“The Social Graph is PEEEEOPLE!”

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?

add to del.icio.us :: Add to Blinkslist :: add to furl :: Digg it :: add to ma.gnolia :: Stumble It! :: add to simpy :: seed the vine :: :: :: TailRank



Filed under Future of Media, Marketing, New Media, New Media Masters., Public Relations 2.0, Social Graph, Social Networking

6 responses to ““The Social Graph is PEEEEOPLE!”

  1. “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 […] OpenSocial will allow all of your interests, relationships, etc. to be indexed.”

    As I understand it, Open Social isn’t so much for me to share my interests, relationships, etc. among the Facebooks and Nings of the world but more for developers to create applications that work on all of those sites. It’s a start, but it’s not quite the same as having my profile data, friends, presence info, etc. shared universally.

  2. Hey Mike, thanks for your comment!

    OpenID (which is a future concept of cross-platform profile info or the ability to export from one social network to the next) is more of the profile data, etc. OpenSocial, however, allows the developers to harvest the social graph information available on each social network. So let’s say you have Food Fight on your MySpace and on your LinkedIn: the developer gets all that social graph data from both of those profiles. Does that make sense? At least, that’s how I have come to understand it.

  3. Great post, Chris! While I agree with you that the development of the social graph has exciting potential for us marketing folk, I think the industry will have to be incredibly careful about stewarding consumers’ information if this data is to be used successfully. Already, initiatives like the “do not track” list (http://tinyurl.com/23fbec) show that many consumers are going to rail against unwelcome attempts to monitor online behavior and use it as a marketing tool.

    I see the social graph becoming a valued commodity that companies should continue to keep in a “walled garden.” Otherwise, the temptation for advertisers to abuse the social graph will be too great. I don’t want my personal information being indexed for anyone to use or misuse. So far many of these initiatives strike me as part big brother, part greedy advertiser. What’s the value proposition for consumers to make this data available? It’s definitely not as valuable to consumers as it is for advertisers.

  4. Marie:

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

    The thing is, people aren’t being duped. People are willingly sharing information without thinking about the security costs. Companies who handle this information should be held to certain standards to ensure personal data doesn’t get stolen. Marketers/Platforms must also provide a transparent system informing consumers of the process and how their info is being used.

    PS: The post’s headline and one of the pictures reference Charlton Heston’s dystopian film “Soylent Green.”

  5. Chris,

    First, I like your “Soylent Green” reference. Nice touch. 🙂

    Second, I still tend to disagree with you on people not being duped. While it’s true that consumers give out personal information without much thought to the cost, the reason why consumers have such a limited knowledge of how their personal information is used on the WWW is because companies keep those disclosures in the fine print. If the majority of consumers even had an inkling of what companies do with their information (such as farming out their e-mail addresses to “spam lists”) they would think twice about giving it out.

    And beyond that, most companies aren’t being good stewards of the information and you’re right, they do need to be held to a higher standard. I think there should be more consumer education about the consequences of giving out personal information on the Web, and in addition, I think companies need to be far more transparent about their intentions for and planned usage of private information.

    Anyway, I think we’ve hit something of a bunny trail here, but I’m enjoying this discussion. 🙂 I have no doubt that consumer privacy issues will only increase in importance as a hot button topic.

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