Facebook is a treasure trove of data about us. The NYT Bits blog has an interesting article Researchers Draw Romantic Insights From Maps of Facebook Networks which looks at a journal research article where Facebook data on over a million declared relationship users were evaluated for strength.
Their key finding was that the total number of mutual friends two people share — embeddedness, in social networking terms — is actually a fairly weak indicator of romantic relationships. Far better, they found, was a network measure that they call dispersion.
This yardstick measures mutual friends, but also friends from the further-flung reaches of a person’s network neighborhood. High dispersion occurs when a couple’s mutual friends are not well connected to one another.
This involves profile views, attending the same events, and messages. Yikes. Based on this, I apparently have a few girlfriends that I did not even know. One is even married.
Particularly intriguing is that when the algorithm fails, it looks as if the relationship is in trouble. A couple in a declared relationship and without a high dispersion on the site are 50 percent more likely to break up over the next two months than a couple with a high dispersion, the researchers found. (Their research tracked the users every two months for two years.)