10,000 Facebook Members or Bust! Contest Aims at Analyzing Social Network Trends

Posted on March 1, 2010. Filed under: economy, friends, lifestyles, News, people | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Newswise — Beware of THE BLOB.10,000 Facebook Members or Bust! Contest Aims at Analyzing Social Network Trends

A Facebook group with nothing but that name and a picture of a squishy smiley face has collected more than 10,000 members since its formation a week ago, a classroom assignment at the University of Maryland designed to determine how trends go viral on the social networking site.

By midnight deadline on Feb. 25, it was the only one of 45 student sites to reach that threshold, followed by 10,000 HATERS OF DUKE BASKETBALL, with 8,292 members.

Why did some of the sites go viral and others go south? That’s a question the undergraduates are considering in Assistant Professor Jennifer Golbeck’s new course, Social Networks: Technology and Society.

“Figuring that out is a very fascinating research problem — there’s so much more we need to understand,” says Golbeck, a computer scientist who studies how people use online social networks like Twitter, Facebook and MySpace. Last fall, she, a doctoral candidate and an undergraduate student released the first detailed study on Twitter use by Congress.

Teaching students about the dynamics of social networks, she says, gives them the ability to understand situations like the spread of the H1N1 virus, how small, independent movies with limited advertising become blocksbusters, and even why the students themselves are likely to develop tastes similar to their friends’. Those dynamics could also explain more than how 1.4 million people have joined the Facebook group “Can this pickle get more fans than Nickelback?” in under a month. (The answer: Yes it can, as of this week.)

In the Maryland social networking course — part of the new I Series of general education courses designed to investigate big issues with imagination and intellect — Golbeck’s students first talked about how ideas spread through social networks. They went on to consider how they could take advantage of their own networks to appeal to larger numbers of people. Facebook was the obvious vehicle: More than 95 percent of University of Maryland students use it, and the company says it has more than 400 million active users.

THE BLOB site is funny, which Golbeck says is its appeal: “It hit just the right spot of silliness.” But she also notes that the site’s creator, sophomore Alex Mateik, created a link on the page so visitors could invite all of their Facebook friends to sign up with one click, which sent his numbers skyrocketing.

The Duke-haters’ site was destined for victory, she says, because it resonates with Maryland students and alumni during basketball season. The site’s founder, freshman Jonathan Oks, credited University of North Carolina fans with making his site a hit.

“I really hate Duke,” he says. “I have a bunch of friends who are ACC fans, but I didn’t have any at (Duke’s archrival) UNC, so as soon as I got someone who wrote ‘Go Tar Heels,’ I contacted him, and he posted (the link). I got something Freshman Mason Lynn Wood attracted more than 7,000 members as far away as Oregon State University with her Team Mason sitelike 2,000 more people within a couple of hours.”

Freshman Mason Lynn Wood attracted more than 7,000 members as far away as Oregon State University with her Team Mason site, which contained only a plea for members so she could earn an A on the assignment. She’s interested in analyzing how she did so well. “I feel like people accepted this group invitation through an act of kindness. It’s a mystery.”

Golbeck finds it easier to explain the lack of interest in other sites, like one student’s apparent brown-nosing attempt: “10,000 fans of Jennifer Golbeck.” It has 44 fans.

“I don’t even know 10,000 people,” she says.

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