The Impact of Geographic Distance on Online Social Interactions

06 Nov 2017

Online social networking services entice millions of users to spend hours every day interacting with each other. The focus of this work is to explain the effect that geographic distance has on online social interactions and, simultaneously, to understand the interplay between the social characteristics of friendship ties and their spatial properties. We analyze data from a large-scale online social network, Tuenti, with about 10 million active users: our sample includes user profiles, user home locations and online social interactions among Tuenti members. Our findings support the idea that spatial distance constraints whom users interact with, but not the intensity of their social interactions. Furthermore, friendship ties belonging to denser connected groups tend to arise at shorter spatial distances than social ties established between members belonging to different groups. Finally, we show that our findings mostly do not depend on the age of the users, although younger users seem to be slightly more constrained to shorter geographic distances. Augmenting social structure with geographic information adds a new dimension to social network analysis and a large number of theoretical investigations and practical applications can be pursued for online social systems, with many promising outcomes. As the amount of available location-based data is increasing, our findings and results open the door to future possibilities: researchers would benefit from these insights when studying online social services, while developers should be aware of these additional possibilities when building systems and applications related to online social platforms.