Saturday, September 22, 2007

Social Network vs. Social Graph: It's The Same Thing, Only Different (or so they say...)

Apparently, the Project for Excellence in Journalism's use of the term "user news" rather than the more accurate "social news" (as applied to Digg and Reddit) wasn't enough--Dave Winer has noticed the growing use of the term "social graph" to obfuscate our understanding of the term "social network"....

Which is kinda what I figured when I first saw the term "social graph"--along with thinking its use was to promote a particular Facebook app called the Social Graph.

Dave goes on to talk about "Graph Theory" (I know a bit about this because when I was an undergraduate, getting a degree in math, I studied this stuff. I proved theorums about how many edges you'd have to traverse to get from one point to another. There are many types of Graph Theory graphs, directed and undirected, for example. Some that you'd need two colors to paint, or three, but none need more than four...)

Which reminded me of a particularly sadistic 10th grade English teacher who had us "graph" the social relationships between characters in books like Orwell's "Animal Farm."

We were supposed to be learning how all the characters were emotionally or plot-ly interconnected (or not)--but the exercise, which employed the use of an A-shaped character grid-- actually worked to bring our grade-point averages down for the class.

So, when I saw "social graph" and then "user news" something in the recesses of my brain reminded me that sometimes folks like to make things more complicated than they are simply to keep the rest of our gpa's down...

Another reason nobody got the character graph thing was because relationships between characters in books--or people, for that matter--aren't *that* mathematical. Character relationships (whether those characters are in books or IRL) are messy and sometimes complicated far more than four colors or an A-shaped grid can handle--as much as they are prone to subjective interpretations by the reader (i.e. "what does this book make you feel?")

And, yes, having a fun little Facebook app that will do the graphing *for* us can be cool. But if you're not one of Facebook's Cool Kids, adopting every app that comes along, you might not "get" the whole Social Graph thing.

And is it really all that important to call "social networks" the more mathematically correct "social graphs" (or to call "social news" the off-base "user news"_ in the grander scheme of things? Not really. But if these obfucative terms are used often enough by a certain number of high-level geek types who get regular media exposure, and the ear of the marketing community, "social graph" could become as ubiquitious as the term "content" (or the more disparaging "user-generated content.")

more As usual Nick Carr makes me laugh and Stephen Spalding pushes the ROTFLMAO factor with How to Write a Web 2.0 Glossary

a.m. Update: Marc Cantor's explains
some subtleties
between the terms social graph, social network, and social media. And if the social graph remains JUST about the data, that's fine. It's when it begins to become either a blanket term encompassing both social networking and social media (a still hotly-debated term that's vastly misunderstood by the general marketing population) then it becomes problematic. And I think that's what lots of us don't really like. I often feel we're in a time when there are lots of terms being invented for marketing purposes, not because they clarify what's going on. We've got term upon term--a moving forward of terms that leaves many people throwing up their hands and retrenching into Web 1.0 thinking. And that's not going to help businesses or the economy move forward.


Anonymous said...

hmm...if I was getting 0.5c CPM then I'd change from being a network to a graph)) Notice that sites like - who dont take advertising (I think) are still networks..)

Tish Grier said...

you may have a point there--the ad $$ may be part of the reason for the change of terminology.