As the dust settles on last week’s latest installment of the social network showdown between MSFT/Facebook and GOOG/Everyone Else, the idea of a universal social graph looks a little clearer. But what is it and how does it affect PR and Marketing folks?
Supposedly computer science peeps have been talking about the social graph as a concept for a while. To be honest, I hadn’t heard anything about it until May when Mark Zuckerberg enlisted application developers to tap into the social graph. Then, in August, LiveJournal creator Brad Fitzpatrick wrote a well formulated, high level discussion of the social graph. It, to me, really addressed several problems and concerns that would lead to the development of–or maybe it was already in the works–Google’s OpenSocial platform, announced last week.
I almost wrote about all things that graph social after attending Dave McClure’s “Graphing Social Patterns” conference, and then again after the Web 2.0 Summit. Both times, I felt like the idea of the social graph was not quite there.
So, before I discuss what it is, I have to disclose that I am neither a computer scientist nor am I a mathematician. I am, however, a PR/Marketing/Tech geek with a Bachelor’s in Social Anthropology. Therefore, this type of stuff gets me pretty excited.
A social graph is loosely defined, according to Brad Fitzpatrick, as “the global mapping of everybody and how they’re related.” You may ask, “Isn’t that the definition of a social network?” My answer: Close, but not entirely.
For me (and Robert Scoble), a social network is a collection or a list of all my “friends” without the context. A social graph, on the other hand, explains why these people are relevant to you. On it’s lowest level, a social graph can be represented like an org-chart or a family tree.
When you add someone as a friend, Facebook asks the question: “How do you know this person?” This helps an outsider see that Audrey is a co-worker at SHIFT; Natalie is my cousin; Bekah is my housemate; Kathryn and I met through a friend while living in Berlin; etc. It’s almost like tagging, but, instead of a webpage or a bookmark, you are tagging people. This relationship information explains the social value that each person has.
Very quickly, social value is an important aspect of our lives. It let’s me know that I need to tuck in my shirt around the CEO, stopping looking at porn when my supervisor walks near my cubicle (JK!), and to respect cops. (Check out this essay on social value from 1908 by economist Joseph Schumpeter or look at Wikipedia.) For a marketer, being able to map that information is priceless.
But wait, there’s more…
When you fill out your profile, you enter in your interests. If you look at my profile, you can see that I like music, travel and photography. In terms of the social graph, I’m tagged (or plotted on the social graph) as someone who has an interest in boxing and chocolate. Paired with my demographics, Facebook now can show me as a married male in San Francisco in the (oh-so-old) 25+ demographic who likes camping. Great info for market research…or targeted ads.
On top of all that you also get… THIS INCREDIBLE JUICER!!!
Just kidding…kind of. The graph can get a little deeper than that. Take Amazon, for example. It’s constantly recommending items to me. I can evaluate these items on a scale of 1-5 or tell it “not interested.” After a while, it starts to know my behavior. All of these are tiny little tags graphing the bigger story: I like electronic music but am totally not interested in trance. You can also see that I’ve sent my grandmother a book on prayer for her birthday. Once again, more tags; more plots on the social graph.
What about digg or del.icio.us and the type of articles I like? How bout when I answer those surveys to get more points to buy caviar on the Facebook App FoodFight? Think about all that information you could mash-up to create highly-targeted marketing strategies or community outreach plans (eg hitting all the female members that live in Chicago and liked Spiderman).
Google and Facebook in the ring?
Once upon a time, the web was a mess. You sat at your computer and clicked around endlessly. One day, a beautiful search engine appeared to index everything on the web. Now users could find content quickly and easily, while advertisers could target people searching for a particular term. Then one day, social networks started appearing and the magic search engine could no longer get that information; all their users were in a wall…
Ok, I’ll spare the fairy tale and get to the point: Facebook keeps Google from accessing that information contained in the social graph.
One of Brad Fitzpatrick’s ideas was that there would be no one social graph, because every site kept the information to themselves. That was true until OpenSocial. Details on OpenSocial are still a little sketchy (to me at least), but it’s probably best described as an open API led by Google that allows cross-platform interoperability and integration (partners include Orkut, MySpace, Bebo, LiveJournal, Plaxo, and others). Basically: Where Google once created a table of content or index of everything on the web, OpenSocial will allow all of your interests, relationships, etc. to be indexed.
Of course, there are already talks of security concerns, but for a marketer (or anthropologist) there is a lot of really cool data out there that can now be harnessed.
What are your thoughts on the social graph? Is it useful or just another catch phrase?