Visualizing Your Facebook Network of Friends

Posted in Mixed Nuts on October 12th, 2009 by MadDog
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When I recently saw a few friends using the Friend Wheel application on Facebook, I was suddenly captivated by the concept of seeing my FB friends as a network. This is a natural thing for a computer weenie and CIS major. It’s a very geeky interest. However, it is amusing to make discoveries about which of your friends are the most connected, and to whom.

The Friend Wheel is pretty, but I did not find that it gave me enough information. Once you get it loaded with your friends (just type “friend wheel” into the search box in the upper right corner of your Facebook page and you’ll go directly to it), you will see an interactive screen that looks something like this:The Facebook Friend Wheel application display
The cool thing is that you can move your mouse around to any name and the connections to that name will light up. It’s fun and pretty, but It didn’t ring my bell.

The next one that I found that was easy to use is Social Graph. You can find it by typing “social graph” into the search box. Once you start the application and allow it to access your friends, you’ll get some interesting network graphs. This is mine, zoomed out far enough so that you can see the entire network:Facebook Social Graph application - all of my friends

It’s immediately clear that there are some outliers that have no connections to anybody but me, or possibly one or two other outliers. This tells you nothing about your relationship to the friend, but it does tell you that you could bring this friend into the big “connectedness ball” in the middle by suggesting the friend’s name to many of your other friends within the ball.

As you zoom in on the graph, you’ll see the profile image of your friends in each node. You can point to a node with your mouse and see highlighted the connections of that friend to all of your other mutual friends. For instance, here is the “Eunice cluster” consisting of my wife, Eunice, and her connections to my friends:

Facebook Social Graph application - the "Eunice cluster"

Moving my mouse to my son, Hans, I can instantly see all connections to any friends that we share:Facebook Social Graph application - the "Hans cluster"

Social Graph does another interesting trick. Apparently, if it finds a particularly dense cluster of tightly interconnected friends, it colours the “mob” (my word for it) pink. Here I can clearly see Eunie’s family, mostly nieces and nephews all in a big pink blob:Facebook Social Graph application - the "Eunice's family cluster" 'mob' shows by pink

If you want to try this one, there are some fun things to do. The first is to just watch it build your web. I have only 193 friends at present, a few of which I will probably “X” because they never really use FB or we have nothing to say to each other. (These graphs are all useful for “weeding” your friend garden.) The other thing that is fun to do is to try grabbing one of the friend nodes and moving it to another place on the graph. The whole graph will go momentarily jumpy and quickly the node will return to its correct position. There is a great deal of computation going on here. I’d love to see what a graph with 1,000 friends would do, though I would hate to have 1,000 FB friends.

Here is another interesting network graphing application for Facebook. It’s called TouchGraph – just search for it as described above. You have to install this one, but it’s easy-peasy to do. Here is how my Firefox page appears with the application running:

The Touchgraph application for FacebookAs you can see, if you click to enlarge, I’ve highlighted Australia and I am shown all of my friends with an Australian IP address.

Here I have mouse-clicked Eunice and I can see the connections to our mutual friends:

The Touchgraph application for Facebook - the "Eunice cluster"I found several other applications by Googling for “facebook network visualizations”. The ones above are those that I feel are the easiest, most useful, and the most fun to play with.

Visualising your FB friends as a network and seeing these kinds of details could allow you to hand-craft a group of friends that let you use FB the way that you  want to use it, rather than depending on the friend “suggestions” that so often lead to unproductive or even undesirable connections.

Have fun!

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