Over one year ago, we defined the Social Graph as an online representation of our relationships. These graphs define our personal, family, or business communities on social networking websites.
Razorfish, an Interactive Firm owned by Microsoft serves the largest brands in the world. When I first met with them earlier this year, they were just growing their practice, primarily lead by Shiv Singh. In fact, their CEO told me that social at the time, was just one component (a small one at that) for their agency. Things are starting to change, since we met a few weeks ago in SF, they told me that social media practice has extended to many of their accounts and will likely increase during the coming year. You can visit their blog Going Social Now, to learn more about their focus on the social web.
The above presentation helps to visualize how social technologies change business, ecommerce, and corporate websites. When I heard Mark Zuckerberg tell us how Facebook connect would be linked with different websites, I had a feeling of how dramatic this would change the web –and wrote this piece What ‘Facebook Connect’ Means for Corporate Websites.
The social graph, when linked with traditional websites will radically change how we find, research, purchase, and support products.
Reviews, ratings, and critiques about products will become more relevant as you can start to get information from your own network.
Soon, social technologies will be pervasive and will impact every website –even if they choose not to participate
Brands, and their interactive marketing agencies, are starting to include social elements in all aspects of their marketing efforts.
Thanks to Kevin Werbach who invited me to lead a roundtable at Wharton West (yes, the business school) in San Francisco last night. The topic, “Social Graph for Fun and Profit” was intended to let the attendees engage, shout, argue, and come to agreement on how we can address this new world. If you’re not familiar with the social graph, here’s how I explain the social graph to executives.
I agree with Kevin, there are so many ideas, not everyone agrees with everything. Present were many CEOs, VCs, Analyst, Entrepreneurs, Googlers, Bloggers, Consultants, and quite a few folks from Adaptive Path.
We certainly did not solve any industry problems, but plastered quite a few options folks should be thinking about. Not everyone agreed on every topic, so it was a very active ‘live wiki’ type of event.
Thanks Kevin and Wharton for hosting a great event.
Update: Several have suggested that this announcement is nothing new, (See initial announcement in 2006) and upon further investigation (and a quick email exchange with the Facebook team) confirms this to be right. What’s new is that it’s now easier to do than before. Regardless, the awareness of this feature is low within the marketplace, and everything I write in the following still stands true. Consider this awareness raising, and more of these types of distributed web tactics to continue in 2008.
My goal is to simply tech speak and boil it down to what it means for you, a web strategist. I’ll update this post as I learn more information.
Web Strategists’ Translation
This means that web owners can now embed existing Facebook applications easier than before. Now, in addition to being able to create an application/widget that will sit on Facebook alone, you can now easily embed it on your own website (in addition to leveraging the social features that Facebook offers).
[You can start to bring the Facebook community to your own corporate website, rather than directly developing on Facebook alone. This is a step towards the community now leaving the social network and moving to other locations]
This is really making the social features and widgets of Facebook portable. This is important as your web strategy is now distributed in many locations. For corporate web strategists, you’ll need to expand the scope of your plan to include how some of these widgets and applications could be embedded on your own microsites and corporate websites. This also means this is a ‘bridge’ to get active Facebook users closer to your corporate website.
Impacts to Google’s Open Social
If you’re not familiar, I’ve outlined what Open Social Means to your executives, read this first. Essentially, Google and it’s many partners wants to make it easy for widgets to move from one social network to another with little re-coding: portable and re-usable widgets. Unfortuantly, this has yet to be seen, and Facebook’s announcement allows widgets to be more portable, somewhat creeping in on Open Social’s intentions. In the long run, expect all of these companies to be working together, sharing API data, as those that don’t will be left out.
What you need to do:
Action: Do nothing at this point, let’s wait to see some case studies of how this is being implemented.
Plan: This doesn’t keep you from correctly planning, so continue to make your web strategy a distributed one, where content, applications, and people move from social network to social network, and to your own corporate website. Talk with your interactive agency, web developers, and social media gurus on what some of these possibilities could mean. Have weekly 30 minute brainstorming parties and see how this could be implemented and integrated within your current activities.
Listen in to the audio podcast by pressing the play button using the Forrester player above. Folks have asked for me to be transparent in our research, so I’m pulling you all in behind the scenes as Charlene Li and I discuss the topics we research on.
