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Wolfram Alpha Drills Deep Into Facebook Data 70

Posted by Soulskill
from the wherein-the-word-friend-loses-all-meaning dept.
Nerval's Lobster writes "Back in January, when Wolfram Alpha launched an updated version of its Personal Analytics for Facebook module, the self-billed 'computational knowledge engine' asked users to contribute their detailed Facebook data for research purposes. The researchers at Wolfram Alpha, having crunched all that information, are now offering some data on how users interact with Facebook. For starters, the median number of 'friends' is 342, with the average number of friends peaking for those in their late teens before declining at a steady rate. Younger people also have a tendency to largely add Facebook friends around their own age — for example, someone who's 20 might have lots of friends in the twenty-something range, and comparatively few in other decades of life—while middle-aged people tend to have friends across the age spectrum. Beyond that, the Wolfram Alpha blog offers up some interesting information about friend counts (and 'friend of friend' counts), how friends' networks tend to 'cluster' around life events such as school and sports teams, and even how peoples' postings tend to evolve as they get older — as people age, for example, they tend to talk less about video games and more about politics. 'It feels like we're starting to be able to train a serious "computational telescope" on the "social universe,"' the blog concluded. 'And it's letting us discover all sorts of phenomena.'"
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Wolfram Alpha Drills Deep Into Facebook Data

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Just wait till we train that telescope on the social phenomenon that's slashdot.

  • True Democracy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Corwn of Amber (802933) <corwinofamber@ s k y n e t .be> on Saturday April 27, 2013 @02:53PM (#43568835) Journal

    This should replace elections. And elected officials. Measure the real people's publicly-stated opinions and rule from that.

    Replace all corrupted clowns chosen by rigged popularity contests with math. Math can be trusted. Public data can be verified. Anything short of "free to know for everyone everywhere forever" has no place in public policy space.

    That is all.

    • True Wisdom (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Ostracus (1354233) on Saturday April 27, 2013 @02:58PM (#43568869) Journal

      Wisdom of the crowd. [wikipedia.org]

    • Lies, damned lies, and statistics.

      • I talk about open data, not manipulated results of undisclosed calculations.

        • Re:True Democracy (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Dogtanian (588974) on Saturday April 27, 2013 @05:30PM (#43570025) Homepage

          Replace all corrupted clowns chosen by rigged popularity contests with math. Math can be trusted.

          Lies, damned lies, and statistics.

          I talk about open data, not manipulated results of undisclosed calculations.

          The parent poster said exactly what I was going to.

          If you think that the famous comment "lies, damned lies and statistics" refers only to concealed and rigged calculations, then you're wrong.

          But back to what you said originally; your "math can be trusted" comment struck me as blinkered idealism meets dangerously inexperienced naivity. It's quite possible (and common) to use and abuse publicly-available data- via technically-correct use of statistics- to argue many different cases. Unemployment has gone down? Yes, because the definition of "unemployed" has been changed, and people (say) choosing to accept another benefit are no longer counted as unemployed. Or maybe lots of people have part time jobs for five hours a week, but they're not "unemployed".

          Maths is perfect, in itself? Yes, we know that. It doesn't solve all the problems if you're proposing running the real world that way. Opinion is not mathematical. How exactly do you propose to correlate and translate people's opinions into a mathematical system? That in itself is subject to interpretation of some sort, whether via manual means or automatic.

          Wolfram's system might be useful and insightful, but how do you translate that into democratic representation? And politicians- or their equivalents- will find a way to manipulate people's perceived or stated opinions if it suits them. And they'll find a way to manipulate the opinion-based system.

          Maybe it's realised that by convincing a small number of people to feel very strongly about something, or talk about it more, that their opinion carries more weight. Let's radicalise some people and/or foster extremist opinion and behaviour to achieve our ends.

          So, the current opinion-translated-into-pseudo-maths system is being manipulated and needs changed? Who decides if it's to be changed? The people? Ah... the measure of the people's opinion says that they don't want the system changed. Of course, that "measure" is via the current, manipulable system, so it supports itself. Unfortunately.

          Democracy and voting are- to some extent- already attempts to translate opinion into a solid mathematical representation. The vote is- essentially- a translation of an opinion into a mathematical entity. Of course, it's not perfect, but at least the person making it gets to decide how their opinion translates.

          Your system- abandoning voting for more "direct" means- would actually be less direct, because it would be imposing someone else's chosen interpretation of that person's opinion. Well, I say "your system", but actually, you didn't propose a system at all beyond using mathematics. Which we're doing anyway; the hard bit is choosing the most appropriate mathematical system to represent people as a whole, and translating people's opinions into input for that system.

          • The household survey on which unemployment figures are based has nothing whatsoever to do with benefit claims.

            Please stop.

            • by Dogtanian (588974)

              The household survey on which unemployment figures are based has nothing whatsoever to do with benefit claims.

