What it shows is that, as a function of the people a Facebook user actively communicate with, you are passively engaging with between 2 and 2.5 times more people in their network. I’m sure many people have had this feeling, but these data make this effect more transparent.
The stark contrast between reciprocal and passive networks shows the effect of technologies such as News Feed. If these people were required to talk on the phone to each other, we might see something like the reciprocal network, where everyone is connected to a small number of individuals. Moving to an environment where everyone is passively engaged with each other, some event, such as a new baby or engagement can propagate very quickly through this highly connected network.
- All Friends: the largest representation of a person’s network is the set of all people they have verified as friends.
- Reciprocal Communication: as a measure of a sort of core network, we counted the number of people with whom a person had had reciprocal communications, or an active exchange of information between two parties.
- One-way Communication: the total set of people with whom a person has communicated.
- Maintained Relationships: to measure engagement, we took the set of people for whom a user had clicked on a News Feed story or visited their profile more than twice.
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Peter Marsden found the number of people with whom individuals “can discuss important matters” numbers only 3 for Americans. In a subsequent survey, researchers found that this number has dropped slightly over the past 10 years, causing some alarm in the press, but without sufficient explanation.
Killworth, et al. found using this technique and others that the number of people a person will know in their lifetime ranges somewhere between 300 and 3000.
On Facebook, the average number of friends that a person has is currently 120. Given that Facebook has only been around for 5 years, that not everyone uses it, and that the not every acquaintance has found each other, this number seems reasonable for an average user.
We were asked a simple question: is Facebook increasing the size of people’s personal networks?
So searching through vast amounts of anonymized data, Contractor and his collaborators found that teens had online friendships that were disproportionately with people in their immediate geographic area -- likely with people they already knew.
"That finding really went against a lot of the media hype," Contractor said. "People were worried about helpless teenagers talking with strangers, but that is not what we found. This is the first time this has been based on solid evidence."
Teenagers also tended to be friends with the friends of their friends, not with people who weren't part of their network already, the researchers found.