What the interest graph has in common with fire, cellphones and microwaves

What the interest graph has in common with fire, cellphones and microwaves

It's hard to over hype the significance of the interest graph, once you really understand its magnitude.  On the flipside, it can be confusing to hear people talk about the interest graph without knowing what all the fuss is about.  (As background to this blog post, you can learn about the origins of the interest graph in this slideshare document and this Quora Q&A post).

I'm going to lay out an argument for the interest graph and its significance on the very fabric of our lives.  And make no mistake -- I am indeed saying that the interest graph is a really, really big deal -- one that sits right beside other life-changing inventions and discoveries such as fire, language, the printing press, human powered flight, antibiotics,  cellphones, and of course, microwaves.

Let's start by really defining what I mean by 'interests' and how they apply here.

Interests aren't something we really think about, they just are.  We naturally have interests in various things.  Our interests define us as individuals.  Some people are interested in making lots of money, some are interested in changing the world, some are interested in Cabernet wines, some are interested in collecting stamps.  Interests span from the very broad to the very niche.  The language you speak, the nationality you are, the age and gender you are all play a role in defining you and influencing your interests.  A woman who speaks Korean will -- just by the fact that she speaks that language instead of English -- be much more likely to have a certain set of interests that's different from a woman who speaks English.  And by the same token, since both are women, they will also likely share a set of interests that are different than a woman may have as compared to a man.

As you can see, the interests we all have form a fabric through which we lead our lives.  They interconnect as individuals, and with each other.  People who love photography are more likely to spend hours researching various cameras, shooting techniques and locations than those who don't.  We apply our most precious asset-- time-- on what has captured each of our interests.  Many times, we also spend money in those areas as well.

So by 'interest graph' what I and others mean is that this web of interests between a person and the world around him or her, as well as between two or more people, forms a 'graph,' or a series of connections that could theoretically be mapped.  And if it can be mapped, it can be understood, and leveraged to do really, really powerful things.  Mapping and understanding the interest graph of humans and the world they live in is one of the most exciting things I can imagine.  It would allow us to better understand ourselves, where we choose to spend our time, the ways we interact with the world around us, and the ways we interact with each other.

Now, here's the funny thing about mapping the interest graph:  We all intuitively know pieces of it, because we live it each day.  We lead our lives by interacting with the world through our interests.  We choose to spend time (and money) on things that interest us.  We know what interests us -- we don't need anyone to map it to explain it to us.  We know what connections we share with others around us -- in fact, we often call people with whom we share one or more interests "friends" because we've chosen to invest a lot of time with them and we have a strong connection with them.  (It's outside the scope of this blog post, but a related thought I believe to be true is that friendships are always based on at least one shared interest.  See my other blog post on friend vs. interest connections)

Because our bodies have senses that can detect the interest graph -- hearing, sight, etc. -- many of us have never realized that we walk through the world only perceiving portions of the interest graph.  It's like the days before having the Internet, or before having cellphones -- we didn't exactly understand what we were missing, because we'd never experienced the "after" moment before.  That's where we are today with the interest graph.  Since we can get along pretty well as analog human beings, seeing & hearing our way through the world around us, we don't perceive the vastness of the interest graph that connects us.  Or to put it another way, we don't know what we don't know, so we don't miss it.

Oh but there's so much more.

The reality of our world is that we're all interconnected in really deep, meaningful ways by the interests we share.  Since we only have our analog senses, we have to work hard (and dedicate a lot of time) to uncover those shared interests.  For example, if you love sailing, you have to join a sailing club to meet others that share your interest.  The Internet has made that process much more efficient -- you can now join a group online that shares some of the passions you do.  And social media has made that connection even more available -- you can follow those who tweet about sailing topics, or become their friends on Facebook.

But there's still a huge piece missing:  the connection of the digital world to the analog world.

And that's where mobile devices come in.  The explosion of smartphones has enabled us to carry a digital "doorway" with us to this online world.  We can email, call, tweet, browse the web, and use apps, all actions which connect us to others who share interests with us.

