Fixing What Facebook Is Missing

Fixing What Facebook Is Missing

There's no question about it, Facebook is cleaning up with its Social Graph.  Representing your real-life friendships in a digital manner, and helping you find new friends by trusting those you know makes a lot of sense.

Facebook Connect is familiar to many of us -- but this connection misses a key point.

But something interesting has happened along the way:  Facebook has blinded many of us to a plain truth:  The Social Graph is just one component of the Interest Graph. Or to put it another way, Facebook has created a $70+ Billion company by connecting us through friendships.  But incredibly, there's a much larger opportunity lurking under the surface -- the Interest Graph.

Let me tell you about what the Interest Graph is, why this is true, and how many people have missed it.

First, let's talk about interests.  Each of us as human beings can be defined as a collection of our interests.  Let's just peg the number at 3,000 interests.  Let's say that each of us has around 3,000 interests.  Those interests may include our gender, race, nationality, place of employment, language, favorite wine, favorite city, favorite designer brand, and the list goes on.  For example, everyone who works at the same company shares an interest. Never will everyone who works together be friends. Friendship is just a proxy representing some number of shared interests (enough to want to be "friends") in this long list of interests that binds us together.  Some of these interests may be very temporal:  For example, this week, I might love a certain type of music or band.  Next week, I might have moved on to a different interest.  Some interests may only last minutes, or even seconds:  When the sun hits my eyes, I have an interest in sunglasses.

Stadium fans share an interest, at least for a couple of hours, but aren't all friends on Facebook

And at any moment in time, there are probably many thousands of people around the world who are interested in sunglasses at the same time.  Human interests ebb and flow together:  When there's a moment of national unity, like after a natural disaster, the interests of many of us align more greatly than would otherwise be the case.

And the funny thing is, we're all intimately familiar with the Interest Graph.  If you've ever been to a stadium, rooting for a team, the Interest Graph is obvious to you:  Not everyone in that stadium is a friend, but many share a deep passion for the same team for a few hours.  Then everyone leaves the stadium and goes on with their lives.

And therein lies the problem:  Whether we're talking about long-term interests, like nationality, race or gender, or short-term temporal interests, like wanting sunglasses or rooting for a team, although we all intuitively know and understand the Interest Graph, we've never been able to efficiently quantify, measure and leverage the Interest Graph.

Facebook has done the best job, because friendship is a type of proxy for the Interest Graph:  When you friend someone on Facebook, you're basically saying "this person shares enough interests with me that I'm willing to consider them a friend."

We interact on a regular basis with people who aren't our friends, though, and for anyone who's really a power user on Facebook, you know the awkward feeling when someone 'friends' you who isn't really your friend.  You only have two options:  Accept their not-so-real friendship, or ignore them completely.

Google+ Circles lets you segment your friends into groups

Google+ has taken a more segmented approach to the friend problem with Circles.  You can define different levels of friendship around interest-based groups by creating various circles.  But still, this is like threading a needle using thick gloves:  All of these approaches are clumsy, because they require the user to take action to define their interest-based groups.  And most of us are not likely to spend copious amounts of time defining circles for all of our interests, and obviously there's no way that 100,000 people at a stadium are ever going to create a circle with each other for a 3 hour game.

The net result has actually been a very lonely experience.  For example, if you were on a mountain biking website or in a mountain biking mobile app, you'd share an interest with everyone else who's also on the site or has downloaded the app, but today there's no way to talk to those people.  It's like you're all in a big room together, but the lights are off.  Although there may be 1,000 people on the same website as you at the same time you are, or there may be 1,000,000 people who have downloaded the same app as you have, you don't know who any of them are, and you're not interacting with any of them.  And to be clear, these aren't your friends on Facebook, these are just people that share one specific interest with you -- mountain biking.

Fixing what Facebook is Missing: Uncovering the Interest Graph

And even more significantly, brands that are trying to 'connect' with users using tools like Facebook Connect are missing a huge, key point:  While they are getting all of their users to connect with their 'friends,' the brand is missing out on the opportunity to connect all their users with each other, i.e., the people who all actually share an interest in the brand.

When you zoom out and look at this problem from a macro perspective, you end up with a graphic like the one at the right.  Everyone is connecting with their social graph, while there is no way to connect users with a shared passion together.

