Exposed edges and tighter nodes: a suggested social networking hypothesis for web 2.0 as seen through a user of facebook a web 2.0 social networking site.

Author Peter Timusk, B.Math, B.A., graduate student of Systems Science at the University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario Canada.

The author explores previous studies of social networking by pioneers such as Barry Wellman. Using these studies and more recent basic networking models a hypothesis is developed for further empirical study of the networking properties of social networking web sites such as facebook. It seems to the author, who is a new user of facebook in summer 2007 that there is more privacy exposure between persons and at the same time these same persons are brought closer together by networking on facebook. Thus edges between nodes on this social network are exposed revealing these edges to other nodes while nodes themselves potentially learn more about each other as nodes only not just as edges. It is hoped that this hypothesis and other various hypotheses will help either social network analysts, or those who will be data mining web sites, such as, facebook to understand implications of the network’s social structure. Legal and ethical considerations resulting from these hypotheses will also be considered in this paper.

Presented in-world as Peter Krogstad in Second Life August 12, 2007 at the Communications, Information and Technology section of the American Sociology Asssociation Mini Conference 3.0. see



The nature of facebook with its network of friendships as edges between real people as nodes is such that it is a truly new view of our social networks within computer networks.  We will explore here a little of the privacy of exposed friendships and learning about friends in the context of facebook a recent favorite web site. We will conclude that facebook is a web 2.0 social network and suggest that web 2.0 social networks are more real world than virtual.
The world of social networks has been explored to a great extent by pioneers such as Barry Wellman a professor of urban sociology.  In his writings edges are called ties and this word comes from use of these network structures in kinship and peer group studies.   In Wellman’s networks he sees ties as relationships between nodes. I will call these network ties in this paper edges and they will be limited to friendship links in facebook.  This follows a basic network model suggested by Beinhocker in his book The Origins of Wealth.

Social Networks

Nodes are perhaps people, as in facebook, but not limited to individuals or to any fixed scale of social phenomena. Ties were seen as ways of transferring resources in a given social structure between these nodes.  Early work concerned analyzing these networks for social support. The social networks models were complex and understood with advanced mathematics. There were limits to what could be modeled of social networks because of computer limits and the author is not sure if attempts are being made in this area with super computers. Wellman explains that is the structures of networks themselves that offered powerful explanative power for social scientists.  Social networks have also been applied to Internet studies and herein is offered a new view based on the idea of a web 2.0 where, in fact, it seems web 2.0 is bring us back to traditional non virtual networks.


Suggestions of some Facebook network models and possible privacy exposures.

We can not understand advanced mathematics without first being able to do arithmetic, so likewise we will start with a basic network model as in figure 1., which shows an ego centric network in facebook in a general non-personalised network model. This could be anyone’s facebook network as a simple model. The circle in the centre is the ego or self. There are three friends as circles, lines connect these friends as friendships links. The boxes are, in order from top to bottom, messaging between nodes, groups that the self belongs to, and finally networks the self belongs to. Linking all of these nodes, services, groups, and networks are the lines that in our network are the edges or ties.

Simple facebook Ego network circles and lines

Now we examine how these facebook social networks work in terms of privacy not social support. Privacy is a two way street because like any right it is given and taken. Only edges will be looked at here in this section. Typically an edge, that is adding someone as a friend, allows the friends to view each other fully. What is interesting in facebook is that an old friend, who may no longer be in regular contact with the author and, in fact, not in the same city can be viewed as a network of their friends through facebook. This seems to expose this old friend. The old friend’s friends are people in almost all cases to be persons the author does not know or has ever known. This is one exposure we could call the old-friend exposes new friends result. You can see this in figure 2, as zone 1.2 (the largest hexagon at the top). In figure 2, the only new graphics are the hexagons as zones of privacy exposure.
It is the edge between myself and the old friend that allows this exposure of new friends.

zone of privacy on facebook network diagram.

Exposure zone 1.2 (the largest hexagon at the top) is controlled by Friends 1 and 2 or friends of friends 1 or 2 and all of their attendant privacy settings. Friend 1 and 2 also are both friends and there is an edge between them. This edge between friend 1 and 2 can also be seen by the self (seen while viewing ether friends profile and seeing the “mutual friends” feature and thus this edge is exposed to the self. Perhaps before facebook the self did not know that friend 1 also knew friend 2. As an example, friend 1 could be someone the self talked too a few times in college and shared a personal characteristic, and a few off-line group memberships and is thus a friend on facebook. Whereas friend 2 is someone who is from another off-line group, shares the same characteristic as friend 1 and also happens to study at the same schools as friend 1 and the self. Before seeing on facebook the feature “mutual friends” (i.e. the mutual edge) the self had no idea friend 1 and friend 2 knew each other.  This reifies what the self thinks about friend 1 and 2 and confirms that the self knows something about them in common. Friend 3 and friend 4 are not thought of this way and they are not friends of friend 1 or 2. Their absence from the “mutual friends” feature, when viewing friend 1 or 2’s profile confirms that the self does not think of what is common between friend 1 and 2 to be known of friend 3 or 4. Meanwhile the first characteristic, the school and group memberships may all be in common. Back to our original exposure Friend 1 and 2 could be two old friends and all or some of their new friends become exposed to the self through facebook.
There are other exposures that can by thought of and we will look at some possible exposures now.
Exposure zone 1.1 (around the self) is controlled by the self and its own privacy settings.
Friend 3 exposes themselves and their friends to the self. The friends of friend 3 also expose themselves and this would be the default privacy settings of facebook. This is exposure zone 1.3 (in the middle right).
Friend 4 does not expose much at all to the self. Here either zone 1.4 (the hexagon around friend 4 at the bottom), which would be the case if all of friend 4’s friends shut off access to non friends, or Friend 4 could be someone who thinks perhaps the self is stalking them and shuts off all access again through privacy settings like in zone 1.5 (the dashed hexagon around the edge between the self and friend 4) could apply. The self could know friend 4 is out there but could not see friend 4’s profile or friends or anything about friend 4, other than a possible or now non-possible edge.

