Facebook, Friendship, and the Social Graph

According to Cory Doctorow, Facebook is no paragon of virtue, but there’s no need to worry about it achieving critical mass and threatening the web itself as a platform. His reasoning is based on a central component of Facebook, and of every other social network: the friends list.

It’s socially awkward to refuse to add someone to your friends list — but removing someone from your friend-list is practically a declaration of war. The least-awkward way to get back to a friends list with nothing but friends on it is to reboot: create a new identity on a new system and send out some invites (of course, chances are at least one of those invites will go to someone who’ll groan and wonder why we’re dumb enough to think that we’re pals).

That reminded me of the problem statement in Brad Fitz’s Thoughts on the Social Graph.

What I mean by “social graph” is a the global mapping of everybody and how they’re related… Unfortunately, there doesn’t exist a single social graph (or even multiple which interoperate) that’s comprehensive and decentralized. Rather, there exists hundreds of disperse social graphs, most of dubious quality and many of them walled gardens.

If you want to be able to reboot in the way that Cory describes, this is less of a problem than a blessing, less a bug than a feature, providing as it does a set of refuges from friendship requests. While those working on the social graph problem will see the need for such refuges, and will define the tools to build them, I’m not sure that J. Random Networker wants to learn how to wield such tools.

Email is Social!

Stop the presses at the NY Times! Or at least read the rather good post by Saul Hansell at the NYT’s BITS blog.

Google and Yahoo have come up with new and very similar plans to respond to the challenge from MySpace and Facebook: They hope to turn their e-mail systems and personalized home page services (iGoogle and MyYahoo) into social networks.

Web-based e-mail systems already contain much of what Facebook calls the social graph — the connections between people.

Let’s talk about Yahoo first. Fred Wilson estimates that Yahoo Mail, with 250 million users, is the largest social graph on the planet. But Yahoo’s plans to use this graph make Michael Arrington sad.

Yahoo’s Brad Garlinghouse is talking about creating yet-another-social-network around Yahoo mail… He says the project is called “Inbox 2.0″ internally… It makes me sad because it is absurd for Yahoo to keep launching new social networking products, almost monthly, without what appears to be any sort of high level strategic vision…

I mean, I follow these products for a living, and I can’t keep their strategies straight. Or even figure out if there is a strategy. If Inbox 2.0 is part of Yahoo’s big vision for the future, then tell us more than the bits about the news feed and profile pages. Tell us how it can change the entire company, as OpenSocial appears poised to do with Google.

I have to agree with Michael that a more coherent message is coming from Google. Recognizing Gmail as a social graph fits very well into OpenSocial. For much the same reason, I disagree with Saul when he opens his post with the advice that we ignore OpenSocial.

Other remarks from “usual suspect” blogs include: it’s about time that Yahoo and Google unlocked the social potential of their email user bases; what’s really at issue here are two concepts that Hansell… didn’t name explicitly… RSS and Attention Data; it would make more sense to focus on start pages than on email.

Then there are many good contributions to the conversation in the comments to Saul’s post, and to the other posts referenced above… But this post has gone on long enough already.

OpenSocial: Google’s Meta-Net

There has been much recent posting about OpenSocial. Here’s some good snappy writing from Michael Arrington: a sentence on what OpenSocial is, followed by a sentence on why Google is doing it.

Google wants to create an easy way for developers to create an application that works on all social networks. And if they pull it off, they’ll be in the center, controlling the network.

Other good posts include those from Charlene Li and from Marc Andreessen. Each wondered why Yahoo wasn’t one of the first involved in the announcement.

I was more surprised by the absence of Six Apart. Now it appears that Six Apart will be an OpenSocial partner. That’s according to a post at Valleywag, which adds the following (probably wise) advice. “For those of you keeping count at home, don’t bother. The list is surely to grow as word gets out.”