Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Social Graph : The Scheme of Things

I was off-late wondering on the nature of social graphs in general and what maybe the functions and context of use of these graphs. Social graphs being the root of many business and scientific discussions, requires a common scheme of things that are used in well defined way in the conversations to broadly make sense.

I am breaking down my thoughts into series of posts to manage the size.

In this series, I thought I can take a first-cut of my understanding and opinions on what this scheme can be (in a common business like language) and represent a preamble to my future posts based on social graphs.

Probably the following distinct scheme of things are obvious at a higher level during social graph discussions.

  1. Individuals who participate in a social graph. (Identity)
  2. Relationships between the individuals. (Relation)
  3. The Domain and its functions. (Context)
  4. The standing of an Individual within a social graph based on the values, behavior and outcomes of his activities. (State, Reputation)
  5. The tools that are used to communicate. (Edge Device)

Lets get the academic definitions out of the way

Social: refers to the interaction of organisms with other organisms and to their collective co-existence, irrespective of whether they are aware of it or not, and irrespective of whether the interaction is voluntary or involuntary

Social Graph: A graph that is constructed by connecting the organisms to each other forming relationships and 'How' they are related.

Defining each of these schemes further

Identity: Each individual will have to establish a unique ID to distinguish herself across other within a graph. This can be email, TwitterID, FacebookID etc..

Relation: The nature or type of relationship you hold in real life, such as, employee, employer, friend, spouse, buyer, seller etc..

Context (Functional Domain): A social graph can be formed between humans relative to many functional domains. Which means, it does not necessarily have to be between a type of relationship such as friends (friendship being a functional domain). You can construct a social graph of organized sellers in a market place relatively connecting with each other to create the sell side dynamics like price control, logistics, bill-of-material, turns ratio, availability etc. You can also have a social graph between organized buyers in a market place connecting with each other enabling the buy side dynamics. Then another graph having participants from a work hierarchy (linkedin), another between a seller & a (adhoc) buyer in a market place (eBay et al). It can be between structured sellers (Amazon, eCom...), it can be for a specific community of aggregators (who are not producers or consumers) such as co-op societies. You get the idea of functional domain specific social-graphs by now.

Functions: Note that the relationship drawn between two people connected in a social graph has certain functions that are enabled to make sense within the context of that domain. In Facebook for example, you chat between friends, you are more casual in your status, you poke friends, upload family photos and comment on them etc... But when you get to Linkedin, you are more focused on getting connected to people from your industry, hiring, marketing, selling, defining job responsibilities accurately, enable recommendations etc. These are the functions you perform over the domain specific graph to engage meaningfully.

State: You seamlessly cut across all the functional domains of different social-graph that you belong to. You as a individual know your personal state and verify your state against activities across different graphs. You also update your residual state which is very specific to the functional domain of the graph. For sake of brevity, each graph carries only enough context and state to play within the domain boundaries of the graph. To illustrate, you may update Facebook that you just became a father (and your demographic profile in FB). You may update your new promotion and brief job responsibilities on Linkedin. As a Individual, you are aware of both these states, but as LinkedIn or FB the graph only knows what it needs to know.

Reputation: Based on your state, activities and interactions in the social graph, you manage to hold a reputation as an Individual within the functional domain. In Facebook maybe you are known to be overtly quite, but extremely chatty when it comes to Twitter. You may be a super connector when it comes to LinkedIn, a top commentator when it comes to Disqus. Reputations are based on likes, rating (and other esoteric parameters such as relationship weights based on frequency, recency, reputation of people you have connected to etc... PeerIndex and Klout are examples to manage such reputation). Also graphs themselves internally manage reputation based on internal algorithms which may be used to show you news-feeds of friends who you interact the most etc.

Edge Devices: There are many types of devices that can be used to access social networks today. PCs, Tablets and Mobiles being the broad category. Each device has advantages and disadvantages around form factor, resolution, input functions (keyboard), nearness (always with me?), bandwidth, processing capacity, memory etc. Assuming there is connectivity for the device to access the graph, the functions of the graph that you would access is based on the context of the graph and the capability of the device to allow a reasonable experience for the consumer to engage with the graph.

Given this scheme of things, it probably becomes meaningful to have reasonable discussion about a social graph in any functional domain without getting overtly confused on the terms used. In the next post I will talk more on the edge devices and its functions which sets the base to understand the pivots of utilities when the edge device capability amplifies or hinders a social graph function.

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