PROGRESS IN GEOGRAPHY ›› 2016, Vol. 35 ›› Issue (8): 983-989.doi: 10.18306/dlkxjz.2016.08.007

• Orginal Article • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The role of distance in online social networks: A case study of Sina micro-blog

Bo WANG1, Feng ZHEN2,3,*   

  1. 1. Department of Geography, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong 999077, China
    2. School of Architecture and Urban Planning, Nanjing University, Nanjing 210093, China
    3. Human Geography Research Center of Nanjing University, Nanjing 210093, China
  • Online:2016-08-25 Published:2016-08-25
  • Contact: Feng ZHEN
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.41571146


The rapid development of information and communication technologies has brought numerous electronic communication modes ((mobile) phone, short message service, email, and recently the popular online social networking sites) that have been expected to influence the role of spatial and relational distances in interpersonal interactions. Based on online "traces" of Sina micro-blog users' interactions in the last two weeks, respondents in our questionnaire survey were required to record and answer questions of (1) who did you interact more often, locals or non-locals and (2) who did you interact more often, acquaintances or strangers in real life. Answers were used in our analysis of the role of spatial distance and relational distance in online social networks. Our findings show that (1) there is a clear tendency of respondents interacting with locals and acquaintances in their real life; (2) respondents' tendency to interact with locals and acquaintances is impacted by their socioeconomic traits, living environment, and information and communication technologies use; (3) theoretically online social networking sites enable users to overcome the distance decay effects and thereby to enlarge their social networks. However, spatial and relational distances sustained the social networks in real life in interpersonal interactions in online social networks.

Key words: spatial distance, relational distance, online social network, information and communication technology, Sina micro-blog