Other exposures and other studies.

Messaging with strangers also opens an edge and exposure for 1 month. Networks and groups also open exposures. Groups and networks are also ways to find others in facebook and ways that privacy is exposed. Ralph Gross & Alessandro Acquisti and H. John Heinz, III conducted a study in 2004 using facebook’s searching features. They studied membership in a college network on facebook as a way of exposing privacy. Empirical results of exposure of personal information were gathered in 2004 from facebook using facebook itself and students at a university who were members of facebook. The authors of this paper tested information ingredients needed in the crimes of stalking and identity theft crime against this network exposure and found both crimes were available through facebook. This was a more serious invasion of privacy than we study in this paper. Again this was not just an exposure made by edges, they studied, but exposure from a larger service, a network that is a multiple link/edges feature and part of the privacy settings parameters. They also discussed exposure of the profile element of a facebook member such as birth date. This previous empirical study concluded that very few college network members of facebook had changed their default privacy settings.

While these invasions are serious it would be a shame if this type of exposure created a scare and built up an extreme law enforcement reaction. The milder exposures looked at previously may create some interesting ethical decisions for the self. Whether one looks at one’s old friend’s profiles and digs deep into one’s old friend’s present life is something, each facebook member must decide for themselves. This could present nothing more than endless gossip but that too could be harmful. In the end new social networking may bring new more complex ills. Or it may bring tests of ethics and in the end strengthen the social network by forcing these types of ethical questions.

Closer nodes are not virtual communities but are still social networks, in fact, web 2.0 virtual communities.

But what of closer nodes? While the author admits that it was the exposed edges that inspired his paper there is more substance in the closer nodes part of this hypothesis that shows facebook has created a different social network within computer networks. In Barry Wellman’s paper “Computer Networks As Social Networks” he is concerned a great deal about what is known as virtual relations. That is relations that are between nodes who are strangers in off-line life. These nodes “never see, hear or smell each other” But according to one empirical study facebook is not used to develop relationships between strangers but instead to develop social bonds with people who are already known to the self. This finding by Cliff Lampe & Nicole Ellison & Charles Steinfield, suggests that the concept of virtual friends in Wellman’s work and others such as Rheingold’s Virtual Community (and copy cats) which is termed social browsing by Lampe et al. is not what facebook facilitates. 

They suggest that reification of communities is what facebook aids.   They suggest after studying first year college students that facebook is used more for learning about people we already know. They caution that the results may not be generalized to other age groups and perhaps their sample is biased to participants in on-line surveys who might also participate more on facebook. Still to follow up on their findings “that it is the social surveillance” features of facebook (the exposed edges), that are bringing more knowledge to the members of the facebook network of persons they know, we will need to explore the many different edges, as well as, the nodes or profiles of members. It is not just personal dossiers that are explored by Ralph Gross et al. that are interesting exposures. We need a more network understanding of this social network and should question the connections not just exposed information hot buttons like sexual or political preferences of the nodes. The edges in this cyberspace network are not light rays or data flowing down a pipe these are real off-line connections. They are smelly, loud, visual connections and if you are a dog in real life, you are a dog on facebook too. So again the world is now connected but now this is not a world of cyberspace alone or as a main feature. Cyberspace could now be put back to its fictional home of fantastic light matrices and instead a world of connected persons, who are not strangers, will emerge. Social networks of the real social world mediated by computers and web 2.0 sites like facebook could take the place of cyberspace the mythical.
With further surveys, using wider demographics over a growing facebook membership we should be able to see if this new web 2.0 social networking includes more off line nodes getting closer. At the same time we may be able to see edge exposure as interesting in a different way, perhaps as serious crime, perhaps just as another source of gossip, but most likely as a powerful view that explains these social networks in a systems or structural way. This in turn should give us a better understanding and explanation of social reality. Perhaps the participants or subjects of these studies will also be gaining a better understanding of their own social networks by using web 2.0 social networking.


See Wellman Bronx gangs

Beinhocker, The Origins of Wealth:

see Wellman metaphor

Ralph Gross & Alessandro Acquisti & H. John Heinz, III. Information revelation and privacy in online social networks in Workshop On Privacy In The Electronic Society Proceedings of the 2005 ACM workshop on Privacy in the electronic society (New York, N.Y.: ACM, 2005) at 71–80.

Ibid at 78-80.

Ibid at 79.

Wellman Computer Networks As Social Networks

Cliff Lampe & Nicole Ellison & Charles Steinfield.  A face(book) in the crowd: social Searching vs. social browsing in Computer Supported Cooperative Work Proceedings of the 2006 20th anniversary conference on Computer supported cooperative work (New York, N.Y.: ACM, 2006) at 167 – 170.

Ibid at 170.



Ralph Gross & Alessandro Acquisti & H. John Heinz, III. Information revelation and privacy in online social networks in Workshop On Privacy In The Electronic Society Proceedings of the 2005 ACM workshop on Privacy in the electronic society (New York, N.Y.: ACM, 2005) at 71–80.


Cliff Lampe & Nicole Ellison & Charles Steinfield.  A face(book) in the crowd: social Searching vs. social browsing in Computer Supported Cooperative Work Proceedings of the 2006 20th anniversary conference on Computer supported cooperative work (New York, N.Y.: ACM, 2006) at 167 – 170.

A familiar face(book): profile elements as signals in an online social network in Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems (New York, N.Y.: ACM, 2007) at 435 – 444.

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