Haven’t posted for a while, but this story in Tuesday’s Washington Post lead to some serious Googling which uncovered a fascinating study by a grad student at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that blew my mind. First the gist of the Post article. Schools in the D.C. area are waking up to the fact that lots of high schoolers are sharing incredibly intimate details about themselves in blogs, and on sites like MySpace and Facebook. For instance, ” Sidwell Friends School in the District recently prohibited students from using their school e-mail addresses to register for access to Facebook, a widely used networking site for college and high school students. Before the holidays, Sidwell, Georgetown Day School in the District and the Madeira School in McLean wrote to parents to warn them about use of the site, and the Barrie School, in Silver Spring, recently asked a student to leave over the misuse of a blog.”
So I decided to take a closer look at Facebook and see if it really is as sinister as this article made it out to be. As I have mentioned in previous posts, my approach to search is, well, “free-form” would be a polite way to describe it. Somehow I came across a paper by PhD candidate Fred Stutzman, with the intriguing title, “Student Life on the Facebook.” You can read it on his blog. or bear with me for the abridged “executive summary.”
Over the course of a semester, Stutzman analyzed the behavior of UNC students in social network communities. He was particularly interested in Facebook because in a previous study he found that 88% of freshman had active Facebook accounts. His current study was based on a sample of all undergrads in the class of 2009.
First mind blowing factoid from his study: On the first day of school, 3,193 freshman had a Facebook account. That was over 85% of the entire class, and many had already been using Facebook for many months. As it turns out, the months of June and July represent the greatest months of account creation. He found that in the two days following freshman orientation, there was a 200-500% increase in daily account creation.
Second factoid (not so mind blowing): Over the course of the semester Facebook accounts grew to encompass 94% of the freshman class.
Third factoid (this is truly amazing): While the number of freshman did not grow substantially over the course of the semester, the number of friendship connections expanded at a remarkable rate. As freshman made friends over the course of the semester, their social network size grew from 144,319 to 373,651!!!
The average number of Facebook friends a freshman had on day one was 46 and at the end of the semester it was 111.
Stutzman has lots of other insights into the behavior and interests of these students, including their political orientation and their favorite books, movies and music, ranked according to their political orientation. If you want to learn more, he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.