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Graduation Year Drives Facebook Connections for College Grads

Are you connected to college friends on Facebook? Research from North Carolina State University shows that these social networks tend to form around graduation year or university housing – rather than other interests.

Researchers examined the first 100 colleges and universities to have students, faculty or staff join Facebook when the site exclusively contained .edu email addresses. As students, faculty and staff joined Facebook, social networks were formed. Each university, in essence, formed its own network – ranging in size from 762 to 50,000.

Sharing a graduation year, rather than other factors, drives online social networks.

“We wanted to see what defining characteristics grouped people together within these networks,” says Amanda Traud, a Ph.D. student in biomathematics at NC State and lead author of a paper describing the study. The social networks studied in this case included all of the users and their Facebook friends from these schools in September 2005. The data was given to the researchers by Adam D’Angelo of Facebook.

The researchers used community detection techniques to identify groups within each network. A community was defined as a group in which individuals were more connected to each other than to the rest of the network. The researchers then used statistical tools to determine what characteristics dominated each group.

“We found that most groups were largely composed of people with the same graduation year, though some groups were composed of people who lived in the same university housing,” Traud says. “I found it interesting that the subject people majored in and where people went to high school played little to no role in the social structure.”

The university networks that had groups dominated by housing also tended to have smaller residence halls, or halls in which students lived for more than one year.

“This indicates that universities can contribute to creating a strong sense of community among students by manipulating their student housing efforts,” Traud says. “In the absence of these efforts, graduation year seems to be the default.”

The paper, “Social structure of Facebook networks,” was co-authored by Dr. Peter Mucha at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Dr. Mason Porter of the University of Oxford. The paper is published online in the journal Physica A. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation, the UNC ECHO program and the James S. McDonnell Foundation.


Note to Editors: The study abstract follows.

“Social structure of Facebook networks”

Authors: Amanda L. Traud, North Carolina State University, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill; Peter J. Mucha, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill; Mason A. Porter, University of Oxford

Published: online, Physica A

Abstract: We study the social structure of Facebook ‘‘friendship’’ networks at one hundred American colleges and universities at a single point in time, and we examine the roles of user attributes – gender, class year, major, high school, and residence – at these institutions. We investigate the influence of common attributes at the dyad level in terms of assortativity coefficients and regression models. We then examine larger-scale groupings by detecting communities algorithmically and comparing them to network partitions based on user characteristics. We thereby examine the relative importance of different characteristics at different institutions, finding for example that common high school is more important to the social organization of large institutions and that the importance of common major varies significantly between institutions. Our calculations illustrate how microscopic and macroscopic perspectives give complementary insights on the social organization at universities and suggest future studies to investigate such phenomena further.