Web Theory: How the Social Graph could be implemented from a Browser

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]

Why Browsers?
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.

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  • I do like the concept of having people’s contact links in my browser. This weekend I had to search on some blogs for Twitter links (like at the bottom of the About page). That could be avoided in what you’re proposing.

    How ironic – I had bookmarked Mozilla’s ‘operation firefox’ as a model to explore & now I just looked around at their community. I’m a huge proponent of Firefox & it looks like they’ve got some great things happening!

  • Jeremiah,
    I think you are onto something and there will no doubt be several attempts at creating an open, portable social graph.

    I think the winning solution would need to support the fact that many people do maintain different friends lists on different social networks as each one may be used for a different purpose (ex: customers, casual business contacts, partners, friends, family, etc.).

    Congrats on the new job by the way…

  • Thanks Marcel.

    I agree, the will settings or ‘toggeles’ that let you sort from the different graphs (friends, family, work, and public)

  • If any firefox developers are listening… please a social network graph add-on using some easily attainable user data from sites like flickr, twitter, myspace, facebook, etc. The graph should be customizable using various edges and nodes… something like common words posted on twitter between friends would be interesting to start out with.

  • I expect that Google’s upcoming announcements will be the start of the browser acting as a social aggregator (in effect the social graph) but with Google as the platform. They have the spread and leverage to make it happen.

  • I like the thinking. I feel that any site that I have to login into should have social network/media features and be a part of the graph.

    Every blog should have it as well. I think Gawker network is building some pretty interesting stuff inside its network. You can have friends for each blog and find/follow favorite commenters.

  • I really want an assistant site that lets me bridge and put my friends into context. Gives me ways of seeing all of my friends that goes beyond just visiting one site and then the next. I think that a site like twitku.com is on the right track. But I would like to see it taken a step further and have the status history of all my social networks stored in one web app. That way I could view it without having to page through and wait for the data to be returned via the API. I want the web platform to pull it in while I am away and cache it and when I get there be able to view it more easily. It could then give ways of catching up on the latest links, best friends, all kids of things.

    It could be done with the browser and plugins but I want an always on service grabbing my data and that of all of my friends on every social network and aggregate it for me.

  • having a assistant site is really very important.. we can learn where is our mistake & change us.. is a great way to guide us to success

  • Well, the idea of one stop shopping for your basic stats, which is basically what your friends/family/contacts are a subset of, is as rational as could be, but I don’t think I’d define the delivery channel so precisely. Defining the browser as the ultimate delivery might be akimbo to defining a shower head as the best water delivery mechanisim.

    FOAF tried to do it to some degree – FOAF Explorer and others did run in a browser. Indeed, a structured file I control with my contacts, but networked file maintenance is beyond the average web user.

    OpenID is tempting, though with consolidation comes “all your eggs in one basket” and will face adoption barriers.

    me.dium.com is trying to do something like that, but doesn’t look like it’s at the “friend” level.

  • I have been advocating that the social networks should be open and decentralized. Once we have decentralized social networking system, the browser becomes the obvious tool to manage our social graph. It is also my opinion that Google is in a better position to take advantage of this than anyone else. Maybe I should make a blog post explaining why it is so.

  • the social graph is important.
    but it’s not nearly as important as the apps that run atop of it.
    right now we have the apps, but we don’t have the social graph integrated.
    facebook has the social graph, but doesn’t really have the *real* apps.

    whatever comes next has to take BOTH things into account.
    and that is not Facebook, not Firefox, and certainly not Flock.

    it’s something else.

    look online a Q&A session with Eric Schmidt and what he answered when someone asked “what will web 3.0 be like ?”

    I dislike the versioning number, but let’s de-buzz the question as…

    what will be the next fundamental, important change that will evolve the web into a new, different kind of thing ?

    that is mashed up applications atop the social graph.

    by definition, no sole company can do that on their own.

    also there’s underlaying technologies that need to be integrated.

    you can’t really make a Java app to coexist peacefully with a CLR app in a mashup.
    we have this old kind of glue called HTML and Ajax, but it’s patch, transitional technology.

    eventually, there will have to be a standarised runtime system that allows the general public to run mashed-up applications written in whatever language the author fancied, mixed together atop the social graph.

    today… that would probably mean asking Facebook and Myspace to open themselves more, and making some sort of pact with the devils at Sun, Microsoft and Adobe. (with their products Java JVM/JavaFX, .NET CLR and its languages, Flash/Flex/AIR… respectively)

    Mozilla is the other incumbent in this play, with Prism and Tamarin.

    In this arena, Adobe has gained important customers like Salesforce, Google, Yahoo and eBay, and has a good headstart with the Flash player installed in a 98%+ of desktop computers in the world.
    Microsoft got a good foot in the door with the Facebook deal.

    but this is of course, not the last word, given the importance of all the other incumbents in play.

    summing up…. we don’t know yet what will happen, but one thing’s for sure: it will be amazing 🙂

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  • Lots of fantastic feedback here, I’m digesting each piece. It’s a hard topic to comment on since it’s so theoretical still.

  • taking my previous comment as the basis, I ellaborated more on this topic in my blog post:


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  • Very interesting post! Something to keep track of. I use twitbin to integrate twitter with my browser. It easy to use, but is only using twitter. How about integrating Facebook, msn, Skype etc.

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  • “mashed up application atop the social graph”



  • nice post

    I’m going to try to implement it on one of my sites.

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