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Communications Social Networks The Internet Science

E-Mail Can Reveal Your Friend Hierarchy 85

Posted by samzenpus
from the add-them-to-the-list dept.
sciencehabit writes "It's not surprising that someone could guess your friends simply by peeking at your e-mail. But a more detailed look at your electronic communications could reveal which friends are closer to you than others, according to a new study. The trick has to do with response time--the time it takes for a sender to respond to e-mails from different contacts. The fastest responses went to friends and that the slowest responses went to acquaintances, with colleagues somewhere in between."
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E-Mail Can Reveal Your Friend Hierarchy

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  • Fast Reply (Score:5, Insightful)

    by alphatel (1450715) * on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @02:35PM (#38217694)
    My fastest reply is always to the person who will make me the most money. My friends can wait.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Technically you're friends with money

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @02:43PM (#38217802)

      Being drunk often breaks this. When I'm drunk, I do everything randomly. Sometimes I email, sometimes I dont. Sometimes it goes to who it belongs to, sometimes it goes to random persons, sometimes it goes to my parents. Sometimes the message can contain valid stuff, sometimes the messages can contain solution to some hard problem, sometimes sexual suggestions and sometimes crying back my old girlfriends. Even if it ended up to my mother.

      Forget about thermal noise or quantum phenomena. Beer and vodka makes everything truly random!

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I suppose this is one of those random moments for you.

        Funny, though, how you somehow found the wherewithal to check the "Post Anonymously" option before hitting Submit.

      • by Ihmhi (1206036)

        "Subject had a three e-mail conversation with mailer daemon. Subject was subsequently flagged for alcoholism and/or mental instability."

    • by Anrego (830717) *

      I find replying to those people slow, because I go into full on uptight mode and agonize over every paragraph.

      My friends: "yeah we did that in the branch.. lemme know if it doesn't make sense!"

      • by Anrego (830717) *

        Damn slashdot!

        * My friends: "yeah we did that in the <whatever> branch.. lemme know if it doesn't make sense!"

      • by KiloByte (825081)

        Let me guess... it's always a local branch, and they can't push it right now because "some details need to be fixed first", right?

    • Re:Fast Reply (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @03:04PM (#38218060)

      Obligatory Why some emails go unanswered [theoatmeal.com]

    • Re:Fast Reply (Score:4, Insightful)

      by TheRaven64 (641858) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @03:37PM (#38218416) Journal
      I'd tend to agree. Friends are usually important, work is usually urgent. Work gets a quick reply, friends get a longer more thoughtful reply. You'd need to take message length into account for this to work. I'll often put off replying to friends until I have enough time to write something longer, while colleagues get a quick 'yes, that looks fine' within a couple of minutes.
    • by kmoser (1469707)
      Fastest reply always goes to the person who gets "first post".
  • by jtownatpunk.net (245670) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @02:42PM (#38217782)

    I don't communicate with friends via email.

    • by LanMan04 (790429)

      Sure you do, you just do it on Facebook. It's the same goddamn thing, but with even less privacy.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Or it's relevant to people who were born before 2005. Most people I know who have friends and close relatives who are physically distant (100's or 1000's of miles) use e-mail. OK, I'm 60, but most of the people whom I describe are decades younger than that.

      Most of us would prefer to trust e-mail than Facebook. Is that so wrong?

    • I guess you and I will never be friends then.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Do you communicate with business or work colleagues via email? Is there overlap?

      For professionals, the distinction is often blurry or nonexistent.

      People use multiple means of communication. Get over yourself.

    • by antdude (79039)

      I have friends who love e-mails and hates IMs/chatting in real time. :(

      • My thoughts exactly. Email is so 5-10 years ago. If I'm communicating only with people who are in their 40s, then maybe this study has some merit. But anyone in their 20s is using facebook (incl facebook chat) or texting. And folks on the other end of the age spectrum are probably using the phone.
        • by antdude (79039)

          Yeah, my friends and I are old farts (over 35) and love e-mails too. Funny, we don't like IMs and real-time chats. We use e-mails as IMs! :(

  • I am sure that instances like going on vacation can skew the hierarchy. If you often go for a few days without email access it will easily mess up how quickly you reply to various emails.
    • Indeed, those Out-Of-Office emails go out pretty much immediately.
    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      I only check my personal email every few days at the most, and I get little email; it's mostly IM and phone calls. Email was great before everybody had text phones and free calling. My work email, otoh, is open all the time. But I don't work with my friends.

