You and your friends have very similar minds

Facebook status update data shows correlations, some more obvious than others

Technology trends and news by Ronny Kerr
December 23, 2010
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status update

Do you ever wonder why your friends’ status updates get all the Likes while yours are left all alone to wither without any reaction? Are you looking to study up on how to attract more commenters to your updates? Look no further than the latest report from the Facebook Data Team, entitled What’s on your mind?

Taking its name from the open-ended status update question akin to Twitter’s “What’s happening?”, the new report studied correlation between word categories and age, friend count, likes and comments, coming up with some conclusions that might seem obvious and others that aren’t so obvious. For example, young people swear more than older people in their status updates. Wow. Less immediately obvious is a finding that says users with lower friend counts talk about family and are more emotional in their updates.

For these correlations, Facebook used the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) dictionary, which breaks words down into 68 meaningful word categories, based on cohesive concepts like parts of speech (pronouns, past-tense verbs), emotional content (positive emotions, anger), or topics (school religion).

The correlation graphs are reproduced below.


Here are a couple sample readings: the graph in the upper left shows that older people tend to type longer statuses (based on “Total Word Count” being at the top); the graph in the bottom right shows that statuses with “Positive Emotions,” listed at the very bottom, tend to attract less comments.


Facebook also found that word usage easily corresponds to what people are normally doing during that time of day (“work”/”school” posts by day, “sleep” posts late at night)--nothing crazy there. Interestingly, status updates tend to be more positive in the early part of the day and gradually become more negative as the day goes on. Be sure to check out the original post for all the data.

Probably the coolest finding of the study, though far from the most surprising, is that users tend to write status updates that have much in common with the updates of their friends.

friends graph

Lisa Zhang, a data science intern at Facebook, explains the above graph in her full blog post:

“The word 'homophily' literally means 'love of the same.' It is the idea that people tend to associate with others similar to them. Homophily was apparent in one part of our analysis, where we looked at the correlation between how much a user uses certain words in his status updates, and how much similar words are used in his friends’ updates shown on his feeds. The correlation plot below shows a clear diagonal line, meaning there is a positive correlation between how much you use words from a word group, and how much your friends do.”

Never before has any organization had such comprehensive access to the thoughts and feelings of so many human beings--well over 500 million worldwide--and it’s almost scary to consider what they could do with that data. In the beginning of her blog post, Zhang is quick to point out that “no human ever read your updates,” but people should be very aware, if not a little concerned, that Facebook knows so much about the mind, at both the individual and social levels.

Still, at least they're sharing the data with us!

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