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Why Is it So Hard to See Who's What In Facebook Nation?

Thanks to a wealth of tools, companies have a good idea of who their followers are on the various social networks. Now, some of these tools are attempting the crack the next mystery - figuring out what these followers actually think, like and do.

Visual DNA is one example: it is getting set to roll out a service for online publishers to help them better understand their followers by using short quizzes. For instance, a question might ask a user what defines success, with several suggested answers from which to choose.

22.89% are Family Oriented

The publisher could find that 22.89%, for instance, of its readers define success through family. It can then more accurately steer editorial content to reflect this segment as well as better target advertising and sponsorship.

Surprisingly, this more detailed composite of a socnet community can be surprisingly difficult to put together - and even with the advance of the Visual DNA's tool it may still be. After all, for it to work the quizzes have be answered. A recent Fast Company article illustrates how difficult it can be to get a sense of who is who in what has clearly become a Facebook nation.

A Wealth of Data

It tells of Facebook user, Pete Warden, who used simple Web crawling software to assemble a database of 210 million Facebook public profiles consisting of names, "fan" pages, friend listings, and locations. "He then used that data to find, for example, where "God" was the top fan site, the geographic reach of virtual social networks, and more," Fast Company wrote.

Warden was on the cusp of distributing that data to full-time researchers when Facebook shut his operation down with a threatened lawsuit. "There's a massive blind spot about the social component in our lives, and that’s where this data helps," he tells Fast Company.

Request for the data that Warden received included art historians trying to figure out how artist popularity changes over time, health-related groups that wanted to see, for example, how socially connected different regions were and how that relates to disease transmission. "Because places like New York and L.A. might be more closely connected than L.A. and a city somewhere else in California. They wanted to see how that affected the spread of disease."

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