Sunday, July 24, 2011

Why Is Interest Graph More Interesting Than Social Graph?

Social networks have evolved over the years and have now become as important and necessary, if not more, as emails. Few years ago when we used to log on to internet, the first thing we used to do was check our email accounts. Now when we log on, we still check our emails, but a lot of us check their social networks first: Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc. 

Social networks are essentially graphs, where entities (people and organizations) are nodes, and relationships and interests are links. Though a lot of people think of all social networks as the same, these are very different - usually differentiated by their underlying graphs. The usual [simplistic] view that people have of social networks is actually that of a social graph, where people are nodes and relationships are links. So, for example, in my social graph I will be connected with my friends, family and acquaintances. I will share photos, messages and news with them, and they with me. Though this is all great, there is a fundamental constraint with the social graph - it covers the world around me, but not much of me. Our world is much more than our family and friends; it is also about our interests, thoughts and beliefs. It is these traits that define us as an individual. The social graph is not able to capture these things. Enter interest graph.

The Interest Graph
In the interest graph, entities are not connected through relationships, but through interests, beliefs and causes, such as a particular subject, event, celebrity or organization. The great thing about interest graph is that, unlike a social graph, I do not need to know you in order to connect to you. This brings out the subtleties of human nature. It is quite possible that you do not share your interests and ideologies with any of your family members or friends, but have similar interests and beliefs as a stranger living in another country. While social graph articulates your existing network, interest graph extends it. 

The two most prominent social networks, Facebook and Twitter, have elements of both, social and interest, in them; though, Facebook is primarily a social graph and Twitter is primarily an interest graph. Other examples of interest graph include Digg, Quora and RSS feeds. Thanks to the popularity of Facebook, social graph has got a lot of attention by general public and companies; however, I believe interest graph has got much more potential in comparison. Good for Facebook, they have realized this as well, hence the fan page, like and comments features. But the problem with Facebook is that it was built with social graph in mind, not the interest. 

Impact of Interest Graph
The impact of interest graph and possibilities around it are far greater than the social one, not just for you (an individual) but also for society and companies. 

At the individual level, it allows you to express yourself, and connect with people and organizations who either are from the field of your interest or have similar interests. While you might like chatting to your friends about your trip to Malaysia or commenting on their photos, but you might be more interested in the Euro crises, green house effect, Lady Gaga's concerts, Vogue's spring collection, iPhone 5 or new pair of running shoes from Nike. You may want to know about these things, talk about them, share your opinion and gets others' - but your friends and family might not share your interests. Your social graph might not be the best place to share these things, you need an interest graph for that. You will search blogs on the topic of interest and comment on the relevant articles, find discussion boards, look for people who are considered experts in these areas and seek their opinion. It might seems trivial at first, but remember, it is the human desire to explore, express and communicate that has brought this world various movements (such as the Renaissance) and revolutions (such as the recent Middle-East uprising). This is the greatest strength of interest graph - connecting people with a cause, bringing a sense of purpose and achievement. 

Interest graph can also do wonders for commercial purposes. Companies can tap into your interest graph to find out more about you, and then present you with offerings more useful and interesting to you. Imagine, as soon as you walk into a mall, its system gets your identity, taps into your interest graph and finds out that you like Italian cuisine and have been following developments on new gaming consoles. Based on that it can tell you that there is a games shop on ground floor which is offering XBox games on discount and an original Italian cuisine restaurant on second floor. Or you go into a sales meeting and are introduced to a client director you did not know was going to show up. You open up an app on your iPhone, which analyzes his interest graph and tells you that the director values green initiatives a lot and is interested in cloud computing. The interest graph becomes a potential gold mine for companies when it is combined with location tracking (to find out where you are) and big data technologies (to analyze huge amounts on data faster). It has the potential to truly connect the online and offline worlds. 

This might all seem too futuristic, but all this has already started to happen now (check out Loopt, Color and Gravity); Walmart is already exploring Twitter to analyze trends so that it can stock up products in its stores according to local usage. The world has become a small place and the interest graph has the potential to make it even smaller. Though the social graph is a great way to connect with your loved ones (and also the not so loved ones), the interest graph has much greater potential to change the humanity for good, and impact our world at commercial, social and individual level - the interest graph is much more interesting. 

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