Wolfram Alpha study of Facebook users details relationship cycles

Men talk more about music, movies, television than women, the research also found

The average Facebook user has 342 friends and teenage girls and boys tend to misreport their relationship status as married, according to an analysis of Facebook data by Wolfram Alpha founder Stephen Wolfram.

Wolfram analyzed Facebook data from more than 1 million people who use the Wolfram Alpha Personal Analytics for Facebook feature and combined that with some anonymized statistics and detailed data contributions from people to take a look at people's relationships and friendships on Facebook.

Wolfram for instance looked at relationship status information and compared that to age data, he told visitors to The Next Web conference in Amsterdam on Friday. The Facebook data corresponded remarkably well to a U.S. Census Bureau survey that also tracks marital status, Wolfram said. "Apart from the weird 13-year-old kids saying that they are married type thing, it tracks surprisingly well," he said.

"It starts off with most people being single and then it ends up after a while that most people say they married," Wolfram said.

Young people are often single but the amount of people saying that they are single steadily declines until it becomes stable at age 40, his data showed. People who say they are in a relationship are mostly in their twenties. The line starts to descend in the late twenties when about 25 percent of people say they are in a relationship. People start marrying around the age of 20, and at 40 about 75 percent of Facebook users state they are married, according to Wolfram's data.

It is interesting how similar the process from being single to getting married looks to a physical process like a chemical reaction, Wolfram said. It seems that humans behave in aggregate a bit like molecules with certain reaction rates for entering into relationships and marrying, according to Wolfram.

"There are a lot of interesting things one can do, sort of mining this social universe of Facebook," Wolfram said.

The ages of Facebook users' friends, for example, correlate to the users themselves. "We see that for young ages, the ages of friends are very closely correlated with the age of the person themselves, but as they get older it spreads out a bit," Wolfram said.

Wolfram also looked at how people's interests change. When people get older they talk less about video games and become more interested in politics, he found. And men typically talk more about sports and technology than women and men also talk more about movies, television and music.

Women talk more about family and friends, relationships, pets and animals and more about health after they have reached child-bearing years, Wolfram found. The peak time for talking about school and university is not surprisingly around the age of 20. And in their twenties, people get more interested in talking about their careers and money, according to Wolfram's analysis, which he detailed in a blog post.

Wolfram does not yet know what the data all means or what theories can be constructed from it, he said. "But it feels like we're starting to be able to train a serious 'computational telescope' on the 'social universe'. And it's letting us discover all sorts of phenomena. That has the potential to help us understand much more about society and about ourselves. And that, by the way, provide great examples of what can be achieved with data science, and with the technology I've been working on developing for so long," he said in his blog post.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

Tags Internet-based applications and servicesWolfram Researchinternetsocial mediaFacebooksearch engines

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Loek Essers

IDG News Service

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