Charlene Li, Josh Bernoff, Peter Kim, and myself collaborated on Top Social Computing Predictions For 2008. While many folks have already published their predictions in Dec, now’s a good time for us to share after the noise has settled down.
Background info: Social Graph If you’re not familiar with the social graph, it’s a representation of our relationships in social networks. There’s a movement underway to be able to separate our social graphs from the social networks, so we can ‘transport’ our friends whatever website we decide to use –without having to re add them. Start with Explaining what the “Social Graph” is to your Executives.
Last night, at a roundtable hosted by the Conversation Group and new company called Something Simpler we conversed > debated > argued if the Social Graph can indeed be monetized.
Naysayers Tom Foremski also fears monetization and suggests that “I think this could be the Achilles’ heel of social networks–if you push the monetization too far–you will lose your networks.” Tom wasn’t alone, as Om Malik suggested that the only way you could monetize the graph was to ‘pimp your friends’.
Yet John McCrea and I agreed, I suggested that authentic, efficient, word-of-mouth can evolve to information no longer being advertising. I’m talking about natural endorsements. How could this work? It happens every day. Many of my friends tell me which brands they like by simply wearing the logos, driving a brand car, to outright telling me what they like. Can this truly be different on the web? Why does it scare us so? I mean just last night, Salim Ismail from Yahoo’s Brickhouse (also on the panel) whispered into my ear, he had questions about my new Nokia N95, I gave him my clear and honest feedback –without being paid by Karl Long, Nokia’s top blogger.
Even if we agreed, aggregating the Social Graph isn’t easy
The challenges continue to mount, besides the fact we can’t agree if we should move forward, trying to implement will be a challenge. Aggregating the social graph (which is what we’re trying to do) has many obstacles, here’s a few from a recent blog post on the topic:
-Social Network vendors scared to open up and let customers and their relationships easily move to other networks
-Agreement needed between all vendors and participants
-Ownership over project and data
-Lack of general market awareness
-User adoption (sadly, I think most users are sheep)
-Likely, a need for a single login
-Creation and costs of third-party silo
-Privacy concerns: many European countries may not embrace
-Multiple security issues
-Legal and government may get involved
[When it comes to friends and marketing, trust continues to be a point of contention. Yet for every free service people rush to use, they forget that they are the ones entering the data, and that companies need to monetize. A balance must be struck as success will require trusted and authentic marketing]
Votes from around the room
If things weren’t cloudy enough, at the close, we went around the room to give our final thoughts and to answer “Can the Social Graph be Monetized?”. Chris Heuer was recording, and I hope he posts it up, yet I took a tally from the attendees.
Votes | Answer
3 – Users must engage with social graph first/ monetization comes later
2 – Brands will benefit by ‘pullling’ social graphs (communities) to their site
2 – Over advertising will kill it
1 – Embed in Value now
1 – Advertising (but must be honest) can work
2 – It can’t be monetized
Your voice wanted Enough. Let’s turn it over to you. Can the social graph be monetized? Chime in the comments. What would make it work, what are the pitfalls. Can marketers make money in an authentic and trustful way using social networks?
Many are talking about the Social Graph at the technical level, leaving many business folks with many questions. The following, using clear business language (void of tech speak), will explain what is the Social Graph, why it matters, and what you should do.
In respecting your time, I’ve boiled down the entire post to seventy words:
Executive Summary The Social Graph is the representation of our relationships. Today, these graphs define our personal, family, or business communities on social websites. Unfortunately, we’re duplicating our same Social Graph on multiple websites, resulting in inaccurate data and time spent managing it. Despite many challenges, our Social Graphs should be self-managed from a single trusted source, replicated to websites of our choosing, thus resulting in accurate, efficient, relationship management.
Want to be able to have an intelligent conversation with others on the topic? The detailed, more in-depth analysis follows:
Situation Relationships are nothing new, from paper based address books, to the arrangement of huts in early villages, we’re social creatures. The big change? The internet has broken down physical barriers, allowing us to connect and create online communities.
Online social networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Ancestry.com, and thousands of others are increasing in global adoption. I predict that social networking features will be part of nearly every website.
While we have many networks, and thus many social graphs they often fit into three major categories: business, personal, and family. Alex Iksold breaks down the components to three specific elements: People Identity, Type of Relationships, and Relationships Identity. These relationships can be mapped, displayed, or documented in what we call the Social Graph.
