Mind The Gap: Social vs. Interest
With Facebook’s IPO today, you’d think that social networks are taking over the Web. Look at virtually any website and you’ll see social button flotsam and jetsam: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Digg, and on and on.
Social is everywhere. But it’s far from everything, especially everything about me. While Social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn map who I know – my Social Graph – they so far do a pretty lousy job of mapping what I like or love – my Interest Graph. My Interest Graph encompasses much more than my activity on social networks. It is defined by my affinity to certain music, movies, restaurants, TV, coffee, political leanings, etc. At best, the Social Graph informs the Interest Graph but it does less to define you and what you like. For a concise writeup on the difference, read this excellent post from ReadWriteWeb’s David Rogers. While educating myself on the differences, I also turned to these helpful articles from TechCrunch, Edward Boches, GigaOm, Social Media Today and this fantastic mind blower from the folks at Gravity.
Facebook’s in a buying mood
The differences between Social and Interest are not lost on the behemoth that is Facebook and such differences explain the foresight in a string of acquisitions that dip into the Interest side of the equation. The $1B acquisition of Instagram is an obvious one but so was Gowalla (check-ins) and the less ballyhooed purchase of Glancee (serendipitous discovery based on shared interests). The urgent need to tap the Interest Graph is also at the core of Zuck’s concept of frictionless sharing with Open Graph – Spotify and the Washington Post Social Reader are prime examples of your Interest Graph tying back to your Social Graph. Because of these moves, we’ll see a continued blurring of the line separating Social and Interest.
Why This Matters
Brands that are clamoring for our attention in this space, along with their marketing and advertising partners, need to understand that Facebook is not Twitter – one size does not fit all. Just as we don’t approach TV in the same way we do print media, we need to realize that each service comes with its own set of rules. In this chart, I’ve tried to indicate the degree to which some of the bigger players in the Social/Interest world dominate, and how some bridge the gap better than others.
Mind the Gap
The sites that best bridge the divide between who we know and what we like will win in the battle for our attention. Despite the bashing, Google+ is poised to best combine the Social and Interest Graphs because of its dominance in search and the absence of barriers between its Social Network and the rest of the Web.
Any significant connections on Facebook are mutual though you can subscribe to an individual or like a brand. Open graph sharing is Facebook’s attempt at breaking into the Interest Graph. I can see what music my friends are listening to and presumably because we’re friends, I’ll like it too. What’s wonky is that the connection relies on the friendship rather than the social object, in this case music. Facebook’s attempt at connection makes me think of iLike, an early entry in the Interest Graph space that used music as the connector. While I didn’t make any lasting friendships on that site, I did discover some amazing new music and I have complete strangers to thank for that. For a great rundown of social objects, check out Gaping Void’s cheat sheet.
Twitter permits one-way connections, allowing people to follow anyone and anything of interest, as well as friends and family. Mutual following is likely based on shared interests rather than personally knowing each other (though that often happens later). Google+ allows for both one-way and mutual connections. It also employs the easiest method for segmenting social and interest graphs into Circles. LinkedIn’s entire success rests on the foundation of who you know, though with its newsfeed and recent SlideShare acquisition, Interest has small foothold. The other sites depicted here, like Pinterest, are all about what you like, acting as self-expression. It’s worth noting that many of the sites entrenched on the Interest side encourage and sometimes even require a Facebook connection.