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Intern creates map of the world using Facebook connections

by Kelly MacNeil on January 5, 2011

After analyzing millions of data sets, an intern at Facebook has successfully created a visual representation of the location of every person on the social networking website. By matching pairs of friends based on their locations, Paul Butler, an intern in the company's data infrastructure engineering team, created an intricately detailed map of the world. The graphic indicates just how far-reaching Facebook really is.

In a post on his blog, Butler detailed the complicated process of studying a sample of about 10 million users and their corresponding locations. He combined the data of each user's current city with the number of friends between each pair of cities and then began to plot the points of the longitude and latitude of each location.

His first attempted created a white blog that had a resemblance to the continents, but was not very detailed. To make it easier to view, he weighted each point and applied a color to that spot, so that the cities with the most connections were brighter than others. As a result, he found that the lines formed the boarders of not only continents, but countries.

"What really struck me, though, was knowing that the lines didn't represent coasts or rivers or political borders, but real human relationships," Butler wrote on his blog. "Each line might represent a friendship made while traveling, a family member abroad, or an old college friend pulled away by the various forces of life."

Facebook currently has around 500 million users worldwide, but some areas of the map are conspicuously dark. Large swaths of land in China and Russia are blank, and much of Africa is absent as well. Even Canada is underrepresented, with the majority of the color coming from the Eastern portion of the United States and Central Europe.

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