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Social Networking (2) - Replacing the Social Graph with Social Gravity

2008-02-03 4 min read Web marco

So, after we looked at how {moscontentlink:my primer|I saw Social Networking (SNW) develop}, here is my look at how I see things develop. As I mentioned in the article above, working for Bluepulse made me think about SNW a lot, and I decided the starting point for any conversation on the future of SNW had to be the current standpoint of Facebook.

Now, you see, Mark Zuckerberg has been talking a lot about the social graph. That’s the topological graph of people on a social network and the way they are connected. The concept is fairly old, dating back to the original Friendster: you could interact with people depending on their social distance from you, see their profiles if they were your friends’ friends, and needed an introduction if they were once removed.

Here is what Mark Zuckerberg sees as a sample social graph:

Facebook Social Graph sample (Notice the dominance of Universities on the graph – typical Facebook).

Now, the big problem I have is that this view of SNW is skewed towards young folks. How so? Well, it represents the social graph as something static and immutable, whereas to someone older the social graph is something dynamic. This graph is a momentary representation of the state of the universe, and is as interesting to look at as a snapshot of northern lights: pretty, but without the movement, there is so much missed.

I posit that, indeed, the social graph is not what matters in SNW, but the motion that lives therein. In particular, I believe that our entire human experience with each other revolves around a concept of concentric interactions based on amount of communication:

![Image](/joomla/images/stories/social gravity.png “Image”)

In the center is our self, the entity with which we communicate the most (by far). Next to it, we have Friends, people with whom we communicate constantly. This is a little different than what we usually consider friends (hence the uppercase letter), since we have friends with whom we don’t keep in touch frequently.

People we don’t communicate with a lot are Acquaintances. This could be your family, people that moved away, colleagues from previous jobs. Social networking, at its core, is about improving the communication with Acquaintances by removing the need to actively seek out who to get in touch with. By updating your profile, you automatically say something to an Acquaintance, without your having to tell or that person having to ask specifically.

This is very important, because most of the communication you do is with your Friends. Say you went on vacation, snowboarding in Canada. You would want to show your friends the pictures you’ve taken (potentially of them) as a part of your normal communication with them. As a side effect of doing so on Facebook, you inform everybody else (your Acquaintances, mainly) about your trip. They don’t have to ask you, you don’t have to tell them. Easy!

The next level, one that Facebook is not capturing much, is that of people I would like to meet. Of course I cannot know that I want to do that. Well, that’s on Facebook. On the other hand, there are lots of social networking sites that try to get you in touch with people you’d like to meet. They are called dating sites.

And that’s exactly how the world of the social graph is limited: social networking is not communication with a static entity, the Graph, but communication with a dynamic one. Friends move, get married, change jobs, and we move them constantly from the Friends category to the Acquaintances category as a matter of routine. We need people to replace the Friends that have gone, so that our Social Story is one of a motion away from the center (of people we lose touch with gradually) paralleled by a motion towards the center (of people we meet and become Friends with).

Social Networking is exactly about creating this flow; it’s about finding people you don’t know yet, move them to your Acquaintances circle, then maybe to your Friends circle, and then keeping in touch with them once they move out again (if they do). It doesn’t matter whether you are looking for a snowboarding buddy or your soulmate: it all starts with the Social Churn, and social networking makes the Churn fun and easy.

Ultimately, personals sites are relevant only for hookups. For anything more serious, you have to generate space in your social churn graph. And whoever captures this concept first has the real eBay of social interaction.