LinkedIn just released a new feature: the InMap. It’s a tool that allows you to visualise all your contacts, and the relationships between them. In social network analysis terms that would be called an ‘ego-network’, where the ego is an individual (you in this case) and the network includes all of the ego’s relations and the relations between them. There are a number of apps available that allow you to do the same thing for Facebook.
One of the coolest features of these network visualisations is that they display clusters of friends that are strongly related in different colours. Although this is an automatic feature based on a simple algorithm, it manages to pick out meaningful groupings. In my case, for example, all my colleagues at the department of Archaeology here at the University of Southampton are grouped, another grouped are my fellow students from the University of Leuven and yet another one are my friends from the town where I grew up, Antwerp. With these groups you can identify professional alliances or groups of friendships which you might want to reinforce.
From this example you might gather that most of these groups have some sort of geographical logic behind them: you will be more likely to be friends with people you meet in person every day. Also, some clusters exist of people affiliated with the same institutions like universities. Although this might sound like a banal conclusions, it has two very interesting implications: physical proximity matters in creating (digital) friendships and, more importantly, is all but dominant for the evolution of your relationships. You will notice, for example, how some of your friends are actually bridging two groups, which made me think about how those two people actually got in touch in the first place. Was it through me? Or did I have nothing to do with their friendship? If so, how did their pre-existing friendship influence my choice of friends?