The need for a social graph is very clear as social networking features will be present on nearly every website. Because of it’s pervasive nature, I assert that the browser should be considered as a tool to display and render a social graph regardless of what site you visit.
Situation: Social networks features to be ubiquitous
What’s the problem? Social Networking is a feature of a website, and may happen to every site.
Pain: Managing friends and networks is inefficient
We’re tired of adding new friends and existing friends to each website that we join. Because of the sheer minutia of the task, we may inadvertently forget to add friends from one network to the next.
Enter the Social Graph
What’s the social graph? It’s a concept/theory that will soon be implemented by companies like Facebook and SixApart that let users transport their entire social networks from one website to another. It was first pioneered by Brad Fitz, go to his site to learn about his vision and the technical ways it’s being approached.
Browsers: A tool that could render the Social Graph
I’ve been experimenting with Flock, a social browser and have noticed that they’ve already launched features that look like the starts of the social graph. Through the features in the browser, you can login to websites like Facebook, Flickr, WordPress, and Twitter and access network information in the side nav, it saves times and centralizes.
[Browsers offer a unique way to experience the social graph, they can add an ‘overlay’ of information over websites helping you to find, manage, and share information sorted by people]
Browsers have some unique attributes that could be a social graph platform.
1) Browsers are the one tool that we use across all websites.
2) Browsers (like Flock) can present an experience on top of websites: they can add additional features, drop downs, and side bars that help you to navigate information from a network of people, not just the raw information of a website.
3) Developer communities already exist around some browsers (most notably, grass roots Mozilla) and they can naturally build, extend, and improve the experiences.
Yet, there are a few risks when relying on a browser, in addition to just listing the risk, I offer a few suggestions, this is a work in progress and I’ll update it base upon your feedback.
1) Users have multiple browsers and multiple computers so the graph will not work on stand alone systems. Secondly, in cultures (like Asia, and some places in Europe) users go to internet cafes and may not ever use the same computer twice.
The fix? The ‘data’ of the graph will need to centrally located and transferred to browser to browser via secured login, likely Open ID as suggested by others.
2) Full browsers not supported by most mobile clients. I’m not sure if this is a serious risk yet, by a scaled down version of the browser (or a plugin) should be able to work on a mobile device, so one can quickly find out what a friend is doing across the whole network.
3) Fear and mistrust of Browser vendors. This will always be the challenge, trust is a real issues for many users. Browser vendors will need to ensure information is not being gathered in an inappropriate way that would misdeed the user.
the vendors include: Microsoft (IE), Netscape (Navigator), Mozilla (Firefox), Flock, and Opera are all vendors of browsers. There’s some usage and adoption stats worth comparing. Users generally are bearish about giving identification and control over their browser, Read Write Web has some very ideal principles on ownership of said graph. I’d also like to mention Plaxo’s pulse which may have a play here with a plugin for any of these browsers that could also deliver this same functionality.
Future Information Architecture: Render by People
Flock organizes the content by website, so if you click a tab it shows all the content in that network (example: see all Facebook friends and status, or see all Twitter friends and status).
In addition, the future should organize the information by person or by people, so if you click on them, you’ll see all their information and aggregate all information for every single network they’ve given you access to. (example: if I click on Teresa Valdez Klein, I’ll see her updates from twitter, flickr, myspace, youtube, digg, her blog, utterz, and whatever comes next)
[The Social-Graph-Enabled-Browser (SGEB) will let us experiences websites with our network of friends, or quickly see updates of all friends and related media from just a few click]
Impact of the Social Graph on your Web Strategy
My focus is on web strategy (how companies use the web) and clearly see this will someday impact corporate sites too. I predict that social networks will become a transportable feature that will exist on many if not all websites. The web will be distributed and amorphous, so corporate websites will need to adapt. Early adopters will include social networking features on their website and connect to the social graph. Users of the website can share, create, and modify information around their network and interact with the website. I’ll bet social media web leaders like Dell, GM, Sun, IBM, Microsoft, to lead the way.
Playing with Plaxo, hanging with Seth, the community manager of Mozilla yesterday and watching the following video were the inspiration for this post, talk back in the comments. I suspect I’ve not figured out all the problems with the suggested implementation.