Teaching STS: Geographic Diffusion of Facebook

The diffusion of innovations is a common topic worth discussing in basic courses in sociology, usually on the topic of cultural diffusion, as well as STS courses. While it is often not a problem to spread the good word about diffusion, a contemporary example, the spread of facebook, provides some interesting fodder for in-class discussion and student exploration.


Here is a website, inside facebook, with some interesting images that students, in my experience, will be interested in using, discussing, and perhaps hazarding a few hypotheses. The images are US-focused, which is not ideal; however, explanations for some of the geographic distribution of facebook will help students to really understand how ideas like this spread.

What’s nice about it, in my opinion, is that it provides some opportunitites to discuss the various explanations for diffusion. For example, was facebook expensive to adopt early on as compared to later on? Was facebook an obvious improvement on technologies that preceded it? How did one “adopt” facebook? Do people “use” facebook differently? Is it analytically meaningful to count every “personal facebook page” as an adoption, even if it is rarely or never used? Why did facebook spread geographically first and then how do we explain further developments in adoption patterns?

I am contemplating an in-class assignment where students break into groups, assess the images and then present their conceivably competing understandings of why facebook spread the way it did, and, importantly, not the way it didn’t…