Sunday, October 24, 2010

What Facebook’s Social Graph has to do with you

From the ideas of Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, the web as we know it “is just a series of unstructured links between pages”. By just looking at these unstructured links you won’t gather a lot of information about what kind of relationship the connected sites have. Are the persons behind the sites “friends”? Or does someone “like” something? This is where Facebook’s “Social Graph” comes into the game.

Facebook’s “Social Graph” shows the relationships between profiles on Facebook. Before moving on, you should know the difference between a Facebook profile and Facebook page. An individual person signs up for a Facebook profile account, while a company sets up a Facebook page.

Since one profile belongs to one user, the Social Graph enables Facebook to design a kind of map, showing who is connected to who. If a user becomes a friend on Facebook with another user, these connections will be added to the Social Graph of both users. Because Facebook knows the Social Graph of each user, it can categorize the network of one user in different groups.
For Example: You and Peter are friends and share 10 friends, who all are friends with each other. You are also friends with Rihanna (wonderful, huh?) and share 5 friends with her, who again all are friends with each other. But Rihanna and none of her 5 friends are friends with Peter and his 10 friends. This information enables Facebook to categorize your network into two groups: One Rihanna- and one Peter-group.

When I was looking at my own Social Graph, I was impressed by how accurately Facebook analyzed and categorized my networks. Friends I met at a school in the USA are all mapped in the same circle, where as my friends from hometown are organized in their own circle. If you want to see your own Social Graph of Facebook, try out the link at the end of this blog.1

Knowing the Social Graph of every user, Facebook has not only designed a nice gadget, but has incorporated a new way to suggest new friends to users. Let’s say ten of your friends are friends with Joshua but you aren’t –the chances that you know of him are quite high, aren’t they? So Facebook can use this information to suggest Joshua as a friend to you.

Connections only between people? Not enough for Facebook.

As you have read above, the Social Graph shows the connections between profiles (people). Now I want you to imagine being a marketer, wouldn’t it be interesting to know the connections between people and products/brands/videos/any other things on the web not human? The Facebook-team thought it would be interesting, and as a result of that they unveiled the Open Graph Protocol.

What is the Open Graph Protocol, you ask?

Facebook’s Open Graph Protocol can be seen as an enlargement of the Social Graph. Moving beyond simply connecting and suggesting friends who may know each other, Facebook has taken the Social Graph idea to a new level. In their attempt to design a more detailed and broad map, the Open Graph Protocol allows the integration of websites representing profiles of real-world things like movies, restaurants or running shoes. When the web developer puts <meta> tags for the Open Graph Protocol into the HTML-Code of his website, the website becomes equal to one Facebook page. The canonical URL2 of the website will be used as the website’s permanent ID on the graph. When this is accomplished and a Facebook user clicks the Like-Button on the website, a connection between the user and the website’s Facebook page is made. With this information Facebook can enlarge the Social Graph and design a much more detailed map of the connections a user has with pages belonging to websites and profiles belonging to people.

What are the results of these Graphs?

Besides a nice picture of your network, the Social Graph enables Facebook to help you connect with people you potentially know and want to be friends with. The integration of the Like-Button, which goes hand in hand with the Open Graph Protocol, gives you the ability to show your friends other websites or real-world-things you like. On this hand both Graphs are making the web more social. But what about the other hand?

On the other hand, the Graphs give Facebook a lot of power. Facebook knows all of the connections, likes, posts etc. of its 500 million users. This includes you and your connections. Using statistical methods on your connections and their interests, Facebook has a good chance of predicting what you are interested in, even if you don’t actually publish any information on your profile.

Another advantage of the Graphs is the possibility of better advertising for Facebook. With the help of the Open Graph Protocol, Facebook could offer advertising for running shoes to all of the people who like e.g. the New York Marathon. Since the Graphs are not only showing friendships and likes, but also attended events, joined groups or used apps, Facebook could show the advertising for running shoes only to people who are actually attending the New York Marathon. Furthermore, Facebook can help other online stores offer better product recommendations based upon the products you and your friends like.

You need to be aware of the fact that everything you do on Facebook creates data that can be analyzed. Another thing you need to think of, is how much Facebook opens the Graphs to people who are not your friends or even to businesses. If you want to know what Facebook publishes about you and your friends, check out the link at the end of the blog.3

Officially, Facebook enables non-friends or businesses to fetch only information that you have setup as viewable to everyone. But vulnerabilities in Facebook’s privacy safeguard allow marketers to learn sensitive profile information like a person’s stated sexual preference. An article of The New York Times shows how marketers can glean that private data.4

Now it is your turn. Do you know of an interesting application using Facebook’s Graphs? Do you have another point that users should be aware of? Do you think I forgot to mention important facts? Or do you have any wishes for further blogs? Just let me know! I would be happy if you would share any of your experiences, critiques, feedback or comments.