An individual’s personal network — their set of social contacts — is a basic object of study in sociology. Studies of personal networks have focused on their size (the number of contacts) and their composition (in terms of categories such as kin and co-workers). Here we propose a new measure for the analysis of personal networks, based on the way in which an individual divides his or her attention across contacts. This allows us to contrast people who focus a large fraction of their interactions on a small set of close friends with people who disperse their attention more widely.
Using data from Facebook, we find that this balance of attention is a relatively stable property of an individual over time, and that it displays interesting variation across both different groups of people and different modes of interaction. In particular, activities based on communication involve a much higher focus of attention than activities based simply on observation, and these two types of modalities also exhibit different forms of variation in interaction patterns both within and across groups. Finally, we contrast the amount of attention paid by individuals to their most frequent contacts with the rate of change in the identities of these contacts, providing a measure of churn for this set.