Jed Cohen

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The Third Dimension of the Social Graph


Welcome to the world of the social web.

These days, social media websites are no longer siloed off from one another; they are integrated entities, working together.  I can post my Twitter updates to my Facebook profile, throw in what I’m listening to on Pandora, export that all to my blog, and post it to any number of aggregators.  Each one of those websites has its own set of connections, the people I follow, or friend, or connect with.  And each of those individuals sits on my “social graph.”   If you’re not familiar with it, this just what it sounds like – a map of all of your social connections, and those connected to who you’re connected to, and so on and so forth.

What is interesting is that not all the ties on your graph are the same.  Consider the weak tie hypothesis of networking theory/sociology, which accounts for the development of social ties between disparate groups of people.  Basically, a lot of strong ties implies a close knit network where you know everyone well, while weak ties tend to imply a far reaching, varied social network with weaker relationships.  Thus someone with many weak ties is likely to have a large net of information to draw from, but the relationships will not be as deep.  (This, by the way, has many personal networking implications, but I think I’ll leave those to the networking experts).

I suppose it is then fitting that what I really want to talk about is a different kind of “weak tie,” one in which not separate people come together, but separate services and items.  I mentioned above some 0f the examples linking each social media service to one another, but there is another level to this as well – one that moves beyond just social media.  Specifically, I am thinking about the relatively recent rise of the interconnectedness between what we traditionally call social media and “non-social” websites.  To spell it out in terms of Facebook and Twitter, this would be Facebook Connect and the Twitter API.  Both expand the social graph beyond the two dimensional world of who you know and who knows you.  They allow for a world of three dimensions, one where every user can plug additional information into their social graph if they wish.  Here are two examples.  Facebook Connect allows you to log into Digg with your Facebook account and digg stories; this action can then be transmitted back to your Facebook account, telling your friends what you’ve done.  On the Twitter side of things, Spymaster allows you to assume the role of a covert agent and assassinate (and recruit) your fellow Twitter users, while also posting updates to your stream about your not so covert activities.

These, and other websites, are using the social aspects of social media outside of the traditional realm of the “social network” – the 2D relationship of being someone’s “friend.”  (I suppose that one could argue that the unidirectional nature of Twitter is a 1D relationship, but that’s not the point….however interesting its implications are.)  The point is that this information builds upon the basics provided by the social platform of your choice.  It’s not just your bio on your profile anymore; it’s also how you use the web.  And I think that that is the third dimension of the social graph.

This can be even more powerful if you start to look at ways that the social graph of the digital world can interact with the physical one.  Consider Nike+, which tracks users’ runs.  That too can be tied into Facebook (and Twitter).  Or BakerTweet, which tweets when the Albion Cafe in London has freshly baked goodies ready to sell.  There are many other examples of this type of crossover as well (see the plant that tweets, the washing machine that tweets, the cat door that tweets…..I’m sensing a pattern here folks).  What they’re all doing though is contributing to this third dimension on the social graph.

What’s the end result?  Don’t know.  It could be an interconnected, always on social world web, one where you can attach as much information to your identity as you’d like from a variety of sources.  Or it could be a layer of social networking information floating over the real world, one that tells you what your friends are doing at all times.  Or it could be the next way to meet new people, allowing users to find friends and business partners by interest, activity, or likes.  Or it could be all of these (one can argue it already is).  What remains though is that the social networks of today have opened their borders to one another, allowing users to access information from the digital and the physical, bringing the social web to conceivably every aspect of our lives – personal, professional, public, and beyond.

Regardless of how it turns out, I imagine this 3D social graph is going to be quite the interesting place to be.  And it’s one I hope to take advantage of.

Written by Jed

July 6th, 2009 at 11:00 pm

  • Jed, great post.
    The field I am interested regarding the social graph is the ability to search in it. That's a very interesting field that you might want to take a look at if you're looking to to take advantage of the social graph.

  • Thanks for the comment Lior. I think that social search is absolutely going to be an important aspect of this third dimension on the social graph. As more and more services, devices, and people get hooked into the network, the potential for information overload increases; as such, I think we will have to rely on better, faster, real-time search engines to navigate through the clutter and provide us with what we are looking for.

    That said, there is something I find appealing to venturing out into the social space looking for new information without a search engine – it's a great way to discover new people, topics, services, and more. Just so long as there's still an option to find what I need fast that is.

  • J.T. O'Donnell

    Ever since I got involved in social media, I've found my mind almost overwhelmed with possibilities and potential uses. Unfortunately, so many of my friends/colleagues aren't as obsessed with the power of social media as I am, which leaves me pretty lonely at times.

    A post like this not only gets me excited about the future, but it makes me feel better too. I know I'm not alone in my excitement for what is to come.

    Thanks for writing such a great piece!

  • And thank you for commenting on it JT! It's interesting that you say that you feel that many of your colleagues aren't as interested in social media as you are, because one of the things that I think is so amazing about Careerealism is its network of career experts – all of whom have embraced social media and are using it to answer questions and provide advice every day.

  • J.T. O'Donnell

    Yes, I'd say I found a wonderful subset of 'virtual friends' to connect with about social media. But in the day-to-day of my life (where I live and raise my family) I'm a bit of an outsider. Most moms I know looking at me funny when I start talking about social media's advanced potential. When I tell them I run a website and private career network, the get a glassy look. Aside from posting pictures on Facebook and finding their old friends from High School, they don't get excited about social media. Building communities of customers and developing professional identities, a.k.a. personal brands, etc. is not their thing…yet. I'm sure someday though, when their kids are grown and they want to go back to work, this stuff will be much more interesting to them!

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