Visualizing Facebook’s Social Graph

By Justin Lafferty 

It’s probably not surprising that when Facebook users are 21, most of their friends are also in that same age bracket. It’s also not a shocker to say that men talk about sports on Facebook more than women. But how do trends change over time? Do 30-year-olds tend to talk about health more than new high-school graduates? A highly visual set of data from Wolfram Alpha brings Facebook’s social graph to life, showing how people connect and relate to each other on the social network.

The median amount of connections on Facebook, Wolfram Alpha found, is 342. The cutoff is 5,000 friends, and it appears that a few people have hit that limit.

Additionally, as we age, so do our friends. A 21-year-old Facebook user will mainly have friends in the 18-to-25 age bracket, but this changes as users get older. Around 50, users’ children start to join Facebook. Interestingly enough, by the time users turn 70, they have very few peers on Facebook.

Wolfram Alpha next looked at relationship status by age. It found that from 13 (the minimum age) until about 45, more men have their status as single, but after 45, more women have their relationship status set this way. Around 25, there is a dip in users who say they’re in relationships. This seems to correspond with a rise around that age of users who say they’re engaged.

Although it appears that Facebook’s younger users seem to be married, it’s chalked up to teenagers playfully pretending to be Facebook-married to their boyfriends, girlfriends, or best friends.

Wolfram Alpha then compared marriage rates on Facebook to the U.S. Census, finding that they’re fairly close.

So now that we know the age and marital status of Facebook users, what are they talking about?

The topics of discussion change with age, too. Naturally, video games become less popular over time, but more users post about health as they get older. While teenagers seem rather unconcerned about the weather, it becomes a greater topic for Facebook’s more senior users. It seems that users talk more about politics as they get older, but moreso men than women.

Data analyzer Stephen Wolfram discussed this study in a blog post:

Over the decades, I’ve been steadily accumulating countless anecdotal “case studies” about the trajectories of people’s lives, from which I’ve certainly noticed lots of general patterns. But what’s amazed me about what we’ve done over the past few weeks is how much systematic information it’s been possible to get all at once. Quite what it all means, and what kind of general theories we can construct from it, I don’t yet know.

But it feels like we’re starting to be able to train a serious “computational telescope” on the “social universe.” And it’s letting us discover all sorts of phenomena that have the potential to help us understand much more about society and about ourselves, and that, by the way, provide great examples of what can be achieved with data science, and with the technology I’ve been working on developing for so long.

Readers: What surprised you in this study?