“Social Graph”, Is That Contagious?

Every new app creating…buzz, these days seems to imagine or attempt to tap into your “social graph”. What’s a social graph? Integral to mobile-based entrepreneurial visions for the future web is a universal social network, “overlaying” every site on the web.

The idea is, whatever you are doing, whatever information you need, whomever you are communicating with, all that data is linked and connected for easy reference. Like with Bing’s Facebook integrated search and Google’s “You Shared” results, the content presented to you on the vast web is becoming filtered via the preferences of the people you are connected with.

The SXSWesters took this idea step further this year, claiming the “social graph” would integrate the real world and the digital world so seamlessly we would no longer differentiate between “online” and “offline”. Their examples of this were QR barcodes, used often on fliers, products and polls around Austin, and the new breed of check-in apps which focus on who you’re with. (Foursquare, it should be noted, is still more focused on tips and recommendations, with the “low-hanging fruit” being activity check-ins as the app GetGlue does.)

What About Social Layers? Same Diff?

Mashable’s Follow, which quickly aggregated the Twitter community, as well as attracted spammers, is called a “social layer”. Mashable’s content propagates through Twitter and the rest of the social web via sharing buttons. Follow’s admirable, and unique, curation model creates customized user newsfeeds based on the topics and people you follow. You can “find” people by linking, indiscriminately, to other major social networks. (I say indiscriminately because we know too well there’s no love lost between Facebook and Google.)

Does this constitute a social graph or even the initial skeleton to create one? Or, are we looking at social layers as seen on the Huffington Post, Digg, (ew), shopping sites, entertainment sites, and even my own science community, as merely web skins simulating a community experience? Are “social layers”, superficial layers which wall-off content or usability, but merely offer an enhanced user experience and the ability to be “social”, just for the ability to identify you with your data? Meaning: What’s in it for us Joes?

The Irresistable New

It seems social graphs are actually contagious. Color, the photo snapping app with its futuristic “sees all, knows all” technology, promises to create its own social graph by “recognizing” where you are when you take a picture. This completely eliminates the need for check-ins and overcomes geolocation’s limitations.

Facebook, which ironically did not put much emphasis on photos from the outset, is now challenging apps like Path and Color with its own app. The ubiquitous “like us” buttons popping up on sites like little flags claiming territory on the web, are being threatened seriously by Apple’s recent pass over in its Lion OS upgrade. Apple “crowned” Twitter the dominant social network when it integrated with the smaller company and not Facebook.

There are even some who are daring to say Facebook will go the way of MySpace, in a world where its often our worst selves projected online. Strong competition also comes in from winners like LinkedIn and Gmail. Despite the failure of Buzz, Gmail’s smooth syncing with Droid platforms and web apps like Google Talk and Docs work with search to create Google social graph. Adding in +1, Google’s ability to create customized web experiences is threatened only by similar competitor, Bing.

The Matrix: Customized for You

So what will this user experience look like? Rockmelt gave a pretty amazing demonstration for its social browser video featuring a young man looking for a job, apartment, friends, and places to eat in a new city. His search was smooth and successful thanks to the integrated browsing experience which allowed him to find a career fitting his background, an apartment with an old acquaintance, new people in his area to hang out with and…turtle racing at a nearby bar.

Moving the real into the augmented, we see how alerts such as Living Social’s deals based on your location can come in handy in metropolitan areas, or even suburbia once GLS becomes more accurate. The number one complaint I hear on Twitter is “email box overload”. Notifications based on your preferences, location and preidentified needs should cut down on needless emails.

Another more out there example: When you are searching for a new home, you can see who you know lives in your area. You can use Yelp to review schools and a government site to see average grades. Do you know anyone who’s kids are going there? You can see what stores are near, which have good deals and how often your friends frequent them. You can see bars and restaurants which suit your taste as compare to historical preferences from Foursquare checkins, and…why not…what homes are in your price range based on salary and credit score. (Yeah, someone knows that other than you.)

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