But replicating what we can do on the desktop with a mobile device is just the beginning.  Imagine some of these scenarios:

  • You walk into a room full of 50 strangers and you instantly know what interests you share with each person.  You went to high school with the son of one person.  Both you and another person love sailing, and you have both rented catamarans in the US Virgin Islands (imagine what stories you'd both have to share!).  The person over in the corner has a family member afflicted with the same illness as your family member.   Since you know what interests you share with each person in the room, you can instantly connect with people you share strong interests with, have deep, meaningful conversations with them, and form a friendship with them should you choose to.
  • You're at a baseball game.  You know you share the same interest in baseball as everyone in the stadium, but you're rooting for the away team, and most people in the stadium are rooting for the home team.  If only you could connect with others who were fans of the same team as you are, so you could talk smack about the pitcher of the home team who obviously doesn't know what he's doing.
  • You believe that eating organic, unprocessed foods along with a calorie-restricted diet is the key to living a long, healthy life.  You'd like to connect with other people who think the same thing you do when you're at the supermarket, so you can trade tips about what works and what doesn't, and you'd like to maintain those interest-based relationships over time.

The examples of leveraging the interest graph are endless.  Literally any interaction you have today could be better if you had a more thorough understanding of that person's interests, or a deeper understanding and connection to things you're interested in.  And by 'better' I mean more meaningful to you, more satisfying, and more useful.

And imagine the time you'd save over the course of your life just knowing who to connect with.  How much time do we as human beings spend trying to find people we share interests with?  Revealing even just a bit of the interest graph we all live within would literally change the way we interact with everyone around us.

Having a better insight into the interest graph can help in other ways, too.  Understanding the current interest graph could let you discover other things you didn't know you would be interested in.  For example, if 76% of people who love sailing also love to travel, understanding the interest graph can also help predict human behavior, and add value to people's lives through discovery.  It can also help people make better decisions in their lives.

Here's a real example our InterestGravity API output - click to enlarge

It's because of my and my co-founder's passion in the interest graph that we've created Socialize.  The first big task for us and our amazing group of employees is to map the interest graph -- to ferret out as many of the connections that bind us together as possible.  This isn't a new problem -- people have been trying to identify connections between people and interests since the beginning of time.  The problem is that since people are analog, it's very difficult to track interests and their connections.  It's impossible to record every conversation, to know where someone goes all the time and what they're doing when they get there.

Click to Watch

But we realized something:  People use smartphones, and since a person's phone is such an intimate device, they typically have it with them all the time.  And furthermore, we're making a bet that apps on the smartphone approximate a person's interests.  Or to put it another way, if I love sailing, I might have the sailing app.  And if I love baseball, I might have the San Francisco Giants app.  When taken together, as an aggregate, all of these apps comprise a genome of sorts -- something we call the Socialize Genome.  Each app almost acts as a DNA marker for my interests.  When you look at all the apps I have on my phone, they define me and my interests -- I can guarantee you that the apps I have installed on my phone are different than the apps you have installed on your phone.

Obviously, while apps may approximate a person's interests, they're a poor proxy of interest because oftentimes, people will download an app but then never use the app, or only use it for a short period of time.  How many apps do you have on your phone that you never use?

But actually, we think these two problems are related, and we've figured out a way to solve them both.  We've created an SDK for Android and iOS (iPhone, iPad) devices that is dropped into an app on the phone.  This bundle of code, called the Socialize SDK, creates a mini social platform within each app, unleashing the app's community so they can socialize with each other.  App developers love having access to these drop-in social features like commenting, sharing, liking and content popularity because it means they don't have to create all this functionality in the app themselves, and exposing the app's install base to each other means people use the app more, because they can now socialize with each other, in addition to just interacting with the app itself.

Socialize Increases App Sessions by More Than 20 Percent

So suddenly, with Socialize running in, say, the sailing app, the app's users can share tips with each other about sailing.  We've found that putting Socialize into an app will raise its engagement level by an average of 21.8%.  That also means the developer can make almost 22% more revenue from his app, if she's monetizing it with ads or in-app purchasing.

But in the larger picture, we also believe that by increasing engagement within apps, and knowing what users are doing in those apps, we can map the interest graph across billions of downloads of hundreds of thousands of apps, installed by hundreds of millions of users.

And if we can pull this off, Socialize will be able to do some very magical things.  Imagine, for example, being able to 'bump' your phone with a random stranger and knowing what the top 5 interests you both shared.  Imagine knowing which ten people you should really connect with at a cocktail party based on interests you both share.  Imagine a brand you trust -- say BMW -- being able to offer you an exclusive test drive of a new vehicle you're interested in.

By merging the interest graph with mobile devices and a technology like Socialize, we start to begin to unlock some of the incredible value hiding in the interest graph, while providing immediate value to app developers by increasing engagement within their apps.