An intern at Facebook has used the wealth of information and data at his fingertips to map the world through friendships. It sounds like a fairly existential experiment but it has produced a surprisingly accurate map of the world – or should we say the Facebook-influenced part of it.
Paul Butler is an intern on Facebook’s data infrastructure engineering team and had a notion to see what the world would look like if he mapped Facebook's users' friendships. “I was interested in seeing how geography and political borders affected where people lived relative to their friends. I wanted a visualization that would show which cities had a lot of friendships between them.”
In order to do this Butler took a sample of about 10 million pairs of friends from Apache Hive, Facebook’s data warehouse (we hope he asked permission first). He then plotted each user’s current location and added up the total number of friendships between each city. He then merged the data with the longitude and latitude of each city. Having plotted these locations he decided to create lines between the cities but what appeared was “a big white blob.” Following some tinkering, such as adding weighting to each line depending on the number of relationships between certain cities, what resulted is a surprisingly accurate picture of the world.
Looking at the image, it is clear to see those parts of the world where Facebook has yet to make a serious impact. China and central Africa are pretty much blacked out when it comes to relationships with other countries. As you would imagine north America and central and western Europe are the areas with the most relationships.
Butler added on his blog post : “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. It's not just a pretty picture, it's a reaffirmation of the impact we have in connecting people, even across oceans and borders." No doubt if Butler continues using his initiative to such effect, he will have a bright future with Zuckerberg and Co.