5 big things big data just revealed about Facebook users

facebook under a magnifying glassA study from Wolfram Alpha uses big data research methods to analyze Facebook users’ information – and while none of the results are shocking, many illustrate where Facebook information hews close to real-life behavior, and where the social network fails as a representation of society.

But we had to ask Stephen Wolfram, the creator of Wolfram Alpha and the Mathematica software used in Wolfram Alpha’s Facebook analysis, which of his findings he found most significant. 

“To me it’s that it seems one can do accurate demographics just using data from Facebook.  We see evidence of this in the agreement with Census data.” Wolfram zeroed in on how much potential the analysis has: “I’m excited about the natural language processing and topic analysis; I think there’s a lot that can be done along those lines.”

Everyone’s social network looks different

The picture to the right shows a collection of anonymous users’ social networks graphed out. As you can see, they come in unique configurations, though there is a correlation between age and the number of different networks you have. Younger people, Wolfram explains, generally have a more limited number of social ties because they have less opportunities to belong to varied groups.

wa facebook chart

Surprise: Male and female Facebook chatter differs

Sometimes, the way things work on Facebook is the same way they work in real life. And it’s not the only the examples mentioned in the article – for instance, Wolfram analyzes the aggregated text in Facebook profiles to see how often different genders use certain keywords. The results conform to traditional gender roles, with men mentioning things like “video games” and “sports” more frequently, and women more likely to talk about fashion and relationships.

fb men versus women

How old is the average Facebook user? A lot younger than the average American

Some of the information clearly says more about Facebook users than society at large, however the average age of Facebook users is substantially lower than the average age in the U.S., since more young people use the site. Stacked against the U.S. Census, the age distribution on Facebook is extremely skewed toward younger people, giving a solid example of how you need to take the particulars of Facebook into context when analyzing its data (otherwise analysts would argue that the U.S. population was far more youthful than it actually is).

What’s also interesting is how the ages of your friends vary depending on how old you are. The younger you are, the more homogenous your network s – most of them are in your age range. The older uses are, however, the more across the board the ages of their contacts are. This makes sense: When those of us under 30 joined Facebook, it was targeting college kids, so our networks were more or less our peers. Those who joined after have a larger range of friends, age-wise.

Screen Shot 2013-04-26 at 2.01.58 PM

 Not every country is as Facebook-obsessed as the U.S. 

And looking at the amount of friends users have according to where they are in the world produces similarly skewed results, since people in countries like Russia and China have other primary social networks, so Facebook is less commonly used there. This means it appears that people in countries with other primary social networks appear less sociable, when in reality they’re just doing their digital socializing elsewhere.

The age people start listing themselves as “married” on Facebook corresponds with real life 

Some of the data mostly fits with social trends, but vagaries pop up due to silly idiosyncrasies on Facebook. For instance, the number of people who go from “Single” to “Married” rises as Facebook users age, which fits with the average ages people pair off in real life. But laid out on a map, it seems a disproportionate number of very young users are married – a spike that occurs because tween and teen users think it’s funny to be Facebook married to their friends. Screen Shot 2013-04-26 at 12.50.40 PM

Wolfram Alpha lets any Facebook user input their data, and gives a free Facebook analytics report to anyone who signs up – and they anonymize the information to compare it to others. If you want to contribute, just sign up on their website – but remember that your data will be carefully studied, and even though it’s anonymous, other eyes will scrutinize your preferences and behavior.

And if you want to see how your other social networks measure up, there’s no specific analytical tools through Wolfram Alpha set up to cover Twitter or Instagram, though you can use a more general social media analytics tool if you want. And Wolfram isn’t ruling out making other analytics programs in the future, since he told us “We’re hoping in future to extend our personal analytics system to cover as many social networks as possible.”

Emerging Tech

Early-detection system for wildfires could save many states from big burns

When it comes to dealing with the growing problem of raging wildfires, a new wireless smart sensor system could help spot burgeoning blazes before they rage out of control. Here's how it works.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Harlem Globetrotter Big Easy talks new app, favorite gadget

We welcomed Harlem Globetrotter Nathaniel Lofton to talk about how he became a Globetrotter 14 years ago. Big Easy also told us about the brand-new Harlem Globetrotters app that is now available on Android and Apple.
Social Media

Instagram’s new Close Friends List lets you decide who should see your Story

Have a story to share, but don't want to send it to everyone? Instagram now offers a close friends list that will allow users to share stories with only the users included on that list.
Social Media

Survey of teens says social media lets them connect with friends and get support

A survey of teenagers shows the ways that social media sites can be beneficial to them, like feeling more connected to their friends, the ability to interact with different people, and as a venue to get support when they are struggling.
Social Media

Hotel chain offers an Instagram ‘sitter’ who will post photos for you

If the pressure to post stunning Instagram photos is ruining your vacations, then how about hiring a local Instagram influencer to do the job for you while you go off and enjoy yourself? Well, such a service now exists.
Social Media

Ride the rails and share your stories with Amtrak’s new social media residency

Amtrak is looking for travel fans with a knack for telling stories on social media. The new Amtrak social media residency program wants amateur travelers to share photos, video, and written content from aboard long-distance trips.
Social Media

Hangouts isn’t being hung out to dry in 2020, Google says

According to a report, Google may shut down Google Hangouts by 2020. While Hangouts was once Google's top-tier messaging app, the app has since been neglected in favor of Android Messages.
Social Media

Tumblr bans nudity to create ‘a safe place for creative expression’

Tumblr will soon no longer allow images with adult content. The company says the change is one that's designed to help more creators feel comfortable sharing on the platform, but admits the change won't happen overnight.
Social Media

Members can share the same Story with Facebook’s new Group Stories

Facebook Group members can now view and share Group Stories. Unlike the Stories for an individual user, the new tool allows members to contribute to the same Group Story, if the feature isn't turned off by an admin.
Social Media

You can now share saved Facebook posts with a Pinterest-like collection tool

Facebook collections can now be shared with friends if you also want to allow them to contribute to the list. Facebook is rolling out an update that allows users to add a contributor to their collections, or lists of saved Facebook posts.
Mobile

Broadway actor tells Kanye West to get off his phone during opening night

Theater actors can get understandably upset when they spot someone in the audience fiddling with their phone instead of watching the show. The other night that audience member was Kanye West, and he got called out for it.
Social Media

This event topped Facebook’s biggest moments of the year — again

As the year comes to a close, Facebook is looking back on what users discussed most over the last year. For two years in a row, International Women's Day topped the list. So what else is on the list?
Social Media

This band owns Twitter, according to list of top accounts and tweets for 2018

What was the biggest buzz on Twitter in 2018? Twitter's 2018 Year in Review highlights the biggest tweets, accounts, and hashtags. The most-tweeted celebrities, movies, TV shows, athletes, politicians and more in Twitter's 2018 trends.
Social Media

What do yodeling and Kylie Jenner have in common? YouTube’s top 2018 videos

In a true nod to the variety found on YouTube, the platform's top 10 list of videos from 2018 range from celebrities to sports, from perfectly tossing a picture frame on the wall to a kid yodeling in aisle 12 at Walmart.