Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Social Network Analysis: Getting to Know You

with 2 comments

I don’t do Mafia Wars on Facebook.


I would, but if I did, I’d probably never do anything else.  But it seems like a whole bunch of you DO do Mafia Wars.

Let me know how that goes, I hope you don’t get yourself whacked.

What I did do last night was the Friend Facts application.

I did that one not because everybody’s doing it (although I noticed several of my FB friends doing it right after I did it, and I’d done it right after one of my friends had done it, and that’s how a Facebook phenomenon is made).

No, I did Friend Facts because I thought I might learn something interesting about myself and my friends.  And I did.

I learned that 44% of my FB friends are female, and 56% are male (definitely gonna have to work on equalizing that ratio).

I learned that 43% of them are single, and 57% are taken.

I learned that 80% of them are Democrats, and 20% are Republicans.

I have FB friends in 12 countries and 25 states, and the most common zodiac sign among my friends is Virgo (47 friends!).

Our collective favorite band is U2, and our collective favorite TV show is “Lost.”

And, EVERYBODY loves “Pulp Fiction.”

But while everybody is listening to all this rock and roll from U2, and catching up on all those episodes of “Lost,” everybody also seems to maintain that their favorite activity is “Reading.”

Uh, huh.

So let me recap: In Turbo’s FB circles, the males can take the females, but just barely.  The significantly attached can take the singles.  The Dems can take the Repubs.  And they can all do it while listening to U2, watching the latest episode of “Lost,” and while reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” (Turbos’ friends’ favorite book).

Rock on.

Turbo Friend Facts Facebook Application Results

Turbo Friend Facts Facebook Application Results

Though this is a most simplistic example of social network analysis via Facebook, I think the actual potentiality of such research is extraordinary.

And, to be frank, it’s quite terrifying at the same time.

Who we are friends with, who we associate with, who we work with, who we connect to…all are increasingly, good or bad, reflections of who we are.  Or, as the case may be, who we are not.

And the inferences that can be made through such social network alliances might ought be…well…quite frankly, none of your business.

Take “Project Gaydar” at MIT, where two students banded together to better understand what social networks were unwittingly revealing to the Facebook world and beyond.

What could, in fact, the most basic transactions reveal via Facebook.

As it turns out, a lot.  They found that simply by looking at a person’s online friends, they could predict whether an individual was likely to be gay.

According to a Boston Globe article on the effort, the researchers did this with a software program that looked at the gender and sexuality of a person’s friends and, using statistical analysis, made a prediction.  And more often than not, they were right.

In another example cited in the same story, Murat Kantarcioglu, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Texas at Dallas found he could make solid predictions about a person’s political affiliation by analyzing 167K profiles and 3 million links between people from the DFW network.

They used three methods to predict a person’s political views: One prediction model using only profile details.  Another using only friendship links.  And the third a combination of the two.

Care to guess which one worked best?  Uh, yeah, the third.

The implications of even these two simple but revealing examples of social network analysis are profound.

Essentially, you can reveal only the most basic, seemingly non-intimate details of yourself online via a social network, and through a fairly simple analytical routine, suddenly find yourself standing in the spotlight with company you may not wish the world you know to keep.

Or, as former Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy said once upon a time during the late 1990s, “You have zero privacy…get over it.”

For the longest time, I didn’t want to believe him, but I’m starting to think he was right.

So what’s a gregarious social networker seeking just a little privacy to do?

Well, remember everybody’s favorite TV show?  You could join Jack and Kate and the “Lost” gang out in the South Pacific somewhere, as I’m pretty sure that countdown computer never revealed a Facebook screen.

Or, you can just decide not to ever go online again, but even then, you’ve left a lot of online digital footprints that will be carved in the Google cache in perpetuity.

Probably the best thing to do is be proud of however you are, whoever you are, wherever you are.

You may, in fact, be like Howard Beale from the original “Network,” the one that appeared on movie screens in 1976 and exclaimed: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!”

Well, yes, in fact, you will take it, and everybody in your network’s gonna know about it, whether you come right out and say it or not.

Written by turbotodd

October 1, 2009 at 4:09 pm

2 Responses

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  1. All I want to do on Facebook is keep up with friends and relatives to see how they are getting along with life. Every time I go to someone’s FB page their pages are just inundated with Farmville, Fish, Parks, Mafias, I sent you this gift, now send one back et al ad nauseum. Not all of us want to play these games, so …why can’t FB find a way to keep us from having to see this crap? They can redo their pages to include this. All I want to do is keep up with friends, and see how they are doing, not wade through the FB incited drivil! FACEBOOK, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!

    Hipolito Deaderick

    February 13, 2010 at 6:02 pm

  2. My friends and I mostly think of Facebook as a “time vampire” and the silly tag-you’re-it games played on Facebook is the glaring proof.

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