Monday, July 04, 2011

Who has your Social Graph?

This post is not really a mainstream topic of interest to Enterprise IT. Nevertheless, it could be of interest to observers of Social Networking tools/platforms.

Internet is abuzz with the launch of Google+. The site already started receiving lots of positive reviews from several critics. One of the key differentiators of Google+ from Facebook is said as the ability to create groups and manage the privacy within the groups. The groups in LinkedIn are pretty much public and anybody can subscribe to it provided the group moderator allows the registration. However, in Google+, as I understand, one can create groups that are specific & visible only to his profile and send messages that are visible only to certain groups. I was wondering, such a simple feature difference is a big deal?. I don't know. We'll have to wait and watch the success of Google+.

Here is another story that records an observation that users' activity in the Web is shrinking and most of the time is spent in Facebook. While the main story itself is not so noteworthy, the comments to the story are!. One of the commentor has rightly said Facebook is an American phenomenon and to succeed in emerging markets like India, Facebook needs to understand the local culture!. He also adds that Facebook must become a platform provider that would enable new players to launch value added social networking enabled services on top of the platform. I couldn't agree more!

This post is on the Indian culture and Social Networking!

Meanwhile, Yesterday I had a chance to attend a family function in my relative circle. During the occasion, I also had the opportunity to talk to several people whom I have not been in touch with, for a long time. I interacted with People of various age groups ranging from reasonably old (60+) to young (30). Certainly, it was a pleasure to talk to known people after a long time!.

One of the interesting aspect that I observed while talking to Seniors are - they are amazingly good in their memory, especially old memories. [Incidentally, this reminds me Nick Carr's comment Google makes us Stupid?]. When I enquired about someone who had joined the occasion, one of the Senior Gentlemen was able to articulate the entire "Social Graph" connecting himself and the other person. He was also able to give a "Social Graph" version connecting me and the visiting person. Remember, the Graph was like a linked list and it can be traversed from both the directions. While the Senior was able to seamlessly able to articulate the graph in few seconds, I was struggling to grasp and recall the social graph and interpret what it means to me!. A point to be noted, the Senior was highly educated and a Doctorate in one of the core sciences.

That's the Indian Culture!.

People in India, especially the previous generation who are in their 60+, educated or uneducated do not use technology for the sake of it. In their view of the world, using technology to capture certain interactions or transactions is less trustworthy!. Yes, if the trust factor is less, they need to record it!. Otherwise, if there is an interaction/transaction between two people from close networks, they would prefer the 'tacit/verbal agreement' way and that is deemed 'trustworthy' as well. That is because, People in close networks trust each other and using those networks, lots of things happen in people's lives - be it career counselling, arranged marriages, business relationships, conducting events. That was the power of the network. And all these happened without the use of technology (may be they used telephones/mobiles to certain extent)

And they accurately remember the 'social graph' of those family networks. My father used to simply surprise me by describing someone's identify in 5-6 levels of indirection in between :-). He didn't use technology!. And am sure People from India can relate to this experience quite well!.

This is just an example!. Similar to this, every country would have its own way of managing relationships and interacting them in their cultural ecosystem!. That needs to be truly understood if someone wants to build a truly social network that is valuable!.

A person's identity is not just a set of metadata!. Just because a person creates a new account in Facebook, doesn't mean that he needs to start from scratch to build his relationships!. He/She has a history behind him/her and that history holds much more powerful network than what he/she would create in his/her new account. The problem with Facebook, Google+ kind of networks assume that they need to be "told" about their relationships!. Maybe, this will appeal to 20+ who are just starting to use those social networks as hangout places to discuss movies/trivia. But, Networks are much much more powerful. They can help you accomplish a lot more in life if you know how to invest/harvest in the right way!.

Now switching to Enterprise IT...

The communication lines and information flow are restricted to lines in the Org. Chart within the company. And sometimes, the messages that flow between those lines are also based on certain org. protocols :-). And those flow lines eventually generate sparsely populated social graphs for individuals. Organizations having those cultures would have a tough task of realizing the social enterprise objectives. The Org. ecosystem should enable/support creating new information flow lines that would be productive to the individual and the overal l company.

Similar to the Indian culture, a person who works in an organization is much more than a collection of metadata. He/She has a history of experience/background/networks which could be lot more valuable to the organization if derived and codified in the right way among the corprate social networks!.

Well, then what is the right way?. Maybe, we'll need a Google ++ :-)

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