The Map of Facebook Connections

[giant map]

This map was created recently by Paul Butler, an intern at Facebook [via]. Roughly, the lines on the map represent Facebook connections between different cities.

I think we would best learn from this map if we compare it to two others. The first is the famous Earth at night picture:

Wow, they look pretty similar, you might say, after focusing first on the bright hubs of North America and Europe. But there are three major exceptions: China, Russia, and the Middle East. (There are other noticeable holes like Bangladesh and Vietnam.) Asia looks pretty dim on the Facebook map. Sure, it has India, South Korea, Japan, and Southeast Asia lit up, but you can see a giant hole, devoid of light, a pit where, in many of the places, Facebook is banned.

In my previous post I mentioned it was no surprise that Mark Zuckerberg was named TIME’s Person of the Year 2010. But looking at the map above, we easily see that Facebook has not reached out to as big a userbase as it can. Speaking of users, where do they reside? Here is a map of population density around the world:

Again there is quite a close overall match with the Facebook map. And yet again, there is a disparity in China, Russia, and the Middle East, and in Africa.

We can also derive graphically that the percentage of people who use Facebook in North America. is much higher compared to the rest of the world. Compare, for example, the eastern half of the United States and the entirety of India. Though India has over three times the population of the United States, the Facebook connections in the eastern United States alone outshine India’s vastly.

As seen from the map, Australia’s eastern coast plus New Zealand also have a disproportionately high percent of Facebook users.

Before I finish, I’d like to show just one more image: the Facebook map zoomed into the United States:

Damn, that’s home, for me, and for most likely the vast majority of my readers. YOU are on that diagram. You probably have a Facebook, and you are connected to this virtual map. It is not a physical map. That was in an old, ancient age. With Zuckerberg officially recognized, named above other world leaders, it is an appropriate time to say that this moment, this year of 2010, is the year that we can officially turn back and say that we’ve exited an old phase of society. A new one, THAT one, in the picture above you, has replaced it.

No Surprise that Zuckerberg is TIME’s Person of the Year 2010

Just take a look at the numbers:

  • 2004 – 1 million
  • 2005 – 5.5 million
  • 2006 – 12 million
  • 2007 – 50 million
  • 2008 – 150 million
  • 2009 – 350 million
  • 2010 – 550 million, nearly 600 million

These are the numbers of Facebook users at the end of each year.

It wasn’t any one year of growth in particular that made Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg the Person of the Year 2010. If not for the political and economic concerns and recession in the previous years, Zuckerberg might have received the title sooner. (Last year, for example, the Person of the Year was Ben Bernanke.)

Perhaps there’s something magical about the number of 500 million users, which Facebook passed in July 2010. But if anything, 2009 was the year of social networking. In 2009, the more-than-doubling jump from 150 million to 350 million meant that the number of Facebook users had surpassed the population of the United States.

When I compiled the Legacy of 2009 post last year, the only coherent trends I could find were tech trends, specifically those with social networking. Some quotes, all from 2009:

  • Doug Gross: “This [2009] was the year that online social media exploded.”
  • John D. Sutter: “Engineers didn’t make huge improvements to technology in 2009. The year’s big tech names — Twitter, Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon — all existed before January. Instead, this is the year technology changed us.” (emphasis added)
  • Sutter, again: “We could have done any of these things in 2008. But we embraced in unprecedented numbers a digital-centered life in 2009.”
  • Pete Cashmore: “One factor that’s dramatically different at the end of this decade versus the beginning: Ubiquitous connectivity.”

It seems that Sutter’s point about technology changing us strikes an even stronger chord in 2010 than in 2009. If 2009 was the beginning of a new society of mass social networks, then 2010 was the year in which we began to really surround our lives with them.

TIME this year is honoring not only a person, but a technology. And not just one technology, but many. Cyberspace in 2010 is a lot different than it was in 2000. In the meantime were the rise of blogging (and later, micro-blogging), Web 2.0, mass file-sharing, Youtube, and of course social networking sites. In the last 10 years, the only other Person of the Year relating to technology is Bill Gates, who shared the title with his wife and the U2 singer Bono in 2005. They were all recognized, however, not for technology, but for philanthropic virtues. (Not that philanthropy is unimportant.)

It is about time that TIME looked around and noticed, “Oh, society has changed!” By naming Mark Zuckerberg as the Person of the Year, TIME has honored not only one person in one year, but also, through him, the vastly consequential online technologies of the decade.