The Social Graph is Neither

Last week Forbes even went to the extent of calling the social graph an exploitable resource comparable to crude oil, with riches to those who figure out how to mine it and refine it.

.. In order to model something as a graph, you have to have a clear definition of what its nodes and edges represent. In most social sites, this does not pose a problem. The nodes are users, while edges means something like ‘accepted a connection request from’, or ‘followed’, or ‘exchanged email with’, depending on where you are.

.. the old country, for example, we have two kinds of ‘friendship’ (distinguished by whether you address one another with the informal pronoun) and going from one status to the other is a pretty big deal; you have to drink a toast with your arms all in a pretzel and it’s considered a huge faux pas to suggest it before both people feel ready. But at least it’s not ambiguous!

.. There’s also the matter of things that XFN doesn’t allow you to describe. There’s no nemesisor rival, since the standards writers wanted to exclude negativity. The gender-dependent second e on fiancé(e) panicked the spec writers, so they left that relationship out. Neither will they allow you to declare an ex-spouse or an ex-colleague.

.. You can call this nitpicking, but this stuff matters! This is supposed to be a canonical representation of human relationships. But it only takes five minutes of reading the existing standards to see that they’re completely inadequate.

.. This obsession with modeling has led us into a social version of the Uncanny Valley, that weird phenomenon from computer graphics where the more faithfully you try to represent something human, the creepier it becomes. As the model becomes more expressive, we really start to notice the places where it fails.

.. The problem FOAF ran headlong into was that declaring relationships explicitly is a social act. Documenting my huge crush on Matt in an XML snippet might faithfully reflect the state of the world, but it also broadcasts a strong signal about me to others, and above all to Matt. The essence of a crush is that it’s furtive, so by declaring it in this open (but weirdly passive) way I’ve turned it into something different

.. Declaring connections is about as much fun as trying to whittle people from a guest list, with the added stress that social networking is too new for us to have shared social conventions around it.

.. The social graph wants to turn us back into third graders, laboriously spelling out just who is our fifth-best-friend. But there’s a reason we stopped doing that kind of thing in third grade!

.. Asking computer nerds to design social software is like hiring a Mormon bartender.

.. friendship is not transitive. There’s just no way to tell if you’ll get along with someone in my social circle, no matter how many friends we have in common.

.. Imagine the U.S. Census as conducted by direct marketers – that’s the social graph.

Social networks exist to sell you crap. The icky feeling you get when your friend starts to talk to you about Amway, or when you spot someone passing out business cards at a birthday party, is the entire driving force behind a site like Facebook.

.. We have a name for the kind of person who collects a detailed, permanent dossier on everyone they interact with, with the intent of using it to manipulate others for personal advantage – we call that person a sociopath.

.. Open data advocates tell us the answer is to reclaim this obsessive dossier for ourselves, so we can decide where to store it. But this misses the point of how stifling it is to have such a permanent record in the first place

.. Give people something cool to do and a way to talk to each other, moderate a little bit, and your job is done. Games like Eve Online or WoW have developed entire economies on top of what’s basically a message board. MetaFilter, Reddit, LiveJournal and SA all started with a couple of buttons and a textfield and have produced some fascinating subcultures. And maybe the purest (!) example is 4chan, a Lord of the Flies community that invents all the stuff you end up sharing elsewhere: image macros, copypasta, rage comics, the lolrus. The data model for 4chan is three fields long – image, timestamp, text.

Now tell me one bit of original culture that’s ever come out of Facebook.


Why LinkedIn Will Make You Hate Microsoft Word

IF Microsoft has its way, the vast membership of LinkedIn, the business networking site with more than 433 million members, will be instantly available to you while you use Microsoft products like Outlook or Skype. How many of LinkedIn’s members do you want to consult while also using Excel or typing away in Word? Microsoft is betting it’s a lot; this is part of its rationale for its $26.2 billion acquisition of LinkedIn, announced on Monday.

.. “This combination will make it possible for new experiences,” he wrote, such as “Office suggesting an expert to connect with via LinkedIn to help with a task you’re trying to complete.”

.. Did Mr. Nadella, who has been at Microsoft since 1992, learn nothing from the Clippy disaster?

.. “Most of the most innovative writing tools now on the market position themselves precisely as distraction-free platforms,

.. But I suspect that both Mr. Nadella and Mr. Weiner are afflicted with extremely bad cases of Facebookenvy. Every tech company, including Microsoft, contemplated buying, or actually tried to buy, Facebook in its early days, and all are haunted by the thought of the deal that got away.

.. Microsoft’s and LinkedIn’s “graphs” will be connected, Mr. Nadella said, and “that’s when the magic starts to happen in terms of how digital work gets completed.” What Mr. Nadella fails to see is how extending LinkedIn’s “social fabric” to Word will kill the magic, not speed it up.