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Characterizing Facebook users

Characterizing Facebook users

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Published by Debesh Majumdar

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Published by: Debesh Majumdar on May 03, 2011
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The advent of a slew of online social networks andin particular the success of Facebook has led modern marketersto look at these platforms as a medium of conveying messagesregarding brands to a selectively targeted group of people. Usersof online social networks generate huge amounts of data whichneed to be carefully analyzed to create a target group. AsFacebook and other similar social networks become an integralpart of our lives, the issue of what constitutes an appropriatelevel of privacy in these networks is gaining importance in bothacademics and the industry itself. The aim of this research is toidentify the characteristics of OSNs, the various aspects of OSNusers, the privacy policies of the major OSNs and find outwhether the number of hours spent on Facebook is related to thenumber of years a person has been using Facebook. This hasbeen done through a three pronged strategy. The first part of the study consists of summarizing the current state of researchon OSNs. The second part consists of documenting the datagathered through secondary sources to generate insights intoOSN users and their privacy concerns. The third part consists of collecting primary data with the help of a questionnaire. Thesethree when viewed together provides us with a clearer viewabout who the OSN users, what their tastes and preferences areand whether online marketing appeals to them.
 Index Terms
Facebook, Online Social Networks, privacyMarketing, User characterization
social networks have been dominating the Internetworld for some time now. While the last decade seemedto be the decade of search engines, this decade is more aboutOSNs. Already Facebook has surpassed Google as the mostviewed website in US. As this trend continues, OSNs willbecome the favored medium of advertisement of a lot of brands. In such a scenario, it becomes very important tounderstand social networks and the users of these socialnetworks. Generalizations will lead to incorrect results. A lotof research is currently going on to understand OSNs. Aswith anything on the web, privacy is becoming anincreasingly important issue in OSNs. This issue has gainedmore importance in the networked world because we are
Debesh Majumdar is a student at the Vinod Gupta School of Management,IIT Kharagpur (phone: 9378405101; e-mail: m.debesh@ gmail.com). This work has been done under the guidance and supervision of Prof. Prithwis Mukherjee,VGSOM.
seeing a phenomenon where users of OSNs are disclosingvery private information in these networks. Moreover, theentire business model of OSNs depends on using theinformation supplied by the users to create specificallytargeted advertisements. This leads to a situation where OSNsare responsible for ensuring privacy for its users but at thesame time generate revenue and increase profitability through
the users’ data.
This research aims to find out the structure of OSNs and the characteristics of users of OSNs. It also looksat the privacy policies of some of the major online socialnetworks like Facebook, Orkut and Youtube and how theprivacy policies of Facebook have been evolving since itsinception. First of all, a survey of the current literature onOSNs is carried out to determine the status of research onOSNs and also to gain some insights. Secondly, somesecondary data sources are mined to get insights into usercharacteristics of primarily US users and the privacy policiesof online social networks. Finally a survey is conducted to getsome data on Indian Facebook users. Taking all these threetogether, we realize that OSNs are not homogenous. Peopletowards the center of the network tend to exert the maximuminfluence on the network and their content and conversationspercolates the network the fastest. Moreover, user profiles cangive indications about the personality of the user. We alsounderstand through this research that the privacy policies of the major OSNs are continuously evolving and are becomingincreasingly sophisticated for the common user to understand.Indian Facebook users have been studied to understand theirdemography and their attitude towards online marketing.What comes out from that is that although a significantnumber of people are concerned about privacy, they also feelthat if marketers can properly communicate the benefitsderived from a product/service, OSN users would be willingto look at the advertisements. Finally we find that Faceboois addictive. As the number of years spent on Facebook increases so does the usage per week.I.
Characteristics of OSNs
Online Social Networks are different from traditionalwebsites in that the structure, growth and nature of the OSNare determined largely by the activity of its users.
Characterization of users of Online SocialNetworks for Viral Marketing
Debesh Majumdar
2An OSN has the following characteristics:--First, OSNs are
user based
. The users build thenetwork over a period of time and determine the generaldirection of the network by their activities. As more and moreusers join the network and interact with each other, thenetwork gets enriched with content and conversations. Allusers have equal opportunity to determine the conversationsin the network. The open nature of the conversations and theability of users to participate in the discussions at any point of time make the conversations truly unpredictable and dynamic.--Second, OSNs are
. Apart from the regularinteraction through private message boards and public profilepages, users also interact with each using applicationsranging from games to question/answers and throughdifferent groups. These various avenues of communicationincrease the level of communication.--Third, OSNs are
. Users createcommunities according to their interests. Other users havingsimilar interests join the community. The users of thecommunity then start discussing with each other and formnew connections based on these interests. Therefore, groupsand communities help in creating a denser network.--Fourth,
form an important part of anyOSN. The distance of a user from the centre of the network isdetermined by the number of connections that the user has. Auser having more connections is closer to the center of thenetwork. Users near the centre of the network become veryinfluential because the content published by them getstransmitted very fast across the network.--Finally, in an OSN, more emphasis is laid on the
of users than on content. Generally, users providetheir own opinion and understanding of the content alongwith the content itself. Increasingly, users are finding OSNsas a medium of self-expression. As larger portion of thepopulation gets wired, this trend is going to continue.
Classification of users
