Journal of Geographical Systems

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 359–376 | Cite as

Geographical impacts on social networks from perspectives of space and place: an empirical study using mobile phone data

  • Li Shi
  • Lun Wu
  • Guanghua Chi
  • Yu Liu
Original Article


Space and place are two fundamental concepts in geography. Geographical factors have long been known as drivers of many aspects of people’s social networks. But whether and how space and place affect social networks differently are still unclear. The widespread use of location-aware devices provides a novel source for distinguishing the mechanisms of their impacts on social networks. Using mobile phone data, this paper explores the effects of space and place on social networks. From the perspective of space, we confirm the distance decay effect in social networks, based on a comparison between synthetic social ties generated by a null model and actual social ties derived from real-world data. From the perspective of place, we introduce several measures to evaluate interactions between individuals and inspect the trio relationship including distance, spatio-temporal co-occurrence, and social ties. We found that people’s interaction is a more important factor than spatial proximity, indicating that the spatial factor has a stronger impact on social networks in place compared to that in space. Furthermore, we verify the hypothesis that interactions play an important role in strengthening friendships.


Geographical impacts Space and place Spatially-embedded social networks Mobile phone data Individuals’ interaction 

JEL Classification

C18 D83 



This research was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant nos. 41271386 and 41428102). The authors are grateful to anonymous referees for their constructive comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Remote Sensing and Geographical Information SystemsPeking UniversityBeijingChina

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