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April 23, 2008

Understanding Facebook's Lexicon

The introduction of Facebook's Lexicon is a valuable research tool for studying the curious habits of Facebook users. Marketing executives are already salivating over the goldmine of data that Lexicon will sift from the wall posts of the ever-coveted hardcore Facebooking demographic. Eh, who are we kidding? Lexicon is nothing but a fun time-wasting tool that reveals neat bits of information about the Facebook set. Mostly, it just confirms things we already knew—is anyone shocked by the direct correlation between "party" appearing on Saturday night and "hangover" on Sunday morning?—but the fun is in seeing this information presented graphically like some important earnings report. Below, Gelf highlights some of our favorite bits from Lexicon before we tire of our new toy.

For the uninitiated, Lexicon is a program that allows the user to select a word, then scans all available wall posts, calculates the frequency with which the word occurs, and graphically displays the information over time. For the really uninitiated, wall-posts are a feature on a Facebook profile on which the user's friends can post anything from a YouTube clip to a quick "Happy Birthday" message. Facebook says that Lexicon does not collect personal information.

Sex, Drugs, and Rock

Facebook Lexicon: Sex, Drugs, Rock
The information shows the distinctions between the three activities often associated with the Facebook crowd (read: college students). It appears that "rock" is much more popular than the other terms, although Lexicon's limitation to one- andtwo-word terms prevented us from looking up "rock and roll." This likely skewed the results because "rock" can be used as a verb, which would appear much more frequently. In fact, uses of "rock" may actually refer to "drugs" as in "I got so rocked at that party," or "sex," as in "Michael, you rocked my world last night."

Party Tonight, Hangover

Facebook Lexicon: Party tonight, hangover
Although we have to admit we got this from Facebook's own suggestion box, we nonetheless appreciate the find. In fact, the suggestion box, as any Wikipedia or StumbleUpon user can attest, is essential to any procrastinating activity, since it removes even minimal independent thought. The neat thing about this chart is the regularity in which the Saturday night "party" is followed by the Sunday morning "hangover." One can be sure that many of those who posted "hangover" had thoughts of never drinking again, only to relapse a week later. Finally, graphic evidence that college binge drinkers never learn from their mistakes. Also, parents should note the New Year's Day spike in "hangover" activity if they were wondering why their college-attending child was sluggish during the annual family brunch.


 Facebook Lexicon: Spitzer
The lifespan of a joke.

Happy Birthday

 Facebook Lexicon: happy birthday
Unscientific empirical research suggests that over 90% of Facebook wall posts are of the "Happy Birthday" variety. There is one day, however, when "long time no speak" and College Humor links overtake the heavyweight champion of the Facebook wall. February 29th only comes once every four years, but when it does, the birthday walls go silent.

Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Penn, Columbia

 Facebook Lexicon: harvard, yale, Princeton, penn, columbia
Mentions of Ivy League colleges are very high while college applications are being accepted. They experience a local maximum at the end of the early-decision period in December, then taper down for a few months. Then, when acceptance letters start coming in on April 1, mentions of these schools jump again—though not all the way back to the September levels. Lexicon seems to do a fine job documenting college-acceptance rates. Many other schools follow a similar pattern, except those involved in the NCAA tournament, which experience a maddening surge in late March and early April.


 Facebook Lexicon: Jew
Um, not really sure how to explain this one.

Sex, Condom

 Facebook Lexicon: sex, condom
Tsk, tsk.

Clinton, Obama, McCain

 Facebook Lexicon: Clinton, obama, mccain
Lexicon offers an interesting picture of the US presidential election. For one thing, not too many people were paying attention in 2007 (in fact, McCain was virtually invisible). Then Obama took off like a rocket, while mentions of the other candidates increased, as well. Most interesting is the indication that Facebook wall posters seem to be suffering from some sort of election fatigue, with results in late March and April as low as we've seen this year.


 Facebook Lexicon: love
This one also came from Facebook's suggestion box, but it reveals something interesting about the site's traffic. A relatively innocuous and date-neutral word, "love" sees predictable spikes only around Christmas and Valentine's Day. But there is another trend here that, if you look back, holds true for almost all of the other searches, as well. Wall postings seem to spike on Sundays and around major holidays. Also, results for September are generally higher than in April, which could indicate a decrease in Facebook's popularity, or a migration away from using wall postings as a means of communication with the introduction of Facebook's chat feature. (Is it just me and my Facebook friends, or does every Facebook chat conversation seem to begin and end with, "How weird is this?") Still, the surge of wall postings on Sundays—as opposed to most time-wasting internet activities, which fall off on weekends—seems to show that people use Facebook at their leisure rather than as a tool for procrastination. I imagine the graph of people using Lexicon would be the exact opposite.

Got a good Lexicon graph? Share it with us in the comments.

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- Internet
- posted on Apr 23, 08

You should have "lexiconed" (is that the verb?) "Facebook"! Great blog once again. I'm a fan Mr. G!

- Internet
- posted on Apr 25, 08

Doing "canada" and "mexico" was pretty funny. It seems that people mostly go to Mexico in the Spring and Canada in September and December. Both "america" and "usa" by comparison are very unpopular on wall posts.

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