Facebook friends might not really be friends—they may barely qualify as acquaintances—and sometimes they can be absolute strangers.
Social media users with a network of 1,000 or more friends may come to a point when they find themselves scratching their heads as they scroll through updates, wondering who some of these friends are, and how they know them.
Jon Kleinberg, a computer science professor at Cornell University, teamed with Lars Backstrom, a senior engineer at Facebook and former Ph.D. student of his, to conduct a study that that examines methods of categorizing the different roles that people play in each other's lives. What better platform to start with than Facebook—where people are virtually bombarded by "friends'" daily updates.
"It's clear that when you go online you're faced with a huge amount of information and a huge array of potential connections," Kleinberg said. "If you think about how people share social media, your friends are collectively producing more content than you can consume in one day."
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The study sampled nearly 1.3 million Facebook users over age 20 who had 50 to 2,000 friends and listed themselves as being in a relationship in their profiles. It aimed to best single out significant online relationships in a realm where having dozens of mutual friends with someone you've only met in passing is the norm.
Abbas Alidina, CEO of CrowdBabble, a social media analytics firm that manages Facebook and Instagram accounts for companies, said the study's methodology would be interesting to apply to brands.
"You could just switch out humans for brands and see how connected they are, find potential patterns and use that to target more customers," Alidina said.
Embeddedness—the number of mutual friends that two people share—was the standard for measuring a relationship, but it fails to give insight into the strength of a romantic relationship.