It’s a Small World After All (Thanks to Facebook)

Last week, I read a post on TechCrunch about how Paul Butler, an engineering intern at Facebook, created an awesome data visualization of about 10,000,000 pairs of Facebook friends around the world.

I’m not going to pretend I could easily replicate this with access to the same data, but his methodology seems pretty straightforward (yeah, I did have to remind myself of what “Euclidean distance” means on Wikipedia, but it’s been a long week).  The cool thing is that this isn’t relationship data overlaid on a map of the world, but is actually a map of the world created by these relationships (my apologies to China, Russia, Central Africa, and Utah).  No matter how you feel about Facebook itself, this is certainly a testament to how people have connected online.

In a post on the Facebook blog, Butler writes:

“What really struck me, though, was knowing that the lines didn’t represent coasts or rivers or political borders, but real human relationships. Each line might represent a friendship made while travelling, a family member abroad, or an old college friend pulled away by the various forces of life.”

Everyone who uses Facebook knows that “Facebook friend” isn’t necessarily synonymous with real-life friend. (If only I was cool enough to have 700+ actual friends!) But I do love that weird, two-worlds-colliding feeling when I see that my camp friend from when I was 10 years old has posted something on my cousin’s wall.  It’s the game of “do you know _____?” that includes all of those people you usually forget about.

I’ll admit that I’m a lot less active than the average Facebook user.  In fact, my three siblings recently informed me that they had blocked me for months out of protest after I put them on my limited profile list—a radical act that I hadn’t actually noticed, or even cared about.  I look at this graphic, however, and think of all those people who have somehow been part of my life, and it’s nice to know that we’re still connected.

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