The Social Graph In The Second Inning

The social graph can do way more than it’s doing for me right now. I’ve said that on many occasions in the past but I was reminded of that in our "messaging brainstorming discussion" earlier this week. Myspace and Facebook, and Friendster and Six Degrees before them, showed us how great a service can be when it knows who your friends are. But the current social graphs know so little about who my friends really are.

I told a friend at breakfast yesterday about how I went about building an invite list to our holiday party this year. We are expanding our party, doing it outside our home, and thus wanted to extend the invitation list beyond the one we’ve been using in past years. I went to Xobni (which is a plug-in to outlook) and asked it who my top 100 friends are. The list it spit back at me was based on who I email with most frequently and it was ordered from 1 to 100. I didn’t really have to think very long. Almost everyone on that list got an invite.

Facebook can’t do that for me. I have 239 friends on Facebook, all with the same ranking (with the exception of my "top friends"), and maybe 10 or 20 are coming to our holiday party. I realize this is a generational thing and that my kids use Facebook to do all of their party invites. But the social graph inside of my email address book is way more relevant to my life than the one on Facebook. And it can rank who is important to me and who is not.

That’s not the only social graph in my life that is underutilized. How about the phone book on my blackberry curve? When I click on the phone button on my blackberry I am shown the most recent calls I’ve made or received. Many of the names on that list never change. The Gotham Gal rules that list, followed by my kids. That is my most important social network right there. My family. Imagine if Xobni ran on my blackberry. I’d be really interested in the list from 1 to 100 on my phone too.

What about Twitter? Who do I follow? Who do I reply to? Who do I favorite? What about my blogroll? What about what blogs I comment on? What about the people who comment most frequently on my blog?

What I want is a single aggregated social graph that I control that has all of this data in it. That "meta social graph" can then be applied by ME to the interface I want on top off all my messaging systems.

This is going to happen. It has to. And that’s why we are in the second inning of this social graph thing. I think Facebook is going to be a big winner, possibly the Google of the social graph movement, but there’s a lot of baseball to play before this game is over.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. agawley

    Hey Fred. I agree completely. The idea of a truly unified social graph that is not only comprehensive but can understand (and infer?) context for each of those connections is so compelling that it just has to happen. For some reason though, I don’t think facebook is the company that is going to crack it. Right now they have too much of a vested interest in their proprietary network for this to come together. That said, if they are serious about being an engineering led company, then perhaps they’ll overcome that.One thing is for certain, whoever cracks the social middleware problem will generate a stack of value for users (and for themselves!)

  2. howardlindzon

    awesome…right on. It’s why I make fun of the ANALysts telling us that facebook and google are overvalued. If they get it right, $15 billion is cheap. Inning 2 means there is so much value to be discovered. Hard to vale = opportunity.

    1. fredwilson

      And yet that’s what we do every day howard. Its hard but a lot of funFred

  3. Phil B

    It sounds like this is another call for the implicit web, this time specifically for friends/relationships and perhaps even more importantly with users in control. It’s not that much of a stretch to connect this idea with the privacy/identity and VRM initiatives out there and all of these things would be great for the Web, for users and I think for companies as well. The implicit web definitely feels like the next layer that could be applied to a wide range of services to make them more useful.

    1. fredwilson


  4. howardlindzon

    The graph is not as important as the leverage the social leverage that will come from using them:

  5. Lou Paglia

    Interesting concept of knitting the social graphs together. No shock it hasn’t been done yet since we are creating the tendrils of the graph at a torrid pace with FB, blackberries, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, etc. Services are getting created faster than anyone could create social graph synergies between them. But here is my two cents:- Let’s trying getting a unified structure or hava a service come out than can knit my profile in one place in an effective way.- Second point is regarding reward. Will there be a financial incentive to be the company that can knit the social graph together. How would it monetize. Plaxo, as an example, has really created an effective way for me to maintain updates on people within my social graphs contact information. But, they are now considered the also ran and the reward does not seem imminent.

    1. Dan Cornish

      I think I will play the part of the bomb thrower. I disagree that Face Book will be the big winner here because of its origins. It is a tool designed to make a social graph of people in college. All of this other functionality is bolted on. I would argue that where real money is in the grown up world of enterprise social graphs. My friends are important, but generally, they do not make me money. The people I know in business are what is most important to me. There are two different kinds of social graphs in the business world. Defined and undefined. A defined social graph is the list of everyone in the industry, sort of like a private club. For example, to pitch Fred, it is far better to be introduced by someone who is already in his industry that he knows and trusts or a VC firm that is “known.” So even though he might not know a particular person at a reputable VC, he would more than likely take a meeting with the referral since a member of “the club” referred him. Where does this private social graph live? It lives inside the firewall. The other social graph is people who might be able to do business, but are not part of the club. This is where Face Book, Linked in and others come in. Fred wants to develop business with people who are not in “the club.” This is why his Blog is so successful. This is the primary way he generates leads. So the undefined social graph is the marketing/advertising side of the business, where the defined social graph is the “operations” side of the business.In my opinion, the “defined” social graph is where the larger value lies, and is why it is so hard to build.If I were to steal a contact list from Fred, which would be more valuable? His Outlook/Blackberry list or his friends on Face Book? Sure there is overlap, but there are many businesses which make a LOT of money getting the kinds of information and leads which resides privately on his BlackBerry. A question for Fred, would you publish Union Square’s contact list publicly on your website? I surely would not, since my contact list is one of the most valuable things I own. I do not want my competitors to know who I know. That is very different than the model on Facebook, where I can show publicly who I know. And yes I know you can keep contacts private, but if you compare the two lists, one will be far more valuable. And then do not get me started about the idea that a Company asset like a contact list is controlled by administrators and the like.I will argue that Facebook, much like Six Degrees before it are just the warm up game to where real value lies locked away. In industries where firms collaborate, the “private” social graph is what I want to use to steal clients from my competitors, recruit employees, find better vendors, find good consultants and the like. This information will never live on an undefined social network since the same information is invaluable to my competitors. But, the peopleI have a lot more to say on this, especially how to get paid, since this is the very problem I have devoted 10 years of my life to solve. But I only want to share the rest with a few people on my “defined” social graph. How do you get on my “defined” social graph? By being part of another “defined” social graph I trust.

