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.