How to tell who’s your partner from your Facebook friends

Can someone tell who your partner or spouse is by just looking at the list of people you are friends with on Facebook?

Graph of My Facebook Friends
Graph of My Facebook Friends

Lars Backstrom and Jan Kleinberg believe they can. In their paper Romantic Ties and the Dispersion of Social Networks they explain their theory – you and your partner have a disperse set of friends. You have friends in common but your friends are not well connected to each other. You are not embedded in each others’ networks.

To show this Christian Rudder, cofounder of OkCupid, wrote an app that will create a graph of your Facebook friendships and calculate your dispersion scores. Using the app, you check out your own graph and see if your spouse or partner is top of your list.

While the model correctly identified my partner (Frank), I have to admit that when I first looked at the list, I was a bit worried. The next two guys on the list (granted 30x lower scores) were people I  am not close to and haven’t even spoken to in years. I never dated them. What did that say?

First to understand why Frank and I have disperse versus embedded sets of friends. We share a lot of friends (63), but often only a friend or two from every network. So Frank is Facebook friends with only one of my open source friends. And I’m Facebook friends with one of his co-workers and one of his high school buddies but not a group of them.

So what about those two other guys? My theory is that they know a lot of people (one is a sushi chef and the other one is a real estate agent) and so we must have quite a few friends that overlap randomly but not because we are part of that group.