Data Strategy

September 19, 2007

Examining MySpace usage by high school

Filed under: People and Data — chucklam @ 4:55 pm

My last blog post examined current Facebook usage among high school students and found that Facebook penetration is noticeably higher for private high schools and highly rated public schools. The analysis was motivated by Danah Boyd’s personal observation that Facebook and MySpace usage reflects a social/economic/aesthetic class difference in America. Today I will look at some MySpace data to see if it provides further evidence to her observation.

For the Facebook analysis, I was able to get the percentage of students at each high school with Facebook profiles. Getting the same data for MySpace would be ideal. Unfortunately, such information in MySpace is extremely unreliable. As a substitute, I’ve defined a metric called “MySpace intensity” for each high school. It’s the total number of MySpace profiles that claim a certain high school divided by the current population of that school. The intensity can be (and often is) higher than one since both current students and alumni are included. For those interested, I’ll give more details on the data collection at the end of this post.

As in my Facebook analysis, I examined a number of public high schools in San Francisco and noted their “GreatSchools Rating” from (which is also where I found the population data for the high schools).

School MySpace intensity GreatSchools Rating
Lowell 0.95 10
Abraham Lincoln 1.02 8
School of the Arts 0.64 7
George Washington 1.09 7
Balboa 1.53 6
Wallenberg 1.01 6
Phillip Burton 1.16 6
Thurgood Marshall 1.19 5
Mission 1.33 4
ISA 1.2 4
Independence High 0.81 4

Here the trend is clearly the opposite of Facebook. MySpace intensity is higher for the lowly-rated schools. The social networking site is just not as popular in the “better” schools. Independence High School may seem like an anomaly, but remember that Independence did not even have a Facebook network at all. The students there may just be not terribly networked online.

To put the Facebook and MySpace analysis together, I’ve defined a “Facebook/MySpace index” (F/M index). For each high school, its F/M index is the number of current students with Facebook profiles divided by the number of current and past students with MySpace profiles. It’s equivalent to the Facebook penetration rate divided by MySpace intensity. The result:

School F/M index GreatSchools Rating
Lowell 0.68 10
Abraham Lincoln 0.36 8
School of the Arts 0.88 7
George Washington 0.31 7
Balboa 0.23 6
Wallenberg 0.22 6
Phillip Burton 0.14 6
Thurgood Marshall 0.18 5
Mission 0.09 4
ISA 0.10 4
Independence High 0.00 4

The table above clearly shows that school quality is indicative of its students’ taste preference for Facebook versus MySpace. The individual analysis of Facebook usage and MySpace usage shows that polarization goes both ways; neither Facebook nor MySpace is universally liked.

To get a sense of whether socio-economic class is a factor, I’ve gotten the measurements for some of the private high schools in San Francisco. (I’ve repeated the Facebook penetration rate here for comparison.)

School Facebook penetration rate MySpace intensity F/M index
Sacred Heart 98% 0.89 1.10
St. Ignatius 64% 1.07 0.60
Mercy 47% 1.61 0.29
Riordan 35% 1.23 0.28

A surprising result here is that many private high school students are quite active in MySpace as well, more so than students from highly rated public high schools. However, they’re even more active on Facebook, thus their F/M index is in the same range as the good public high schools. My personal knowledge would also say to not lump the four private high school together completely. While Sacred Heart and St. Ignatius are very much the classic preppy private schools, Riordan tends to attract students who would otherwise be assigned to poor public schools (e.g. Mission High) and their families essentially have to pay to get a decent education. Mercy is an all-girl school, and one can argue that MySpace has more of an appeal to teenage girls.

And advertisers may know this class difference between Facebook and MySpace already. On my Facebook page today, the ad I see is for Embassy Suites Hotel. When I go to MySpace, the first ad I see is for the new TV series GossipGirl, and yesterday the first ad I saw was for Trojan condoms…


To find the number of MySpace profiles for a high school, I use the MySpace classmate finder. Unlike on Facebook, I couldn’t get a list of high schools in San Francisco. Instead, I have to specify the high school’s name


MySpace does seem to have an internal database of high schools in the U.S., just like in Facebook. It’s just not as well exposed. One can see from the search results that it in fact knows International Studies Academy is in San Francisco.


Clicking on that link shows the search results for all MySpace profiles associated with International Studies Academy. The number of results returned is the information I use to calculate a high school’s MySpace intensity. Although there’s a “Refine Your School Search” function that supposedly allow you to narrow down the results, it works very poorly. For example, if I filter to specific graduation or attendance years, a random sample of the search results shows that those users in fact had graduated/attended the school in very different years. After several tries, I decided the search refinement feature simply doesn’t work and to not use it.




  1. This is really interesting- nice utilization of math skills! This data correlates with my own qualitative data… friends at Wesleyan criticize and condemn MySpace and “digital bling,” whereas at parties, I often am asked if I have a MySpace profile (or a Tribe profile, depending on the kind of party…).

    I am writing an ethnographic thesis on MySpace, Facebook, and Tribe. Any advice on obtaining quantitative data on Tribe?

    Be well,

    Comment by Jenny Ryan — September 20, 2007 @ 6:07 pm

  2. It would be interesting to confirm my hypothesis that with each year of high school the trend of FB use increases as they get closer to making college choices ie penetration rate is lower as a freshman vs senior. That seems to the case at my son’s school (a private all boys school in SJ).

    With that said, my senior son is still a big MS user and dabbles in FB. I think that’s the case for most of the kids he goes to school with.

    After he graduates though and the kids disburse to national colleges, I would imagine the FB use would increase as they begin to form new communities with their new college buddies.

    Comment by Karen Flynn — September 21, 2007 @ 10:24 am

  3. Any update on your research?

    Comment by myspacebackgrounds — March 23, 2009 @ 10:31 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: