Facebook divided its list into several categories, including Facebook Applications, Celebrity Deaths, Swine Flu, Movies, and Sports. It even created a separate category for pop star Lady Gaga, who is fast gaining Madonna-like popularity and appeal.
"She was virtually unmentioned until November of 2008 and spiked in mentions of her name in September 2009," wrote Facebook data scientist Lars Backstrom, in a blog post.
The mostly frequently mentioned Facebook applications were Farmville and Farm Town. "You could almost say that 2009 was the year of the farm in status updates," Backstrom said.
Swine Flu, also known as the H1N1 virus, also attracted considerable attention from Facebook users this year. The virus "was probably the biggest ongoing news story of the year," said Backstrom.
Celebrity deaths also weighed heavily on Facebook users in 2009, no more so than the passing of Michael Jackson. "Mentions of his name were 10,000 times higher on June 25, the day he died, than on the previous day, and no other unexpected news event can compare to the burst we saw on that day," Backstrom said.
The deaths of actor Patrick Swayze and TV pitchman Billy Mays also featured heavily in users' updates, said Backstrom.
Facebook's ability to spot and quantify social trends as they are developing and track user sentiments makes it a potentially invaluable tool to marketers—and also a source of controversy. Facebook for the past several months has been engaged in a back and forth with its members over how much of their information it should release to third parties, and under what conditions.
Earlier this month, the social networking site changed its privacy settings in ways that some members say makes it too easy for their information to be inadvertently exposed. Privacy advocates at the Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over the move.
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