How geographically or linguistically diverse is your online social network?

Three recent news stories highlight the international nature of many social media platforms:

This begs the question how much does an average user’s friends’ network reflect this geographic / linguistic diversity of the platform. My guess based on homophily and past work is not very much. Despite being on the same platform with individuals from many diverse countries, the average user seeks out those individuals similar to him or herself. Networks like Facebook often simply reflect real world ties by encouraging individuals to use their real names and prompting them to friend past high school and college friends. Twitter using screen names in a pseudo-anonymous style and not forcing users to follow those following them seems like it might promote more diverse ties. On the other hand, I am not certain this is the case. Ethan Zuckerman recently wrote about one Portuguese language phrase—cala boca Galvao—that confused many users when it became a top trending topic on Twitter. I am building an application to let users plot the geographic diversity of their friends’ networks, and I hope to make that application live this fall. In the meantime, I am open to suggestions and tips on research to look at.

In addition to the limits of personal social networks, there are also of course limits to platforms. I was reminded of this today when a friend was trying to join Mixi, the most popular social network in Japan. Not only is the network entirely in Japanese, but it also requires users to give their Japanese cell phone number and confirm it via a text message sent to the phone. The lack of demand in forming geographically diverse ties partly explains why social media platforms can exist without interoperability and why country isolated networks like the Facebook clone in China can work successfully. It’s my hope that an increase in awareness, tools showing users the diversity of their personal networks, and easily accessible information sources might increase the diversity of our consumption of information on the Internet. In parting, I stumbled on a nice service aggregating the Google News feeds across several countries today:

Aggregation of Google News across several countries

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4 Responses to How geographically or linguistically diverse is your online social network?

  1. RJ says:

    I think there may be a couple of factors here. Primarily, I think that people’s online social networks mirror their real-life social networks. If a person has a social network composed of people from different geographic regions, different cultures, and different languages, there are likely to be certain traits that person has. For example, have they studied abroad? Have they grown up in a diverse environment? Have they gone to a college with a diverse make up? Do they speak more than one language? Do they have interests in other cultures?

    In my case, I can say the cultural, geographic, and lingual diversity of my social network results from the environment in which I grew up. In S. Florida, there are people from many different backgrounds. I’ve also worked and lived in different states. Many of my friends are interested in different cultures. My roommate and current girlfriend are both from China. I know most of the people in my online social network from my real life — I have met only one person through the internet.

    So, why don’t people tend to meet people online? I think the simple answer is that it’s hard. People have trouble meeting in general… there’s a barrier of entry. (Think of a vector field with a medium-strength repulsion but once you pass the bifurcation, the direction of the vector field changes.) Many web sites make it hard to meet new people unless you know them already. For example, Facebook requires that you know a person’s name or must otherwise initiate contact. Twitter requires you know someone’s username to follow them. (You can find people in other ways, but it requires significantly more effort.)

    There are a few sites that are not like that. For example, Slashdot, reddit, or other news commentary sites. Another example might be chat rooms or IRC. However, these also require a knowledge that they exist and a willingness to engage in discussion with strangers. Often, they require a common interest. These are not the majority, though.

    Simply put, we need more web sites that change the vector field of meeting people. I think eHarmony is good in that way — it matches you with people and has a process to ease the difficulty of starting interaction.

  2. RJ says:

    PS — I mean unstable fixed point, not bifurcation.

  3. Carol Uliano says:

    This is a wonderful post and may be one that is followed up to see what goes on

    A buddy mailed this link the other day and I’m desperately waiting your next write. Carry on on the first-class work.

  4. Sid Mansi says:

    Spotted your webblog via google the other day and absolutely liked it so much. Carry on the excellent work.

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