Jul 10

The data behind The Real Life Social Network

Many people have asked me about some of the references for my Real Life Social Network talk. So here they are. I’m truly standing on the shoulders of others. For the most part, I’ve taken other people’s research and synthesized it, looking for patterns and trying to figure out how it all relates together. I hope the links here inspire you as much as they have inspired me.

Mapping people’s real life social networks.
I published a research paper in 2007 that detailed an early version of this process. I’ve since iterated on it a few times. The paper also contains some findings towards the end.

The magic number 150.
See this New York Post article where Robin Dunbar describes how different groups are made up of 150 people. Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler have also studied this in modern groups. For a great overview (with data) of Dunbar’s number and online games, see this blog post by Christopher Allen.

Strong and Weak ties
Wikipedia provides a good overview of the research literature on strong and weak ties. The seminal paper is Mark Granovetter’s “The Strength of Weak Ties.”

We have a small number of strong ties
In their book Connected, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler describe one study they conducted with 3,000 Americans. See also research conducted at the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California.

Average number of friends on Facebook
Various research shows that the average number of Facebook friends ranges from 120 to 180. For two examples, see “Rhythms of Social Interaction: Messaging Within an Online Social Network” by researchers at HP Labs, and “Social Network Activity and Social Well-Being” by researchers at Carnegie-Mellon and Facebook. Various research shows that almost all friends on Facebook are people that users first met offline. For an overview, see “The Problem of Conflicting Social Spheres” by researchers at Manchester Business School. For interacting with small numbers of our friends on Facebook, see “User Interactions in Social Networks and Their Implications” by researchers at UC Santa Barbara.

Phone usage and strong ties
Most of this data is from ethnographer Stefana Broadbent. See her presentation at the TED conference. Broadbent has done much research into how people communicate with each other. You can follow her work at usagewatch.org. In particular, see the article “The small size of our communication network”.

Usage of communication tools
The Pew Research Center have much research into this topic. For examples, see “Teens, Cell Phones and Texting”, “Social Isolation and New Technology”, “Social Media and Mobile Internet Use Among Teens and Young Adults”, and “Twitter and Status Updating”.

Different types of friendships
For a detailed look at empirical research on friendships, see the book Rethinking Friendships by Liz Spencer and Ray Pahl.

For an introduction to cognitive biases, see this Wikipedia article. For further detail check out this full list of social cognitive biases. The fact that we make decisions based on our limited information is part of a theory called bounded rationality. The Tipping Point is nicely summarized on Wikipedia, including key ideas and challenges to those ideas. In their book Connected, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler describe how mutual best friends are most influential, how three degrees of influence works, and the concept of hyperdyadic spread. Other research papers that I reference frequently are “Identifying Influential Spreaders in Complex Networks” by multiple researchers at Universities in the USA, Israel and Sweden, and “Effects of Word-of-Mouth Versus Traditional Marketing: Findings from an Internet Social Networking Site” by Michael Trusov, Randolph Bucklin and Koen Pauwels.

How hubs work
In his book Six Degrees, Duncan Watts explores high and low thresholds for idea adoption, how hipsters influence within a network, the analogy of seeds in nature, and his studies on lists of music. Two research papers that influenced me on hubs and adoption are “The Role of Hubs in the Adoption Process” by Jacob Goldenberg, Sangman Han, Donald Lehmann, and Jae Weon Hong, and “Opinion Leadership and Social Contagion in New Product Diffusion” by professors at Wharton and the University of Southern California.

Multiple facets of identity
danah boyd has done some amazing research over the years, a lot of which relates to identity. For example, see “Profiles as Conversation: Networked Identity Performance on Friendster” by boyd and Heer. Ben Gross has also conducted some great research, see “Addressing Constraints: Multiple Usernames, Task Spillage and Notions of Identity” by Ben Gross and Elizabeth Churchill, and “Names of Our Lives”. Another good paper to check out is “Trust and Nuanced Profile Similarity in Online Social Networks” by Jennifer Golbeck.

Anonymous ratings
See the research paper “I rate you. You rate me. Should we do so publicly?” by researchers at the University of Michigan.

Awareness of Privacy
The following three research papers are a great place to start: “Information Revelation and Internet Privacy Concerns on Social Network Sites: A Case Study of Facebook” by Young and Quan-Haase, “Reputation Management and Social Media” by the Pew Research Center, and “How Different are Young Adults from Older Adults When it Comes to Information Privacy Attitudes and Policies?” by researchers at UC Berkeley and the University of Pennsylvania.

People underestimating their audience
See the research paper “Characterizing Privacy in Online Social Networks” by Krishnamurthy and Wills.

People misunderstanding privacy settings
Multiple research studies show how people misunderstand the privacy implications of their activities. For examples, see “Strategies and Struggles with Privacy in an Online Social Networking Community” by Strater and Lipford, “Expandable grids for visualizing and authoring computer security policies” by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, University of North Carolina, and Gonzaga University, and “How Different are Young Adults from Older Adults When it Comes to Information Privacy Attitudes and Policies?” by researchers at UC Berkeley and the University of Pennsylvania,

So, that’s a lot of links and a lot of research, happy digging!