  • Facebook would like me to offer them up my email addresses so they can helpfully locate my friends on Facebook.

    Cold day in Hell when I agree to that.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Seems to me this only lets you know how wired a correspondent is. My acquaintance X answers me much faster than my good friend Y because all of X's mail goes to his phone and Y doesn't get to check their email until the evening when they get home.

    • by forkfail (228161)

      Statistics is pretty good at determining relationships between variables - and lack thereof.

      • by ackthpt (218170)

        Statistics is pretty good at determining relationships between variables - and lack thereof.

        Why let lack of relationship between variables stand in your way?

        You could suggest to people who should be their friends.

        and people who want to be your friends could always boost their visibility with easy payments.

        • by forkfail (228161)

          Sounds like a great idea! And - you can be my friend for just 2,000,000 silver coins, or 10 gold ones...

    • by Abstrackt (609015) *

      Seems to me this only lets you know how wired a correspondent is. My acquaintance X answers me much faster than my good friend Y because all of X's mail goes to his phone and Y doesn't get to check their email until the evening when they get home.

      The theory is that acquaintance X would answer everyone faster than acquaintance Y, not just you. Basically, regardless of how fast someone responds on average they're still going to have some people they respond to sooner and some they respond to later.

      • That doesn't include the other side of the coin.

        I have (actually, this isn't a hypothetical) two friends that I consider to be equally good friends. One will generally respond to emails within an hour, the other may take anywhere from seconds to weeks.

        Individually, those are typical behaviours from them; one checks email regularly and one considers it rather secondary to life in general.

        Now, as a result of *their* standard emailing behaviour, my behaviour towards them regarding email has changed. I often wa

  • With texting and social networking sites, who actually emails their friends anymore? Everyone I know only uses email for work. Although I'd assume that the same would apply to those media as well.

    • Re:Who does this? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TWX (665546) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @03:04PM (#38218064)

      With texting and social networking sites, who actually emails their friends anymore? Everyone I know only uses email for work. Although I'd assume that the same would apply to those media as well.

      With the telephone and spending time with someone face-to-face, who actually uses the computer to communicate with their friends anymore? Everyone I know uses text-based electronic means to avoid talking to their "friends"...

      Seriously, I use electronic means to communicate with my real friends for a couple of things- to figure out where/when to see them, and to share things that are of mutual interest. If I don't see them in person or at least engage in an interactive discussion using my voice with them then I have a difficult time referring to them as friends. On a related note, I've been in a fandom-oriented social club for almost 20 years, and we meet in person every other week. We have a mailing list, but it's for, again, deciding things or bringing things to the group's attention that then get discussed at meetings. This club has met every other week since 1975 when it was founded, in large part because meeting face to face helps bind the group together better.

      • by gparent (1242548)

        Do you not realize that most of this is simply because you guys are all older people (at least the original members) and are used to communicating this way? There's nothing personal and awesome about asking someone if they're coming home for dinner tonight. It's just trivial efficiency-related chit-chat and I'd rather you text it to me than having to take a call (which may deduce call minutes, which doesn't happen with Internet-based texting) and stop whatever I'm doing at the time, pick up the phone, engag

        • by TWX (665546)

          Do you not realize that most of this is simply because you guys are all older people (at least the original members) and are used to communicating this way?

          Your argument fails on account of there being only one or two founding members of the group left, and their not being terribly active anymore. The longest-continually-active member joined in about 1980, and he's actually the one who maintains the listserv. I'm in my thirties so I grew up with BBSes and other textual means of communication, and many of

    • by KiloByte (825081)

      Everyone I know has social networking sites adblocked away. Neither does any of my friends use Twitter. I haven't received a SMS from other sources than the bank, phone company and marketing scum in years as well. The only person I know who uses IM is my sister, but she's a 28 years old kid (with kids of her own but hey).

      It might be a generational thing, but at least for me email is an important medium.

    • With texting and social networking sites, who actually emails their friends anymore?

      You do realize that communicating via Text, IM or Social Networking is basically the same thing as email - right?

  • Who emails their friends? I use different methods of communication...

    • by forkfail (228161)

      Old farts like me.

      Now get off my lawn.

    • If I want to send a link- or something that they may need to reference back to I send an e-mail.

      If it is a casual comment- that they won't need to ref back to I send a text.

  • My friends know my phone number, twitter account and other contact information. They don't send me emails.