              Huh? I was making a generalised, *hypothetical* example of how politicians (in general) could- and have in the past- manipulated a particular statistic while the underlying "maths" is still correct. I gave no indication of referring to a specific case, because I wasn't.

              I said nothing about "benefit claims", and I've no idea which "household survey" you think I'm referring to. I don't even know which *country* this alleged survey is meant to relate to, though I'd guess (possibly) the US, since that's often

          • by umghhh (965931)
            how true - I looked at the parliament of my country once and saw only pigs there. I was shocked. Then I looked around and I found out that majority of people:
            • have no interest, and who can blame them
            • have not enough information and brain capacity to understand even less complex problems
            • we all are corrupt to some extent

            Bottom line: The parliament is an essence of the society it exists in. If you are disappointed try to change the society if possible in a peaceful way. That is of course impossible in a huge c

    • Anything short of "free to know for everyone everywhere forever" has no place in public policy space.

      I agree in theory. We definitely should demand this level of transparency.

      This should replace elections.

      Maybe reaching with that idea. 'elections' in the US are basically a big survey. You know this. The thing is, if you are asking a citizen who they want as their leader, it's an 'election'...so your idea really wouldn't 'replace' as much as 'improve' the current system.

      Pedantics aside, I like where you're c

    • by guttentag (313541)

      This should replace elections. And elected officials. Measure the real people's publicly-stated opinions and rule from that.

      Replace all corrupted clowns chosen by rigged popularity contests with math. Math can be trusted. Public data can be verified.

      [sarcasm]Right. Because "liking" a company or product on facebook to get 1,000 VirtuaCoins or 10% off your next purchase means you actually like it. No rigging there. Totally trustworthy. It's absolutely certain that you approved the message you're sending.[/sarcasm]

    • Replace all corrupted clowns chosen by rigged popularity contests with math.

      Question: What do you use to rig a popularity contest with?

      Math can be trusted.

      Yes, but not the people doing the math.

      Public data can be verified.

      You can GIGO the same errors over and over.

      Anything short of "free to know for everyone everywhere forever" has no place in public policy space.

      Where's the torrent for this data? Oh, right... guess it "has no place in public policy space" then, eh?

      • Replace all corrupted clowns chosen by rigged popularity contests with math.

        Question: What do you use to rig a popularity contest with?

        Massive campaigns. for the clowns. I think you call them Political Action Committees.

        Math can be trusted.

        Yes, but not the people doing the math.

        Invalid argument : reproducible results are reproducible.
        "Making no sense" is a reproducible result.

        Public data can be verified.

        You can GIGO the same errors over and over.

        Anything short of "free to know for everyone everywhere forever" has no place in public policy space.

        Where's the torrent for this data? Oh, right... guess it "has no place in public policy space" then, eh?

        What part of "public, open, free" don't you get? There are methods to verify data integrity and detect tampering.
        Fuck it, enshrine the measures in a blockchain to be sure. There, what "garbage in" now?
        As for garbage out, well no-one who'd publish anything based on that would have ANY credibility without disclosing at least en

    • by instagib (879544)

      the real people's publicly-stated opinions

      The opinions of "the masses" are entirely based upon second hand information, i.e. whatever media outlet they believe. Those media outlets don't even have expert teams like the politicians should have and listen to, so this won't really make for better policies.

      • "You can't fool all of the people all of the time". Discuss.

        • by abirdman (557790) *
          This is a fine nugget of philosophical truthiness, originally coined by the carnival huckster P.T. Barnum. I have some gnawing reservations regarding the advisability of adopting it as the philosophical underpinning for my vision of the future. YMMV
    • by Georules (655379)
      Using facebook as the data source? No thank you.
    • by Hentes (2461350)

      Math can be trusted

      But a closed source math program can't.

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      This should replace elections. And elected officials. Measure the real people's publicly-stated opinions and rule from that.

      Replace all corrupted clowns chosen by rigged popularity contests with math. Math can be trusted. Public data can be verified. Anything short of "free to know for everyone everywhere forever" has no place in public policy space.

      Exactly. The Salem Witch Trials were a GOOD thing. As were the lynch mobs. And the Boston Marathon bombing? That kid featured on Reddit should've changed his na

    • by mythix (2589549)

      so if you have no compouter, dont want one, or cant afford one (or internet) then you should have no voice?

  • I don't know what's dumber to post about, politics or games.

    Games are at least fun for its own sake?

    All my liberal friends here in NYC don't have to interact with conservatives IRL, but conservative schoolmates and family from back in Iowa are their major gripe about Facebook.

    I guess that's half the reason I stopped Facebook, political cheerleading.