Based on the location of the user in the network, users canbe classified into three groups: singletons, giant componentsand middle region.Singletons are degree-zero nodes who have joined thenetwork but have not made any connection with other users of the network. They reside in the outermost part of the network and do not participate in the network and as such do not havemuch influence over the direction that content andconversations in the network take.The giant component represents the large inner layer of thenetwork. Here, users are connected to a large portion of thenetwork, either directly or indirectly. It consists of the mostactive users and a large portion of the content is generatedfrom the giant component.The middle region consists of small and closedcommunities. They interact with each other but not with thelarger network. They form a significant portion of the userbase of OSNs.Some interesting insights regarding users emerge from thisclassification. Research shows that isolated communities arenot likely to merge with each other. Almost all isolatedcommunities are stars. A star is a single individual who isvery charismatic and are linked to a small group of peoplewho have very less connections. Stars dictate the generaldirection of the community. Stars evolve through twoprocesses
isolated communities grow one user at a time andover a period of time either merge with the giant componentor cease to exist as the star loses focus. Merging stars formthe outer layer of a giant component. The core of a giantcomponent is formed by tightly connected group of veryactive users. As time passes and users create more and moreconnections, the average distance between users in a giantcomponent falls.
User Content Generation
Lei Guo et al. have divided OSNs into two categories basedon the purpose that they serve. The first category, callednetworking oriented OSNs, consists of sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn which place more emphasis on the networkingaspect of the social network. The other category, calledKnowledge oriented OSNs, consists of question/answer andblogging websites which emphasize more on contentgeneration. The researchers studied some of the knowledgeoriented OSNs and proposed some patterns of user contentgeneration. Through their study they found that-- Original content generation shows strong daily andweekly patterns while non-original content do not exhibit anysuch temporal pattern.-- Users can be classified into three groups according totheir posting behavior
steadily posting, occasionally postingand inactively posting.-- 20% of users contribute to 80% of the total content in thenetwork -- User contribution for original content is characterized bythe stretched exponential model with different parameters.For example, for high quality content the distribution has alow stretch factor indicating that it has been generated by asmall core group of users.
OSN use and personality
Online marketing efforts rely most on the personality of individuals. As such, understanding the personality of OSNusers becomes very important. Yair et al. conduct data basedanalysis about the personality of OSN users. The researchobserves that extrovert individuals have higher number of friends. This observation assumes importance becausemarketers looking for extrovert people would be able to do soby looking at the number of connections that the user hasformed. Thus number of users becomes the quantitative data
 by which a person’s extrovertness can be measured. Neurotic
individuals would most likely provide more personally-identifiable information than less neurotic individuals. On the
3other hand, neurotic individuals share much less privateinformation than less neurotic individuals. The study alsofound that people having very high or very low levels of agreeableness are inclined to upload more pictures thanpeople with moderate levels of agreeableness. But agreeableindividuals use less page features than the other twocategories. People who are more open to newer experiencestend to use more features in OSNs. Conscientious individualshave a higher number of friends but make lesser use of thephoto upload features. Online marketing professionals wouldfind this research since it maps various aspects of individualpersonality with verifiable data.
Q/A in OSNs
Increasingly people are turning to OSNs to fulfill theirinformation needs. Getting answers from an OSN has someadvantages over traditional searching. The information sourceis generally trusted since invariably it is one of theconnections that the user has. Moreover since users tend toform connections based on commonalities, it is expected thatthe answers given would be more relevant than what wouldbe acquired through a search, especially for opinions.Meredith Ringel Morris et al., conducted to survey tounderstand the nature of Q/A that occurs in OSNs. Thequestion types and question topics that users ask in OSNs areas follows
Question type Question topic
Recommendation TechnologyOpinion EntertainmentFactual knowledge Home and familyRhetorical ProfessionalInvitation PlacesThe motivation for asking questions and answeringquestions which others have asked is as follows
Questions Answers
Trust AltruismSubjectivity of question ExpertiseBelief that search engineswould not work Properties of questionSpecific audience Nature of relationshipConnect socially Connect socially
 Disclosures in OSNs
Amanda Nosko et al., conducted research on CanadianFacebook users to come to a conclusion about the level of disclosure of Facebook users. They have classified personalinformation into default/standard, sensitive and potentiallystigmatizing. Their survey reveals that approximately 25% of all possible information that could potentially be disclosed byindividuals are disclosed. Disclosure of personal informationsuch as gender and age are related to disclosure of othersensitive and highly personal information. Younger peoplehave more sensitive information on their profile. Usersseeking a relationship tend to disclose the highest amount of highly sensitive information.
Categories of OSN applications
OSNs applications have increased in popularity over thelast couple of years mainly among the younger generation.Research has categorized Facebook applications into variouscategories as described below
Category Description
Friend comparisonAllows users to compare bestfriends and compare friendtraitsCasual communicationAllows users to exchangemessages and write on each
other’s walls
 Rating/RecommendationEnables users to review,compare and recommenditemsGesturesAllows users to performvirtual gestures like poke andbiteSelf expressionEnables users to expressmoods, political opinions etcGiftingEnables users to exchangegifts
Comparison of privacy policies of various OSNs
Privacy policies are an important means by which onlinesocial networks articulate how the data that users entrust withthem would be used or would not be used. In order tocompare the privacy policies of the various OSNs, ataxonomy of the various terms have been created. Beforegoing into the comparison, let us understand the taxonomy.First we define the various elements of a privacy policy.Purpose
Purpose defines the reasons for which OSNsaccess specific pieces of information of its users.Visibility
Visibility defines who is allowed to accessusers
It defines the degree of precision that isrevealed in response to a query for a specific information onan userRetention
Retention determines the time period duringwhich access to the data would be allowedNext we look at the various layers of an OSN and the dataneeds at each of these layers.Registration
Registration refers to the data that can beused to identify a user uniquelyNetworking
This layer consists of information requiredby the OSN to build the user
s network.

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