Tuesday, March 22, 2011

World Map Drawn Using Facebook Friend Connections

The interesting world map below was created by Facebook data structuring intern Paul Butler. Paul drew the map by using connections between 10 million Facebook friends. That’s right, this entire map was made using connections between Facebook friends. It’s amazing to me that most of the world’s continents and country borders are so precise and recognizable, again, considering this is rendered entirely from Facebook connections.
World Map Drawn Using Only Facebook Friend Connections
The process Paul used to create the map is very interesting also…
I defined weights for each pair of cities as a function of the Euclidean distance between them and the number of friends between them. Then I plotted lines between the pairs by weight, so that pairs of cities with the most friendships between them were drawn on top of the others. I used a color ramp from black to blue to white, with each line’s color depending on its weight. I also transformed some of the lines to wrap around the image, rather than spanning more than halfway around the world.
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.
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 traveling, a family member abroad, or an old college friend pulled away by the various forces of life.
As you can see, there are several glaring exceptions to the details in this map. In particular, parts of China and Russia lack definition and Brazil is almost non-existent. This can most likely be attributed to the success of other social networking sites in these countries. QZone (China), VKontakte (Russia), and Orkut (Brazil) are reported to be more popular than Facebook in these global regions.

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