And it's incredible that 1) this is happening, and 2) this is not obvious to brands.  Once I show brands how they are missing out on a huge opportunity to connect with everyone who shares an interest in their brand, regardless of 'friendship,' a light bulb typically goes off.  An easy way to illustrate this is by using mobile apps as an example:  "If a million people download your mobile app, they will never all be friends on Facebook.  But they all care about your brand, because they downloaded the app.  How do they talk to each other today?"  (Typical answer:  they can't.)

Focusing more deeply on mobile apps for a second, this also makes empirical sense to most people: How many apps have you downloaded to your smartphone, used once, and never used again?   And no wonder -- it's a very lonely experience right now.  When you open an app, you can interact with the content of the brand, but you can't really interact with the other million people who also are interested in the brand.  So if the app's content doesn't grab your attention every time you open the app, you don't have a reason to stay in the app.

But humans are social creatures!  We enjoy engaging with others who share an interest with us.  We enjoy being around people that share a language, or a culture, or an interest in the same types of wine.  We like to hear tips about the best mountain biking trails, or learn a new skill.  Humans use shared interests to connect.  Downloading an app where you can't do that is like walking through life without ever talking to anyone.  It's simply not natural.

My co-founders and I started Socialize to solve just this problem.  How do we quantify, measure and leverage the Interest Graph in a way that will allow brands to connect with users who share an interest, sometimes a very temporal one, but aren't necessarily friends?

We've created a social, cloud-based API service that connects users with shared interests.  Unless you're super geeky, that probably won't make a lot of sense to you -- but the effect will be obvious:  When you're in a mobile app, you should be able to share your opinions about the content of that app with everyone else who has also downloaded the app.  We make that happen through a set of social features, including comments, sharing and likes.  We allow a user to make a comment on a story in an app, and every other user who has that app can read and respond to that comment, regardless of their Facebook status.

The beauty of this approach, starting with mobile apps, is that mobile is very intimate.  People pretty much always carry their phones with them, and they download apps that represent their interests.  Think of the apps you have on your phone as a digital representation of who you are as an individual (we call this your 'Socialize Genome.')

Learn more about Socialize by watching this winning Disruptathon presentation

Furthermore, we can leverage best-in-class social networks like Facebook and Twitter, by allowing a user to authenticate with those systems.  So if you're in a mountain biking app, for example, and you make a comment, not only can we let everyone else who has the app see that comment, but we can use Facebook to export that comment out to your circle of friends -- your social graph -- many of whom probably don't have the app.  In this way, Facebook fulfills more of a marketing role, while Socialize is the glue that binds users together and increases engagement within the app by connecting the existing community.

In this way, via our social API service and the iOS and Android SDKs we're creating, Socialize is creating an Interest Graph across thousands of mobile apps.  Unleashing a community of users within one specific app is great for that app's developer and that group of users.  But even better, the net effect at a macro level is that Socialize is creating a brand new type of interest-based network across thousands of apps.  And we can start to do some really amazing things with that network.

One simple example is what we call Interest Gravity.  While as an analog human being, I might not know what interests I share with someone I'm riding in the subway with, or I'm walking past, if I have Socialize running in enough apps on my phone, Socialize can form a pretty complete profile of my interests as a user.  And if Socialize is doing that on enough phones, we can use that network to calculate the number of shared interests between two phones (well really, between the two people carrying those phones).  That's the Interest Gravity between those two people.  If they have many identical or similar apps, we know they have a number of shared passions.  We've created algorithms to go pretty far down the rabbit hole based on this concept.

At this point a light bulb may be going off in your head, and you may be thinking, 'can Socialize know too much about me?!'  And you're right -- like SpiderMan says, "with great power, comes great responsibility."  One of the main tenants of this Interest Graph approach is that we build it in a very responsible way, keeping the user in control.

If you'd like to learn more about Socialize, or the Interest Graph in general, I'd suggest you read the braindump on Socialize.  We're also hiring, and offering a $10,000 referral fee for senior hires.  Socialize is based in San Francisco, CA.  If you really want to dig in, watch my 45 minute screencast on why I believe that mobile is way bigger than most people realize.

And I invite you to post your comments below -- whether you agree or disagree with anything I've written here.  Specifically, I'd like to know if you believe that quantifying the Interest Graph is as big a deal as I do.inter