Friday, March 28, 2008

People You May Know

So Facebook this week ripped off a standard LinkedIn feature where it uses your network of friends to try and guess at people you may know.  It's a fairly standard thing at this point, I suppose.  LinkedIn's is almost like magic, I have no idea how it works - one of the first people that ever showed up on their list for me was my first mortgage broker, who I hadn't used in 5 years.  Coincidence?  Spooky.

Facebook's seems to be strictly overlapping of friends.  Which, in turn, means that it's good for rounding up the stragglers.  I'll explain.  Say that there are 50 people in your company who are on Facebook.  You are friends with 30 of them.  So on average you overlap 30 friends with those other 20 who are not on your friends list, and presto, up they come in the "You may know this person" column.  So in that sense, it's completely accurate, and even borderline useful.  It works across companies as well, since there's no reason why the same logic doesn't apply to previous companies.  There are 50 people on Facebook from your last job, and you are friends with 10, ergo you overlap 10 friends with 40 other people.  The problem there is that you'll get many new people who have been hired since you were last there who no, you don't know, but Facebook can't figure that out.

I did get one hit, though, that I found fascinating.  I might know Tom, because Tom is also friends with Jeff and Brian.  Here's the catch - Jeff and Brian don't know each other, at all.  I checked.  I currently work with Jeff.  Brian I met 10 years ago and have kept in touch with (he was in my wedding), but other than online correspondence we don't really hang out. As a matter of fact he's in New York and I'm in Boston.  Interestingly, though, Jeff and I both went to WPI (even though that is not how I know him, as he went years after I did), and Jeff and Brian are both in acapella groups.

So, I email Tom and introduce myself.  Turns out that he knows Jeff because Tom's fiance knows Jeff's wife.  Tom is at WPI shooting footage for a film he is working on, apparently on the subject of acapella groups, and runs into Brian.

That's the sort of story that's interesting, but not terribly useful to me.  Does that make Tom my friend?  Not really, no.  But if Facebook uncovered more wild 6-degrees style of connections like that, I'd find it a fascinating tool indeed.

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