What do you get when you hand the world’s leading statistician a catalog of Facebook data? You get a fascinating set of insights about the trajectory of our lives on social media. Stephen Wolfram, the man behind the Wolfram|Alpha website and the Mathematica software, recently compiled a large set of Facebook data and produced a huge report that highlighted facts that were both expected and surprising about Facebook users’ lives.
Analyzing social networks
Of particular note was Wolfram’s analysis of how our networks – our social groups – morph over time. The visualization of an individual’s social network gave each friend a dot, and then connected those friends who were also friends with each other. The result was clusters (or communities) of friends. Visually impressive, these networks and clusters also help us to understand how our lives change as we age. Different clusters represented different facets of our lives, and the network gives us a perspective on our relationships with others that was nearly impossible to imagine beforehand.
Of course, each individual’s network visualization is unique to their life experiences. However, a trend emerged between the number of clusters in one’s network and one’s age. As one ages, the average number of communities increases from around 3 in the teens to just above 4 by age 30 where it levels off. Wolfram explained this trend by explaining that when you are younger, the three main clusters are usually school, family, and neighborhood. But as you get older, new clusters accumulate as you move, take on new jobs, and attend college.
My social network visualization
Curious about Wolfram’s network graph, I decided to give it a try. I wanted to discover what my connections with others look like from a bird’s-eye view. You can check out your own here, and mine is the image at the top. What I found from mine wasn’t so much surprising as it was indicative of my life experiences. I had clusters from high school, from my college, and my sports. I fit nicely into the 3-cluster outlay Wolfram described. So, in a sense, Wolfram’s visualization did not tell me anything new, but it gave me an interesting way to view how I interact with others as our lives progress.