As part of a larger study I’m working on, I need a way to validate social network measures like size and diversity. For example, if Johnny has 1000 friends on Facebook, you would say that his online social network is much larger than Suzy’s of 100 friends. But “in real life,” does Johnny really have more social connections? More importantly, does Johnny have proportionally more social connections than Suzy? In other words, can we trust that an online social network measure like size reflects some real, meaningful difference in
people’s social networks?
This is further complicated because “real life” social networks are themselves hard to define. They have always been a mix of close and distant connections, and may now be increasingly a mix of people we’ve met and people we’ve only become acquainted with online (but with whom we do engage).
Somehow, we’d like to get a correlation measure between people’s online and offline social dynamics–in particular, social network size. To do this, I’ll distribute a short survey to members of select “social network(ing)” sites asking a few simple questions about their online and offline networks. (status: the survey is in development).
But first, which sites to study? Of course, I had my own ideas about which sites are most popular and which ones I participate most actively on. I wanted to see what other sites or services my friends would suggest–possibly giving me ideas or revealing sites that I should be aware of. *Disclaimer*: this is about as un-scientific as polling comes…but this was fun, easy, and quick to do.
I asked friends on Twitter and from my Gmail contacts (through Google chat) what the top 4 “social network” sites were, in their opinion. Some people couldn’t think of four. Some clearly listed their favorites; others what they perceived to be most popular. It really didn’t matter I got some data (my favorite thing in the world) and got to make a plot. Whoo!
20 people provided between 3-6 social network sites that came to mind. Everyone said Facebook. Myspace and LinkedIn were, unsurprisingly, the other top choices. Twitter and Flicker also scored some points (surely biased because I asked my Twitter friends for their opinions). Several folks said: “and one of those dating sites” without specifying which one, although match.com got several points. I was particularly surprised by the long tail of responses, however. I’d never even heard of elance or xanga, and probably wouldn’t have considered del.icio.us, YouTube, Flickr, LiveJournal, or Meetup to be “social networking”…although this speaks to the point that sites are becoming increasingly social (people can develop a sense of community), even where it was not specifically designed.
Thanks to all my friends who provided input to this informal survey! I live in California (currently in the Bay Area), so this data is surely biased…even still, if we could get a sense of the similarities or differences between online/offline social network dynamics with Facebook and Myspace users, and possibly also Twitter users, that would be quite interesting indeed. (LinkedIn will be considered, but since it’s primarily for business/professional connections, we might expect only a portion of people’s social network to be represented there.)