QsOTD: Facebook and the social graph

Lorcan 3 min read

Facebook opened itself up to non-college students a while ago. And weeks ago it opened itself up to other applications through the Facebook platform. It describes itself as a ‘social utility’. Its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, talks about the ‘social graph’, a vast social interconnectedness which propagates news and views. Indeed, folks are talking about it as if we have turned an Internet corner, as revealing the next phase of our network lives.
More of this later, I am sure, but for now I string together some quotes from some of the more suggestive pieces that have appeared in the last couple of weeks.
Here is David Berlind:

In unpacking those two statements, I’ll start with the social graph, a term that boldy surfaced when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg introduced his company’s F8 Platform last month. He attributed the power of Facebook to the social graph, which he defined as network of connections and relationships between people on the service. At the launch of the Facebook platform, Zuckerberg said, “[The social graph] is changing the way the world works. As Facebook adds more and more people with more and more connections it continues growing and becomes more useful at a faster rate. We are going to use it spread information through the social graph.” [» Yahoo’s search for a social graph | Between the Lines |]

This is in the general context of a discussion of how Yahoo needs a social network to hold together its various people-centred services. Writing on Techcrunch a while earlier, David Sacks argued similarly. He discussed the evolution from browse to search to share. These have emerged successively (think Yahoo, Google, Facebook) and will continue to exist together. However, he is very optimistic about the power of the social graph, and suggests that contextual sharing within your group of ‘friends’ will become much more important.

While the process of structuring new kinds of information for the social graph to distribute is still sorting itself out, it is easy to object to the frivolity of information on Facebook. For example, Facebook is great at telling me what my friends just had for lunch, but how about hard news? Well, for starters, I’m waiting for the Digg application to not only display articles I’ve digged on my profile, but also to aggregate all the articles dugg by my friends. This could lead to the kind of social news site that MySpace promised but failed to deliver.

Not only Digg, but virtually all Web 2.0 applications which are based on the wisdom of crowds can be reconceived as Facebook apps based on the wisdom (or trust) of friends. To the extent that these services cater to publishers who seek a mass audience, such as YouTube or Flickr, the social graph will not threaten their business. But to the extent they publish content intended for friends, or if the value of their service increases with the participation of friends, these applications face only two choices: get each user to recreate his or her friendship network on their own site or migrate their service to the Facebook platform lest someone else does it first. [The New Portals: It’s the Bread, Not the Peanut Butter]

Marc Andreessen also talks about the power of the social graph (without using the term) as a phenomenal ‘viral distribution engine’. He identifies this as one of the benefits of the Facebook platform in a reflective and laudatory piece about the significance of Facebook’s platform strategy.

Metaphorically, Facebook is providing the ease and user attraction of MySpace-style embedding, coupled with the kind of integration you see with Firefox extensions, plus the added rocket fuel of automated viral distribution to a huge number of potential users, and the prospect of keeping 100% of any revenue your application can generate. [ Analyzing the Facebook Platform, three weeks in]

However, he does draw attention to the fact that while the Facebook platform allows other functionality to be embedded in Facebook, it does not allow Facebook functionality to be embedded in other venues.

These factors are, however, very reflective of the fact that while the Facebook Platform gives developers a lot of capabilities that they never had before, and access to a huge base of enthusiastic users, as a Facebook developer you’re very much living in Facebook’s world — you’re not creating your own world. And you have to be serious enough about living in that world that you are willing to hit the fairly high barrier of being willing to run your own servers and infrastructure for any applications you build. [ Analyzing the Facebook Platform, three weeks in]

A point also made here by Andy Powell.
Facebook has captured the imagination. And it will be interesting to see how it aligns itself with the other major gravitational hubs of the web in coming months. However, even Facebook is not comprehensive enough to be the sole focus of a user’s attention, so it would seem inevitable that it will have to open itself up the other way also. So that for example, I can post from Facebook to my blog, as well as being able to post from my blog to Facebook.
Update: I think that Facebook is showing the potential of the social graph. Will it be the social graph? See Mark Evans and Richard Skrenta for comment.

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Lorcan Dempsey dot Net

The social, cultural and technological contexts of libraries, services and networks

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