[Definition: The Social Graph is the representation of our relationships. In present day context, these graphs define our personal, family, or business communities on social networking websites]
Pains Today, individuals are part of many online social networks. Sadly, the same Social Graph is inefficiently being duplicated; we’re forced to add the same contacts to each social network. Beyond frustration, this results in inaccurate networks, and inability to control our own data. As we join and register more websites, this pain will grow exponentially.
[Unfortunately, we’re duplicating our same Social Graph information on websites with social features, it’s annoying to manage and inaccurate across sites. These disparate and disjointed social graphs will not scale, ultimatly resulting in a fragmented user experience as we use multiple websites]
Opportunity: Aggregating Social Graphs The idea is simple: Allow relationships to be quickly shared once and then replicated across multiple websites. A movement has been started to allow these relationships to be transplanted from one social network to another. The goal? reduce inefficient adding of relationships, improving the accuracy of the network, and providing users with control and management of their relationship data.
Users: For users this means efficiency and control over one’s personal data, their relationships, and how they are deployed on different social networks, it makes navigating the web better.
Social Networks: For companies that are social networks, they can benefit by increasing the amount of users as the social graph will populate all of a users network they permit.
All other websites: For companies that are not currently social networks, (like a corporate website) expect these social features to be part of your site. People will co-surf and share information about your content whether you like it or not.
Scenario: What does success look like?
In the most ideal scenario, aggregation of the social graph would allow Ted to quickly move from one social network to another, his trusted contacts would be pre-populated (as specified by Ted) and sharing of information would be instant. Furthermore, Ted would be able to quickly aggregate all information about his friend Chris on one page, and see what Chris has chosen to share across all social networks. Lastly, Ted would have full control over his graphs and can remove, adjust, or modify at will. Ted is in control, has accurately updated information from his social networks, and saves time at work, in his personal life, and with his family. He has more time to do what he really wants, which is to read this Web Strategy blog.
How can this be accomplished?
By centralizing a users Social Graph on a trusted, third party area that can be a central place where relationships are updated, and then replicated to every social networking website using a common process and technology.
Like many new initiatives, we’ve not laid out the infrastructure for open relationship movement, there’s a few obstacles to overcome.
Social Network vendors scared to open up and let customers and their relationships easily move to other networks
Agreement needed between all vendors and participants
Ownership over project and data
Lack of general market awareness
User adoption (sadly, I think most users are sheep)
Likely, a need for a single login
Creation and costs of third-party silo
Privacy concerns: many European countries may not embrace
Multiple security issues
Legal and government may get involved
As an industry, these challenges are not insurmountable, what’s required is a clear roadmap, willingness for vendors to ‘let go’ and industry-wide support.
Recently, an alliance called OpenSocial was formed between Google, MySpace, (list) to create an agreement so applications could easily be ported from one network to another. Although still at it’s starting point this alliance should be the precursor to establishing the management and flexibility of the Social Graph. To learn more about OpenSocial read: Explaining OpenSocial to your executives.
[Ideally, our Social Graphs should be self-managed from a single trusted source, and then replicated to websites of our choosing, thus resulting in accurate, efficient relationship management]
What you should do:
1) Wait and Watch: We’re still at the conceptual level, although several vendors are working hard to release products or services to fix this, there’s not much to do.
2) Plan: If you work for a company that has relationships on it’s website (having a ‘login’ is a key indicator) then you should make your web teams aware of this market change, and have an internal discussion.
3) Obtain more information: I’ve created a new tag called Social Graph on this blog, and will keep you updated of changes as I see it. Being an industry analyst, vendors will brief me, I’ll analyze with my peers, and report back.
Why this analysis?
When I’m asked the same question several times (in this case, colleague Jennifer D and Bill Claxton), it’s a signal to write an explanatory blog post.
Feedback from peers
I’m trying to be as accurate as possible and incorporated the feedback of the two-line definition from my peers at the Blog World Expo which included Marshall Kirkpatrick, Jeremy Pepper, Jake McKee, Stephanie Agresta, Chris Heuer, and anyone else who would listen to me. Please note they did not approve or review the rest of the text.
Your comments wanted, even if you don’t agree
For more posts like this, I’ve tagged it Web Strategy, where I publish many how-to, and what-you-should-know posts
If you have suggestions to improve this document, leave a comment, and I’ll update as appropriate, I hope you share this with others.