Graphing Social Patterns: Turning social networks into air

Forrester's Charlene Li predicts that by 2013 social networks will be open and ubiquitous. Reaching that plateau won't be a technology issue, but a matter of trust.

The social Web is spawning more than millions of widgets, applications, and people connections. It is also has its own themed conference. Graphing Social Patterns got under way today in San Diego with a keynote by Charlene Li of Forrester Research on the future of social networks.

In the future social networks will be like air, Lee said. "No matter what you do, your social networks will be there. The social graph and your identity will be at your fingertips."

She predicted that by 2013 social networks will be open and ubiquitous. Reaching that plateau won't be a technology issue, she noted, but developing a level of trust among users, platforms, and marketers will be the major challenge.

Li broke down social "air" into four components: A user profile; the expressed relationships in a single social graph; the shared activities in a social context; and a business model in which social influence defines marketing value.

Forrester's Charlene Li Dan Farber

Universal identity will be based on your e-mail addresses or mobile phone number, and identity will be federated by a few large identity banks, like Yahoo, Google and Microsoft, she predicted.

One key issue today is that social graphs--the set of relationships in the digital the mimic those in the analog world--are walled off from each other. The walled garden approach is a source of competitive advantage for their owners, but some efforts are underway, such as Google's Open Socialand Social Graph APIs and, to break the lock-in. (I am moderating a panel on the topic later today at the event on privacy and data portability.)

With a more open social graph, new kinds of applications will be enabled. Li gave an example of being able to see what friends have written reviews on Amazon by keying off her e-mail address. Search engines could deliver query results based on what friends find relevant. Users could compare the performance of stock portfolios.

On the business model, Li said that each person will have their own personal CPM (cost-per-thousand impressions), which will be highly influenced by their social network. For example, an individual who is authoritative on a specific topic provides an "endorsed" value, which is enhanced by the quality of their social network, which is relative to the trust conferred by the social network to the individual. We already seen a first take on the personal CPM with Facebook's aborted Beacon service.

Li offer a few recommendations to the Graphing Social Patterns audience of developers, investors and industry watchers:

• Create linkages between services based on individually controlled identity federation.
• Compete on the most compelling social experience, not on lock-in.
• Develop social apps that have meaning, that are more utilitarian. "If you have to explain why Facebook is interesting, it's not going to become more mainstream," Lee said.
• Integrate social graphs into existing activities.
• Design business models that reflect the value created by people's social networks.

I wouldn't argue against social networking becoming deeply embedded at the core of the Web within five years, with more open social graphs meandering through the network looking for connections and dynamically modifying behaviors. Whether the Web gets better at understanding the calculus of trust than in the real world remains to be seen.


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