Social network analysis: “The Friendster Autopsy”

A group of researchers has provided an autopsy of Friendster:

Friendster was once the hottest thing in social networking. Google wanted to buy it for $30 million back in 2003, but — burdened by technical glitches and a more nimble competitor in Facebook — it was pretty much dead in the U.S. by 2006. That said, it trudged along for a few more years, helped by a relatively strong following in southeast Asia. Then, around 2009, a site redesign crushed it…

What they found was that by 2009, Friendster still had tens of millions of users, but the bonds linking the network weren’t particularly strong. Many of the users weren’t connected to a lot of other members, and the people they had befriended came with just a handful of their own connections. So they ended up being so loosely affiliated with the network, that the burden of dealing with a new user interface just wasn’t worth it.

“First the users in the outer cores start to leave, lowering the benefits of inner cores, cascading through the network towards the core users, and thus unraveling,” Garcia told us during an online chat…

The researchers describe heart of successful networks in terms of what that they call K-cores. These are subset of users who not only have a lot of friends, but they have “resilience and social influence,” Garcia says. As these K-cores disintegrated, the whole Friendster thing fell apart.

This sounds like a classic social network analysis: are there enough strong bonds in a large network to keep it together? As they note, it is not just about the number of users involved but rather the relationships and interactions between key groups that have an outsized influence on the entire network.

I suspect Facebook (and other social network people) has some idea about this idea already. What I would want to hear about is how then Facebook helps keep these “k-cores” or hubs or key nodes together. Are the algorithms for news feeds geared toward these people or groups? How are things tweaked to help these k-cores grow and continue to have an outsized influence?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s