Facebook’s “The Pulse” tracks music, movies, TV

The Notebook is a chick-flick from 2004 that’s nowhere on the Internet Movie Database’s top 250. Would you believe that it is the most popular movie among not only Eastern students, but all college students across the country?

The Facebook’s newish trendspotting feature, the “Pulse,” claims that this is true – and has the data to back that up. The Pulse, a compilation of the favorite books, artists and such of all the Facebook’s members, has 7 million students’ lists of likes to draw from. That’s what makes it fascinating.

The Facebook (www.facebook.com) has become nearly ubiquitous as Eastern, as at so many other colleges. Some 1800 people here have profiles on the site, including a few alumni and administrators but mostly current students. That means that almost everyone attending the school is there. It’s also among the top 25 sites on the Web, according to Alexa’s rating system (alexa.com). Altogether, this means that its power to identify trends is strong indeed.

The Pulse is a great way to spot which trends hit Eastern harder than the rest of the world and which haven’t arrived yet. The hugely popular TV series “Grey’s Anatomy,” for instance, is the second most popular in all of Facebook – but has yet to hit Eastern’s top 10. On the other hand, “Gilmore Girls” is number four in the Eastern list but not in the Facebook-wide top 10.

Other idiosyncracies of Eastern are revealed by the site, too. In the Books category, so many Eastern students included the phrase “anything by C.S. Lewis” – about 50 of them – that it is considered the 29th most popular book at Eastern. At the same time, the Bible is first at Eastern – but almost as high everywhere else, in third place.

One of the most time-consuming ways to play with the “Pulse” is its school-comparison option. You can look at the most popular things from not only Eastern and the whole Facebook network, but also at Messiah or Cabrini or Liberty or Penn State. Some things are predictable: Students at Bloomsburg University, a Pennsylvania state college, are more likely to like the college party movie Animal House than people at Eastern are. But the relatively liberal Christian book Blue Like Jazz, surprisingly, is quite popular at the infamously conservative Liberty University – more so than it is here. (The R-rated film Anchorman is in the top 10 at Liberty too, but not as high as its fourth-place status at Eastern.)

Everything in the Pulse must be thought of as mere trendwatching, not the basis of any long-term beliefs about what’s best. After all, most people at Eastern and across the world aren’t arguing that The Notebook is the best movie ever – they just think that including the fact that they like it in their profiles will help tell people who they are.

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