Characterization of Social Network Profiles

Luisa Massari


Collaboration and socialization among users have introduced a new dimension into the Web. This dimension has led to the development of new technologies and advanced services typically used in the framework of the so called Web 2.0. Online social networks are based on the interactions between the users and the community. Users participate explicitly to the Web not only as consumers of the contents centrally uploaded by the providers, but also as producers, reviewers and editors of contents that allow them to share and enrich their experiences. Users can upload new contents, update existing contents and access content provided by other users, observing the “Terms of Use Agreement”. Moreover, the social relationships within Web sites lead to the development of complex links that go beyond simple links between Web pages.

A lot of social network sites has been launched with both professional (e.g., LinkedIn) and non-professional (e.g. MySpace, Orkut, YouTube, Flickr, Facebook) orientations. Unlike most professional sites, non-professional ones typically feature users’ interests. By means of social network sites, a user can display his/her preferences to an audience of friends, co-workers, and Web public. User is able to produce personal content (e.g., textual information, photos, audios, videos) and access content provided by other users. Web 2.0 can hence be defined as the combination of tools, technologies and social trends, which drive the creation and sharing of content on the Internet.

The paper presents a preliminary study of MySpace, one of the most popular social network sites, which has the highest number of subscriptions with respect to other social network sites. MySpace provides many features, such as blogs, user groups, social network structure, and highly customizable user profiles, traditionally provided to online communities.

Users subscribe to the community, upload content (photos, videos) and make it available to the others, set up contacts and participate in groups. When subscribing to MySpace, users provide their profiles, that is, information about themselves. A profile allows the users to express their tastes, demographic details and cultural interests, and to write about themselves in free text. Hence, a profile contains user’s preferences and interests, links to other profiles, comments and discussions coming from other users. Characterization of user profiles is indeed a crucial topic in understanding relationships, connections and interactions among users, and deriving from user profile characteristics hints about social interactions.

The objective of the study presented in the paper is to characterize the users of MySpace. The analysis relies on measurements collected by monitoring the MySpace web site; the monitoring of the profiles last for a period of three months and a million of user profiles has been captured.

In the first phase of the study, the profiles are parsed in order to extract the parameters which accurately characterize user profiles. These parameters provide details about users (e.g., age, location, job, cultural interests), about their popularity within the online community (e.g., number of friends, number of comments made by other users, number of times the profile has been viewed by other users), and about their activity (e.g., date of the last access to the site, number of downloaded videos, audios, and photos, subscriptions to groups). Indeed, it is important to note that, after their subscriptions, users might update their profiles and the related content.

Once parameters characterizing profiles have been defined, basic statistics are computed. Examples are mean and frequency distribution of age, of number of friends and group membership, frequency distribution of cultural interests, average number of audio and video in the profile.

Then, statistical techniques are applied in order to find relationships among the parameters. As an example, the existence of correlations among age, number of friends, date of last access, and number of objects in the profile is investigated. The age of a user could influence the number of his/her friends and the interactions with the community. Moreover, it is also important to discover if the date of the last access is related to the richness of the profile, that is, if a user which frequently accesses the site, also actively participates to the community by updating personal information and interacting with the social network features.

This study provides a general description of the users of MySpace. A deeper analysis is aimed at identifying similarities among users’ profiles. The objective of this analysis is the identification of classes of “occasional” users, that is, users which rarely participate to the community, versus “active” users, that is, users which intensely use social networking features to enrich their experience and expand their contacts. Other classes of users’ profiles, reflecting different social behaviors, are investigated.

This study provides the characterization of the profiles of MySpace, but the methodology can be extended and applied to any social networking site. This characterization helps in understanding the structure of the network of social relationships existing among users.