A Better Way to Develop New Friendships on Social Networks?

Woman using Facebook on her laptop computer

Consider the friends you have. Where or how did you meet them? You probably met a few through other friends you already had. Looking back at the original friendships, however, most of those likely originated at “places” you both frequented: school, workplace, church, swimming pool, gym, bars, etc. Right?

The question is this: Does it—or could it—work the same way in cyberspace? Three researchers are trying to answer this question to determine if the sociological theory—that people who frequent the same places are likely to be similar-minded and could easily connect with one another (become friends)—holds true on the web as it does in reality.

By studying the creation of social connections within a place-based social network called Gowalla (and combining the place-friends and friends-of-friends data), the research team was able to more accurately predict which online “places” are most likely to facilitate social connections.

Do you believe that improving these predictions will help the social networks, e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, My Space, etc.? How, if at all, can it help users of these network services? Do you think it’s OK to use this information (e.g., the “places” you go online) in the predictions? Or do you feel that it is a matter of confidentiality?