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What Facebook ‘could’ do with all that data

Data is big. It’s the new oil. Etc etc etc. It’s hardly a new idea that there might be something exciting about all the data the worlds biggest social network might be harbouring, but I’ve never really sat down and thought what might be possible. As Facebook is understandably reticent to share exactly what they’re doing with all that data, I thought I’d have a stab at what they might be able to do.


Network census

Facebook recently surpassed one billion members. In the UK over half of the population are active users. This is a big community. On the surface we know that Facebook keeps an active log of our friends, and recent subpoena requests revealed that they’re logging every profile we’re visiting, and for how long. Ever searched for an ex-girlfriend? Client? It’s all logged.
While a bit worrying for the ‘curious’ among us, it’s incredibly exciting. If Kevin Bacon is to be believed, we’re all six connections from everyone else, so surely Facebook could use the data between us to let us know exactly who those six people are.


Personal impact analysis (needs a better name)

If credit card companies know, two years before you know yourself, when you’re to be divorced then what could Facebook predict?
Once you’ve been on Facebook a few years your network begins to settle. New additions are indicators of new relationships, new jobs or other major life events. Likewise, losses to the network are equally telling. Then, as any statsician will tell you, once you have a big enough data set you can start to spot patterns, correlations and so on until you can predict events based on earlier events, minor or major.
Doing this with spending is one thing (as the credit card companies will attest), but with people it could be incredibly interesting. Facebook could tell us who among us is most likely to induce life changes in others, and who is more or less static. Who are the disruptors?

And once the disruptors have been identified, this information could be sold to governments, corporates and anyone else willing to identify those in the world most capable of delivering change. Could the politicians of the future be identified early on through statistical means?

Disclaimer – I’m not the first to have a similar idea.


Town planning

The world and how we inhabit is going through a big shift. Recent figures suggest that the majority of humans now live in cities, and so how we move about and live alongside one another has never been more important.
Now combine this with the rise in mobile internet, and you can imagine a useful role that Facebook could play in the design and evolution of our cities. Even if only half of the billion users are accessing the service through mobile devices, that’s still a staggering picture of where the world is; everything you’re in a queue having a quick look at someone’s photos, or updating your status last thing before sleeping, a little log is going somewhere saying who is where.

Overlay this with the network data inherent to Facebook, and you have an incredibly interesting picture of how humans inhabit the world, how they move about, and most critically, and patterns with which they do so. By looking at the patterns behind high-performing individuals, businesses and institutions, planners and architects could design spaces that get the most from us, or encourage key behaviours. Forward thinking mayors, politicians and CEOs could enlist Facebook’s help to better understand and serve residents, voters and employees respectively.


These are a few of the random thoughts I had – would be really interested to hear if others agree, or have alternate ideas.

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