    • My friends know my phone number, twitter account and other contact information. They don't send me emails.

      My friends see me in person.

      • by EkriirkE (1075937)
        Ha! Ha! You have social interaction.
        • by nschubach (922175)

          Social interaction is the best time to get pizza and stay up way too late playing D20 and other board games.

      • by gparent (1242548)

        And I'm willing to bet that his friends do too, on top of having even more social contacts on other mediums.

        Doesn't seem so bad when you put it like it really is, does it?

    • by Nidi62 (1525137)
      I was going to say the same thing. I talk to my friends mostly over text or phone, with a few messages on Facebook, and of course in person. In fact, I can even count on 1 hand the number of emails I've sent to my girlfriend. With me, odds are the more emails I have with you, you are more likely to be simply an acquaintance or some type of non-friendship relationship. I find emails to be rather impersonal, so I don't like to use them unless it is urgent/important or I need a record of the conversation
  • by pahles (701275)
    why would you let somebody else peek at your email? It's not strange they found relationships if they examined *all* the email data of some firm. I hope they had permission to do so... Okay, the email you send as an employee is property of the employer, but still...
  • Uh-huh... (Score:5, Funny)

    by JustAnotherIdiot (1980292) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @02:56PM (#38217968)
    My boss and other superiors must be my best friends in that case.
  • Not about email (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cshake (736412) <cshake+slashdot AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @03:06PM (#38218108)

    Mixed-mode communication completely breaks this:
    When I get a really long email from a friend or family member asking a question that would take longer to write out than to explain over the phone, I'll wait until I'm free and then give them a call. I guess that means from an email perspective that I hate them and never reply.
    Or what about various organization mailing lists where you reply to the sender with a new email instead of sending something to the whole list?

    Of course this is all irrelevant because this study isn't really intended for emails, despite how they report it - it's for social networking sites with embedded messaging systems to be able to mine more data about you, so they can show you ads that your "closer" friends have clicked on in addition to matching with your profile items, so they can charge more for ads.

    • by nschubach (922175)

      I was thinking more along the lines of: One of my parents sends me a hundred emails a day (spam/jokes/annoyance) and I might respond to one a month, but my friend sends me maybe one a month and I respond to most of his, but I wouldn't say he was closer than my parent.

  • There needs to be an 'obvious' moderation option. Did anyone seriously not know this already?
  • Too bad I never communicate with friends via email. Hell, I hardly communicate with anyone via email, except for work. This seems both obvious and completely pointless. Obvious that you're going to reply to people you like faster than others, and completely pointless in that I don't know anyone who does all of their conversing through email.

  • I'll respond to (1) and email in which I can make money (Income related, Nigerians in dire straits, etc.), (2) easy-to-answer emails, and (3) all others. I apparently have no friends.
    • by Kittenman (971447)

      I'll respond to (1) and email in which I can make money (Income related, Nigerians in dire straits, etc.), (2) easy-to-answer emails, and (3) all others. I apparently have no friends.

      I doubt that will last for much longer. If you're replying to Nigerians with deceased relatives I'm sure you'll soon have lots of friends.

  • Really? the timing and frequency with which you communicate tells you something about your closeness to friends and associates... really?
    Perhaps who you call and calls you, and how often and how long...

    this counts as news? Investigative Research 101?

  • That is odd, the people I have the most persistent email exchange with are the ones whose ideas are the most different from my own. I just love the challenge. Also they can put up with some partial disagreement from my side.

    I have other friends that I don't need to talk to because we don't have much to fight about. I suppose I'm different.

  • This technique wouldn't work on me. I answer emails according to how much time the answer is likely to take. If it's going to take a while, I always put it off until later. If it's a one word or couple of words answer, chances are good you'll get a response right away.

  • Someone did that decades ago at Harvard, when they first got an electronic phone switch which logged internal calls. They were able to construct an organization chart of the university from the phone traffic. How fast someone called back after a message was left was a key indicator.

  • Most of my friends are in one time zone, my relatives in yet another, my colleagues in several others. Response times are laregly governed by who's asleep.

  • Honestly, we designed such stuff in classes at university. And yes you can do such things with e-mails and every other form of communication. Nice are also analyzes of mailing lists of OSS projects, you can determine the group structure and it works for alumni networks. You can do this with icq logs (oh it has already been done). Ask Google if you want to know what they can find in your e-mail.

    BTW: All such methods, however, rely on a model on human behavior. If your subjects fail to confirm to that model y

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