Social Graphs Are Everywhere… We just weren’t paying attention.

10Dec08

Yesterday, Derek Stacey, a colleague of mine at Razorfish sent me this article:  http://gigaom.com/2008/12/08/yahoo-plans-to-launch-a-mail-app-platform/. We worked together on a nifty project aiming to aggregate and blend both social and email experiences from numerous sources into a seamless and light web interface.  The idea did not come as a surprise, but rather as a confirmation of a fact we figured would become mainstream soon: social graphs are everywhere.

Social graphs are born from repeated conversationAnywhere.

Concepts around what a social graph really is or could be started becoming clear to us as we tried to conceptualize an aggregated address book, with sources such as various social networks and email address books. We ran into a number of challenges, such as the inability to equate profiles across networks with varying information restrictions. This lead to many very interesting spins around how to use social network graphs and aggregate them into a form of  “super graph”, which lead us again to believe the following: social graphs are a by-product of sustained conversation using a communications medium.

The idea is pretty well illustrated when we think of our Facebook friends list, our Twitter follows and followers, our email address book, our IM friends list and more. Each of these belongs to a specific communication service (FB, Twitter, Yahoo!, Gmail, GTalk, AOL, etc.) and we build those graphs from sustained and repeated activity.

Email: One heck of a social graph…

Kudos to Yahoo! for a move to leverage the oldest social graph in digital history. Who can think of a communication vehicle stronger and more ubiquitous than email. We can get a bunch of us digitophiles in a room and list out who doesn’t have an Orkut, Hi5 or MySpace profile but I can bet you any amount of money the list of those who don’t have an email address is going to be empty.  Everybody has one if not multiple email accounts. We all have an address book, full of contacts, IMs, phone numbers, distribution lists, groups, even calendar entries. The email medium is in fact where you’ll find the richest and most stable social graph.

Beyond FB Connect. More freedom to choose.

While FB Connect and all the other APIs out there, old and new, are a great start for portable social graphs, I see the realization of email as a social graph and vehicle very disruptive. Here is why:

  • Email as a communication technology  is open and supports old, proven and stable APIs
  • Email has unparalleled support for a variety of content types and delivery options
  • Email is probably the most widely adopted and used technology in the world
  • The barrier of entry for integration is very low: think Yahoo! Social APIs, Google Data APIs (mail, calendar, etc), MSN Live APIs and more.
  • Email as a social graphs gives you identifiable leads, not just virtual clients protected by API restrictions

So come to think about it, referring to the great article Shiv, Jessy and others have written about Amazon + iTunes implementing FBConnect (http://www.goingsocialnow.com/2008/12/imagine-if-amazon-integrated-f.html), here’s how one can think of an Amazon decision strategy:

  • Analyze their user profiles by email address. Find out what portion of them belong to an “accessible” provider (such as Yahoo!, Gmail, MSN and many others)
  • Run some analytics magic to figure out what proportion of Amazon unique users have also been on Facebook. This can apply to other networks as well.
  • Make an educated decision… I’m willing to bet going the email route will prove more powerful.

Possibilities are endless…

Now the exciting part. Yahoo! and many others have and will realize that tapping into “human area networks” is easier than ever. Facebook and others have forged the way to raise awareness to the benefits and wonders of graph based communication while creating circles of trust between users, their friends and third party applications.

What’s exciting about using email is the ability to openly integrate messaging and content delivery in a centralized or de-centralized fashion, the sky’s the limit in terms of ways to use email to re-create any kind of social experience.  A tiny but perfect example is how you can send a picture via email directly into a Flickr album corresponding to that email address.  Does this get you thinking of the limitless capabilities of the integration medium?

What’s even more exciting about using email is the idea of re-inventing permission based email marketing in a much more targeted, social, trusted and efficient way.

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