A brief observation on Facebook connectivity

Instead of doing some of the work I’m supposed to be doing, I’ve gotten briefly sidetracked by Facebook.

I’m reasonably well-connected on Facebook, with in excess of 1320 “friends.” Yes, that is a loose definition of “friend” but neither do I add everyone who makes a request — I try to limit my connections to people with whom I have had some significant relationship, and with only a very few exceptions they must be people I have met in person more than fleetingly across a crowded room. Professional contacts that don’t quite meet that standard I may connect with via LinkedIn.

If you use Facebook much you will have noticed the nag ads on the side about connecting with people you may know. Today, I was presented with the name of someone I had not heard from in several years, having lost touch after a move, so I clicked through to the screen of all the people who Facebook thought I might know. It was most interesting.

I was presented with a long list of at least 500 names/pictures of unconnected people who apparently share multiple, mutual contacts with me. There were, indeed, about 10 people who I knew in the list who, for one reason or another, I had not previously contacted. I have done so, and I’ll see if they connect back (as I have been typing this, 3 have accepted the links). The rest fit into an interesting distribution:

  • about 5% have anywhere from 20-45 mutual contacts in common, so they are highly connected to me. These are all people whose names I know well from both professional and personal conversations, but have never met. I suspect that many of them would accept “friend” requests from me if I asked. 6 of the 10 people I had missed fell into this group.
  • about 10% have from 10-20 mutual contacts in common so they are well-connected to me. These are all people whose names I know, usually from professional and personal conversations, but occasionally from seeing their names in print. For instance, there are some science fiction authors and a politician in this category. I don’t recall any of my friends mentioning many of these people directly, but I certainly recognize their names. It is interesting that I am so connected to some of these people. Three of the 10 I added were in this group.
  • about 75% are connected to me by 5-7 contacts in common and I don’t recognize the majority of them. Perhaps one out of every 25 is a name I think I recognize, but it is usually so common or similar to someone else I know, I can’t be sure it isn’t coincidence. Some of these people may have been students here 20 years ago (but not in one of my classes) but I can’t be certain. None of these are people I would normally send a connection request (or I else I have already connected with all those who I would have done so).
  • the remaining 10% have only 1-4 contacts in common. I didn’t get all the way through this list as it is huge, and after looking through several hundred realized that I was unlikely to find anyone I knew. If my total current “friend” list was down around 20, this might be doable, but I tend to connect with other very highly connected people, and the numbers are way too large to think about. There was only 1 person I ran across in this group who I connected with, and he is a newcomer to Facebook and works at a Federal agency, so he has been reticent about making connections (to date).

Is there a grand conclusion to this exercise? Probably, but I’m not sure what it might be. I simply found the idea that my connections have connections in common that group like this to be interesting. But, I guess it also says something that the friends of my friends aren’t mostly rock stars, professional athletes, supermodels, astronauts, TV hosts, movie stars, or famous artists — they’re mostly teachers, scientists, lawyers, engineers, and print journalists. We’re not the ones who have agents negotiating multimillion dollar contracts for us, who have people who want to collect our autographs, and who are stalked by the paparazzi; we’re the ones who know that if we didn’t do what we do for our day jobs, society would cease functioning as a civilized organization.

That’s not a bad place to be highly connected.

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5 Responses to “A brief observation on Facebook connectivity”

  1. Morton Dyas Hurt Says:

    I have been studying my family history for over 9 years. I have a Lucretia Mary Spafford in my family tree. She was the wife of my great great maternal grandfather Samuel Harris. She is the mother of my great grandfather Albert Brooks Harris. Other than her gravesite in the Cemetery in Truxton, Cortland County, NY and a marriage certificate naming her as the mother of my great grandfather I cannot find any other evidence. I want to say she is a daughter of Bradford Street anI Patience Mann but I do not have any evidence to support this conclusion. I have been doing this so long and have contacted so many genealogy resources [Ancestry, Family Search etc.] that I have somehow convinced them of my conclusion. I am turning to you as you may well be the only hope of finding out who is this Lucretia Mary Spafford. If you chose not to respond to the reply I will totally understand. Thank you for your consideration.

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    • spaf Says:

      My records — including the 1888 book on the history of the Spafford family — lists Bradstreet Spafford and Patience Mann. Bradstreet was born in Fairfax, VT in 1773 to Bradstreet (Sr) and Mary Page. Bradstreet (Jr) and Patience are shown as having children Ansel, Lorenzo, Orlean, Mayette, Eliza, and Lurzana. None of them show any connection to Cortland. Neither do I have any record of a Lucretia Spafford. Her date of birth in 1796 would fit with Bradstreet as her father, except Orlean was born in early November of 1796. It therefore seems unlikely that Bradstreet was Lucretia’s father.

      Orlean had a granddaughter named Lucretia, so there might be an aunt or cousin that had the name, but I have no record of that.

      Lurzana and Eliza are listed as residing in Missouri, so I don’t think either was Lucretia.

      When was she married? There is a Lucretia Spafford shown in the NY 1825 census as a head of household in Pomfret, NY, which is quite some ways away, but still in NYS. It seems unlikely to be the same one, because she would have been 29 and unmarried, and that would have been unusual for the time.

      Ancestry.com has an entry that matches your description, but there is no information to back it up. I have found a lot of dubious information there, without citations, so I would be hesitant to accept it.

      There are a few other Spaffords who read this blog, so they might run across this and have more information.

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      • Morton D Hurt Says:

        It’s been almost a year since we exchanged messages. As good fortune would have it coupled with the advances of DNA we made a connection for the mysterious Mary Lucretia Spafford. She is the Daughter of Eliphalet Spafford and Betsey Buck. Eliphalet was the son of Asa Spafford and Sussana Hulda Flint. Betsey Buck was the daughter of Daniel Buck and Tryphenia Manning, Look forward to hearing from you.

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      • spaf Says:

        Excellent detective work!

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      • Morton D Hurt's comment Says:

        Thank you for the quick response. I’ll tune into your blog for further family updates. I truly had almost surrendered my quest. A recently found cousins comment about his his DNA connection was the clue.

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