A new understanding of friendships in space: Complex networks meet Twitter

Won Yong Shin, Bikash C. Singh, Jaehee Cho, André M. Everett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Studies on friendships in online social networks involving geographic distance have so far relied on the city location provided in users' profiles. Consequently, most of the research on friendships has provided accuracy at the city level, at best, to designate a user's location. This study analyses a Twitter dataset because it provides the exact geographic distance between corresponding users. We start by introducing a strong definition of 'friend' on Twitter (i.e. a definition of bidirectional friendship), requiring bidirectional communication. Next, we utilize geo-tagged mentions delivered by users to determine their locations, where '@username' is contained anywhere in the body of tweets. To provide analysis results, we first introduce a friend-counting algorithm. From the fact that Twitter users are likely to post consecutive tweets in the static mode, we also introduce a two-stage distance-estimation algorithm. As the first of our main contributions, we verify that the number of friends of a particular Twitter user follows a well-known power-law distribution (i.e. a Zipf's distribution or a Pareto distribution). Our study also provides the following newly discovered friendship degree related to the issue of space: the number of friends according to distance follows a double power-law (i.e. a double Pareto law) distribution, indicating that the probability of befriending a particular Twitter user is significantly reduced beyond a certain geographic distance between users, termed the separation point. Our analysis provides concrete evidence that Twitter can be a useful platform for assigning a more accurate scalar value to the degree of friendship between two users.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)751-764
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Information Science
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2015 Dec 1

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the Basic Science Research Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea funded by the Ministry of Education (2014R1A1A2054577).

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2015.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Information Systems
  • Library and Information Sciences


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