You are not totally in control of your choice of Facebook friends. At least, that’s what Stanford University’s Jure Leskovec thinks, and he’s just received a fellowship from the Microsoft Research Faculty to help him prove it.
Leskovec believes that your online activity can be used to predict who you’ll add as a friend on Facebook. “Data shows that who will be our next friend on Facebook is not so random as we think,” he says and, considering that he’s created a system that has already proven successful enough to predict 50% of subjects’ new contacts, I’m inclined to believe him.
Part of what he plans to do with his Microsoft grant money—$100,000 this year, the same amount next—is to fine-tune the system to increase that percentage, but that’s only one of the social media projects Leskovec will be engaging in. Having just finished a study of the community connections of Microsoft Instant Messenger users (apparently, Microsoft users prove the theory of six degrees of separation), he plans to create algorithms to track the spread of news online, explaining that the place of origin of news online often determines how quickly it gets seen.
Well, that and however many Facebook and Microsoft IM friends you have, but he’s already on those last two subjects…
Graeme McMillan is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @Graemem or on Facebook at Facebook/Graeme.McMillan. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.