  6. greenskeptic

    A single, aggregated social graph would be exceedingly useful.I’ve been frustrated that all the social networks I belong to can’t be linked or communicate. Facebook seems to be addressing this to a certain degree, but slowly. Add to that the various outlook, gmail, hotmail, address books, and LinkedIn…keeping track of it all is frustrating.I also want a single place where I can write a blog post and simultaneously post it to the social networks where I want it to appear. Kind of a creator-directed rather than reader-directed Feedburner?For now, I have to write and post, copy and paste, reformat to fit gather, zaadz,, pownce, whatever. As I understand it, tumblr aggregates, but doesn’t disseminate. Right?

  7. ethomaz

    I totally agree with you.In fact I would say that we now have an opportunity to develop tools such as Xobni’s that help us develop a better understanding of not only our social graph but every other footstep that we take in our digital lives. That’s what I’ve been working on and excited about for a while now.Incidentally, you must have seen the Socialistics Facebook app…-et

    1. Guest

      I guess part of the delay is the feeling of ownership that the social networks each want to have over your social graph. I think as we go forward, they’ll be better able to distinguish what is actually valuable and proprietary for their business and what they can afford to give out and let the data go free to the people. It’s the silo problem you always see mentioned. How do we give incentives to the companies to let the data go free? That’s the million dollar question (more like multi billion dollar).Off Topic Disqus comment: it’d be nice if you could do an ajax login screen right on the blog page — I didn’t particularly like having to go from the blog, to the login page, back to the top of the blog, then having to scroll down and go back to the msg box

  8. jim

    I am beta testing xnobi plug-in for Outlook and it is awesome! It somes closest to this vision.Jim

  9. Oren

    Note to self: need to email Fred a lot next year to get on the ’08 list 🙂

    1. fredwilson

      I think replies count higher than sends in the xobni algorithm 🙂

  10. Chris Saad

    Brad you are describing what we call DataPortability which results in Portable Social Networks or what I call Personal Social Networks.You can check out the beginning of the movement here: me a line if you like and I can explain all the companies involved and the technologies being developed behind the scenes.Cheers,Chris

    1. dpnova

      Yep, while the details of some stuff needs to be sorted out, the only real barrier now is widespread adoption, which is coming 😉

  11. Chris Saad

    Sorry – Fred 🙂 Was talking to a Brad at time of commenting!

  12. aswath

    A better approach may be for individuals/enterprises to run their own SNs, but federate with other similar SNs to which their friends belong. This way there s no need to worry about who owns the content, how do I port from one SN to another and other points brought up in this discussion. This is the equivalent of “intelligence at the end”, a popular refrain in the VoIP word. At least we believe in this model and we are working to realize this vision.By the way, the comment tracking system used here is another illustration of this point. Disqus issues their own identity to track my comments in various sites. But if we use a user-centric identity like OpenID, then it would have been much simpler and I will be the owner of my comments; nobody has to grant it back in the T&C.

  13. hardaway

    I just saw the next generation of Google apps, and I think they have a good chance of providing the information for a complete, unified social graph. I don’t even have to run another program, because Gmail already tells me who I emaill most often, and when it links to Google reader I will be able to see whose blogs I read and comment on, etc. I already share my GR feeds and email them through GR.

  14. vanelsas

    The think that bothers me most is thatI am not in control of my own data. I build up the networks myself, but the network “owner”, for example Facebook, puts up these walled gardenss that do not allow me to export the data to some other place. tim O’Reilly makes a similar observation as you do in his address book 2.0 post. I don’t think Facebook will win, it needs to be an open, decentralised, user centric service that does the trick. Neither of which Facebook is.

  15. othylmann

    One of our developers at Ormigo is actually started an open source project as a side thing with Noserub is an open social network that allows for portability of your social graph and making friends with people on different noserub installations, later other installations. It really needs to be open source to allow for full portability and to be able to own your social graph without somebody interfering. Mine is at… .This is actually something very revelant for Ormigo, as our local lead gen system is actually build on a social network. Open social graphs allow us to do a lot better matching without having all users in our platform. If you are looking for a dentist for bleaching, best would be somebody rated well by some of your friends. Lots of this is still only under the hood being built out bit by bit but we are just now slowly realizing the real impact and potential and are getting great feedback. And this is just one of the possible uses of the social graph. It plays in really well with lead generation though as long as you are generating your users that can be used by others, because generating leads for BMW normally does not give you that capability.

  16. Matt Thazhmon

    This is the future that we at are working towards. Our service at http://FreeMyFriends is designed to allow us as end users to use our social graph across any site. Version 1.01 of the API which is currently live achieves our initial goal of making the end user effort be 0. This means no entering password or choosing sites etc for the end user. It’s all “automagic” as far as the end user is concerned.Here’s a link to how the service works…We’re looking for feedback on the API –…and also for ideas on how to get sites to start using the service. We can be reached at [email protected]