines the use of these "thumbnail faces" on the smh online home page. Over four years (and across four page-design periods), these images were used more frequently, despite the fact that they function in a very different way to traditional hard-news images. Thumbnail faces cannot "tell stories", nor "provide evidence", but they play an important interpersonal role in individual news stories, collectively on the home page, and over time in the discursive relationship between the smh online and its readership.