NFL football is a matter of life and death for some fans, especially as the playoffs approach. But for Facebook, all that diehard fandom is just another massive dataset to crunch and visualize on some colorful maps.
“At Facebook we have about 35 million account holders in the United States who have Liked a page for one of the 32 teams in the league, representing one of the most comprehensive samples of sports fanship ever collected,” read a Jan. 28 posting by Sean Taylor, an intern on Facebook’s Data Science team. “Put another way, more than 1 in 10 Americans have declared their support for an NFL team on Facebook.”
The results of Facebook’s data-crunching are fairly unsurprising: teams that win more often tend to attract more “Likes,” and ones that make the playoffs (win or lose) see their social-networking popularity surge. When those Facebook “Likes” are correlated against geographic data, it’s immediately apparent that most teams enjoy their greatest popularity in the areas around their hometown.
“Some teams, like the Steelers, Cowboys, and Packers, seem to transcend geography, with pockets of fans all over the country,” read the posting. “On the other end of the spectrum, the Jets have to share New York with the Giants and are only the most popular team for a single stronghold county in Long Island.”
With the playoffs finished and the Super Bowl approaching, geography has again asserted itself: fans of the San Francisco 49ers tend to dominate the western half of the country, while Baltimore Ravens fans have a stronghold in the East.
Facebook is poised to become a more powerful tool for sifting through data, thanks to its just-announced Graph Search, which allows users to search through the network for posts, photos, friends, “Likes,” and other content. Unlike the current version of Facebook’s search bar, Graph Search will allow users to make lengthy natural-language queries in search of information; for example, someone interested in recruiting a tech worker might type in something like, “Friends of friends who live in New York and work as Google engineers.”
While Facebook hasn’t announced any plans to monetize Graph Search, the company is clearly on a hunt for ways to draw more advertising dollars: back in December, it reportedly halted plans to launch a rival to Google’s AdSense. With roughly a billion members, Facebook is sitting on a trove of user data that other companies, at least in theory, would pay top dollar to sift and slice in all sorts of ways. However, it must reconcile advertisers’ desires with members’ privacy concerns.