26 March 2009

Everyone Else and You

I've been buzzing about this thing for about a week now. Touch Graph is an application for Facebook that shows you how your friends are connected and interconnected visually. I know, I know, another Facebook app, blah blah blah. But this one is seriously cool and kind of useful. At least for me.

Awhile back, Lilly and I had this idea to create a Friend Web that you could carry around with you. It shows who your friends are, how they're connected, and what friend grouping they're in. It cuts down a lot on the "wait, who are we talking about again?" It was also a great idea for parents to know exactly who their kids' friends were. Well, Facebook neatly solved this problem because if you have an Internet capable computer/friend, you could just show people online. But, even then, the missing ingredient was a visual depiction of your friends and how they were related. Hello Touch Graph! We've been waiting for you!

Here's how Touch Graph works. By leveraging the connections that are already embedded in your Facebook information, the program comes up with a giant relational web of your friends. Those who have lots of connections to you and other people in your web are closer to the center. Those with fewer connections are further. Simple right? Keep in mind this doesn't mean those closer to you are your "better" friends, it just shows connectivity.

When you make your friend graph, you can adjust the settings to show however many friends you want. I'd suggest cranking it as high as possible for the best view. I tried smaller sample sizes but it wasn't as interesting. So once you crank your selection pool to the max, all of your friends are ranked, generally in order of how many connections they have to your other friends. But higher ranks are given to friends who are connectors between different cliques. They call this "Betweenness Centrality," which is a metric to measure a person's importance within a social network. Here's a cool article and explanation about that here.

So what's a clique? Different colors are used to show clusters and cliques. All your friends in a particular color are probably friends with each other, but not connected to other people outside of that group. It's really accurate and works quite well. I mean, the colors definitely showed my various cliques of friends, people who were "one-offs (unconnected to anybody except me)," and revealed all sorts of interesting information. You can also choose to organize your friend web by location, thus finding out how many people are in San Diego or New York, for example.

When you switch to pyramid view, it shows you by semi-tiers who's the most important people in your social network. Like who's connected to the most people, or who's the gateway friend for your other friends. This is freaking fascinating isn't it? It's probably not anything you didn't already know about your own friends, but for someone else to look at your graph, it really gives them an idea of your social worlds.

I'm just happy I finally found a good personal use for Facebook. All this time I've been doing it because everyone else in the world does it, but all those hours wasted on it has been repaid by the wonder that is Touch Graph.

What I'd like to see is someone's graph with two or three large dominant cliques. I tend to want to mix as many of my friends together as possible and I really only have one big group of all muxed up friends. When I visit you next, I want to see your Friend Web, thanks. For my settings under "Advanced" I used: Min User Photo (1), Min Edge Photo (0), and Min Network User (5)

While I'm at it. This other Facebook app is interesting too. It's called Socialistics and digs up demographic dirt on your friends in graph format. It's still got a lot of work needed but I was able to find out, for example, that 42% of my (Facebook) friends are married, 14% are engaged, 20% in a relationship, and 21% single. Also, only 11% of my friends are my age, with 56% of my friends being 26-28 years old. Once this thing can tell me how many friends younger than me are married/engaged, then I'll really know how far behind I am. Can't wait!