The world map of Facebook friendships

Resembling a chart of international air traffic, Paul Butler’s world map of Facebook relationships visualises “the locality of friendship”. It’s a beautiful infographic, but does it tell us anything new?

Butler is an intern on Facebook’s data infrastructure engineering team, according to the footnote in his recent post about the work, and his image is accompanied by a detailed explanation of how it was made. Using a sample of ten million pairs of ‘friends’ taken from FB’s Apache Hive data warehouse, Butler combined that data with each user’s current location and worked out the number of friends between each pair of cities.

After initially plotting his findings, he then replaced the ‘dots’ that marked the locations of friends with just the lines that joined them together and set about ‘weighting’ each pair of cities in terms of the distance between them and the number of friends connecting them. The more friends there were between two places, the more the lines on the graphic built up from black, through to blue and, finally, white.

“After a few minutes of rendering, the new plot appeared, and I was a bit taken aback by what I saw,” writes Butler. “The blob had turned into a surprisingly detailed map of the world. Not only were continents visible, certain international borders were apparent as well. What really struck me, though, was knowing that the lines didn’t represent coasts or rivers or political borders, but real human relationships. Each line might represent a friendship made while travelling, a family member abroad, or an old college friend pulled away by the various forces of life.

Later I replaced the lines with great circle arcs, which are the shortest routes between two points on the Earth. Because the Earth is a sphere, these are often not straight lines on the projection. When I shared the image with others within Facebook, it resonated with many people. It’s not just a pretty picture, it’s a reaffirmation of the impact we have in connecting people, even across oceans and borders.”

Perhaps shows the in

Shown above, Europe and the north coast of Africa. Spain seems to have the least activity, with Madrid in the centre of the coutry appearing like a centre to a series of spokes. The glow to the north east of Scotland shows that the Faroe Islands, with a population of 50,000 uses the social network to communicate largely with Scotland, Iceland and Denmark.

While a beautiful construction, where an image of the countries emerges from the lines generated by each erlationship on Facebook, it’s doesn’t really offer any surprising conclusions. North America – intensity to the east in the US, fading westwards across the country.

The hint of an outline to Australia, with the dominant Facebook activity reflecting where most of its inhabitants live in the south east of the country.

In Africa, while there appears to be activity in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt in the north; Ghana and Nigeria in the mid west, and Uganda and Kenya to the east, there’s next to nothing over the rest of the continent (bar South Africa).

The full version of the above world map can be viewed on Paul Butler’s post on Facebook, Visualising Friendships, and as a 3.8mb jpg file, here.

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