A map of the modern world, according to Facebook

Facebook intern Paul Butler samples profile data from 10 million people to create a world map that shows how the modern world is digitally connected.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

Nearly everyone who reads this post either has a Facebook account or knows enough about it to have decided otherwise.

It's been an incredible journey for the social media service: in just seven years, it has grown from a collegiate water cooler to become a household name -- spoken in more than 70 languages, in fact.

That language statistic is important, because Facebook has, in less than a decade, nearly become a "Worldbook."

Facebook infrastructure engineering intern Paul Butler gives us a peek at this fact by sampling profile data from just 10 million people -- about two percent of Facebook's total user base -- to create a world map that shows how the modern world is digitally connected.

The value of Facebook has always been its data; it's a massive, self-updating database that can be triangulated to the heart's content, a boon for users, advertisers and now, social scientists.

Butler geographically mapped out each user's friend network with latitude and longitude coordinates. By setting the intensity of each "connection" -- line between two points on the map -- to correspond with the number of contacts between the two places, he was able to reflect just how strong the social connections between two cities are.

In other words, the world's social geography mashed up with its physical geography.

Butler writes in a blog post:

After a few minutes of rendering, the new plot appeared, and I was a bit taken aback by what I saw. The blob had turned into a surprisingly detailed map of the world. Not only were continents visible, certain international borders were apparent as well. What really struck me, though, was knowing that the lines didn't represent coasts or rivers or political borders, but real human relationships. Each line might represent a friendship made while travelling, a family member abroad, or an old college friend pulled away by the various forces of life.

It's incredible stuff, and gives the viewer almost the same feeling as looking at a picture of Earth in space.

It also reaffirms the value of data. By networking as many points as possible, we begin to see patterns emerge in real time -- and hopefully receive enough insight to act on problems that arise, whether through power grid outages or malaria outbreaks or climate change or economic crises.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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