Digital Media, Facebook, Internet

It’s What You Node

Chris Dixon has an excellent blog post up about social graphs — a must read if you’re in the social media or social apps space (Mathew Ingram wrote a nice follow up here on Gigaom).

Chris says:

In social graphs, the nodes are people and the edges friendship. <emphasis is mine>

And he goes on to suggest that we’ll see, in the coming months and years, new types of graphs around taste, endorsements, payments (“financial trust”), and local data. I think that’s right, but just partly.

The starting point for this discussion really ought to start with the node — that is, how and where we represent ourselves digitally.  Given  the gigantic success of Facebook, there is an implicit assumption that all our nodes are belong to Facebook — that it will be the primary place we express ourselves digitally —  and Facebook will thus own all the graphs that matter as a result (I think this is, essentially, the argument Mathew makes on Gigaom).

But for most of us, one node to rule all graphs just won’t do. Think about your interests, what you like doing, how you spend your free time, what your passions are, what music you like. Can you really express your full sense of self — all those things you both love and do — on and through Facebook, with your contacts on Facebook? Are your Facebook friends truly interested in all of the details of all the things you do and like?

For most, I suspect, the answer is no. In fact, one of the biggest complaints I hear from people about Facebook is how “noisy” it is — that we’re subjected to a flood of information from friends and acquaintances we really don’t care about. I care about my friends and their families and where they went on vacation. But I might not care as much about my friend’s obsession with, say, fly fishing. Or how much they just loved that Rush song. I suspect this is a large part of Facebook’s poor consumer satisfaction results compared to other services. Their rush to facilitate sharing of everything, instead of sharing by and between friends of things related to their friendships, has come at a cost.

We need different nodes to express all the things we like, all the things we do. Ironically, though we mock Google’s cluelessness  when it comes to social, the best research I’ve seen on this comes from a Google employee. Each of us has different interests and passions which we in turn want to share with different groups of people. It’s why many of us share some things on Facebook, others on Twitter, and more still on our blogs or other sites and services. We each need to express ourselves through many nodes, on many different graphs.

Indeed, we’ve already see plenty of examples of this: communities on Flickr for those into photography; or last.fm for people passionate about their music; or flixster for movies. Big opportunities still exist to create services that allow for distinct and specific expression of self combined with the right graph. And these opportunities don’t play to Facebook’s strengths, because so much of this is about expression and publishing — not just the graph mapping the nodes. Indeed, this may be where Google still has a few very strong cards to play with assets like Blogger and Buzz and YouTube.

We’re increasingly focused on building a very particular graph at Vodpod, based on our unique type of nodes — collections of videos, many of them very deep, many of them very focused.  For the first couple of years, we concentrated just on the utility of our service — making it dead simple to build a video collection, using your favorite videos from any site on the web, and to share it on your blog or elsewhere.

But now that we have attained significant scale (nearly 6M videos, nearly a million members with many thousands with very deep collections, 10M unique visitors each month, videos from over 17,000 sites) we have the opportunity to build one of these more specialized graphs. In our case, it’s about connecting you with the right collector so that you can get a video feed tailored to your interests and tastes. Whether you’re interested in soccer, politics, viral videos, technology, or electronica.

We’re now able to do this with increasing sophistication at Vodpod. For example, if you visit my collection and sign up from that page, we’ll recommend other, similar collectors for you to follow:

While we’ve enabled “following” on Vodpod for years, we’ve not focused on building out a graph between and around our video-centric nodes until now. The data represented in these nodes  – these video collections — enables us to do this in ways other cannot.

We started this effort in just the last week, and are beginning to see very profound results. Will we build a graph as big and as important as Facebook’s? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean the opportunity isn’t huge — we think we’re in a unique position to provide the best way for people to find and watch videos, via our members’ extraordinary collections and the graphs we’re building around those nodes. That’s nothing to sneeze at, and I suspect there are other, similar opportunities out there.

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