    • by Razgorov Prikazka (1699498) on Saturday April 27, 2013 @03:49PM (#43569197)
      It is politics that made me not take a FB account in the first place.
      This is why: In the 1930's Adolf Hitler was ELECTED into government. A couple of years later he invaded a lot of countries, including mine. The nazi's took control of all the files the government had on its citizens. People who had (for example) Rosenbaum or Levi as a family name were 'visited'. Police files on 'crimes' like homosexuality were examined as well and although the original government wasn't actively prosecuting gay people, the nazi's turned out to be slightly more active in that regard. People who had checked the box 'Jehova's Witness' also got to stare down the business end of a rifle. And the list goes on. All straight out of the paper files, with compliments of the former government.
      If the nazi's had FB tough, they would have their hands on far, far, far more explicit and far more detailed information, searchable with a mouse click. And people provide those bits of information without hesitation, without complaining and out of free will. The idiots!
      And for anyone thinking... nah, that 1940's business would never happen again... You are probably among the first one's rounded up.

      Also, politics may change. What is legal now, might not be legal tomorrow (because the elected government puts new laws in place), and the elected government will set their constitutional instruments (aka police, intelligence agencies) on FB to monitor offenders.
      Social media and politicians are as dangerous as a box of nitroglycerin. In a roller coaster. Doing 100mph. On square wheels...
      No thank you, not for me!
      • Yeah, though I'm all for gay marriage, I'm also like "You guys used to be practically illegal and now you want to be put on the official list of gays?" I know that people publicly proclaiming their rights is an important step for ending persecution for all time, but obviously others are much more optimistic and less cynical than me. (This is also a funny idea to bring up at parties or on the Internet.) And it's way off topic.

      • you should seriously get treated for paranoia.

      • by ignavus (213578)

        Of course, the first people they will come for are the "anti-social" ones that refuse to have a Facebook account. Clearly that lot have something to hide.

      • by Occams (2422082)
        Godwin. You lose!
      • What country are you in?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 27, 2013 @03:12PM (#43568963)

    For starters, the median number of 'friends' is 342

    It appears Douglas Adams [wikipedia.org] was off by 300.

  • by guttentag (313541) on Saturday April 27, 2013 @03:27PM (#43569041) Journal
    As previously [slashdot.org] noted [slashdot.org], "Slashdot Editor" Nick Kolakowski is once again promoting his own "Business Intelligence" [slashdot.org] opinion pieces under the guise of the fake user Nerval's Lobster [slashdot.org].

    That's not to say that the data is without merit or interest. The issue here is that Slashdot's publication of the April 24 post on Wolfram's blog [stephenwolfram.com] had to wait until after Kolakowski had offered his summary of it on April 26 [slashdot.org]. Why did slashdot readers have to wait a few days for Kolakowski to write his own summary of the blog posting? What value did he add?
  • Real Research (Score:2, Insightful)

    by globaljustin (574257)

    Good luck trying to get a report like this from facebook.com or the like...too bad, that...this data is very useful.

    This is real research. Rigorous, cleanly factorized, unbiased, work shown for others to check.

    In companies today, this kind of thing doesn't happen often. Usually, there is an 'economic' pressure on the results. Everything is filtered through a 'context' of who will see the report and what they will do after they see it. People's jobs are on the line.

    If companies want to **truly** use 'big dat

    • This is real research. Rigorous, cleanly factorized, unbiased, work shown for others to check.

      Real, yes. Open for checking, yes. Rigorous, maybe. Ceanly factorized, not so much. Unbiased, it is to laugh.

      Just from the summary I see two classic issues: Selection bias and confusing generational samples with age effects.

      Selection bias is cascaded. First, it's sampling only people who joined facebook. Second, it's only sampling the subset who both heard about and chose to download and use the tool and let

      • tl;dr

        but thanks!

        seriously it's obvious you have real research experience and i'm happy to see it on display

        I did read your comment of course, but it's a little to much for me to type a response to right now.

        I'll say I do agree with this:

        One of the classic errors that arose from this is the belief among psychologists that intelligence ramps up nearly linearly until early adulthood, knees over, and then slowly drops with age

      • @Ungrounded Lightning: What did you study and what do you do now?

        Just curious. My background is in electronics, databases, and network engineering. I taught briefly as an adjunct at WSU, but now I'm starting my own business.

        I did most of my research work in my graduate program. I ran a survey of the entire state for the Indiana Dept of Health about the effectiveness of their 'abstinence-only' education...haha...3 guesses as to what I found.

        I also did some work correlating GIS data with user interface and us

      • by umghhh (965931)
        What one may also say is that if you do not know how certain things work in society you take statistics. This shows you some trends and with some luck and quite some sophistication you can actually deduce how humans society (in this case subset of FB members) tick. You also suggest that Wolfram has no clue which I find very likely - he is a clever guy with a lots of fancy tools.
  • Because it leads to politics later in life.
  • All in the same sentence, I would never have believed it.
  • i noticed when i go out here anywhere on the street people i converse with range from like 14 to 74 while facebook would have me stuck with people 5 down or up around my own. Not that i'm interested in fb in anyway anymore since a long time but it's not really realistic. The part where it forces me to un-check people who did not accept my request i.o. just letting it go one they decline (like about any other social network i have been on after fb) is very annoying so last time i decided on getting a fb acco

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