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AppFusion: Deploying the Social Graph

by Terrence Wing

November 3, 2011


by Terrence Wing

November 3, 2011

“As with anything else, how you use a tool defines it. A hammer can be a paperweight, or one of the most essential tools of carpentry. The Social Graph is no different. It can be more than a philosophy. It can be a tool.”

Social scientists have been trying to map the intricacies of the Social Graph for some time. Mark Zuckerberg (CEO of Facebook) popularized the term in 2007, but others were pioneers on the frontier of the Social Graph well before that. Internet giants such as Google and Facebook have been investing heavily in developing the algorithm that defines you.

The efforts of these giants are much like an oil company prospecting for oil. Both companies realize the value of drilling deep to find as much information about you and me as they can pull to the surface. This information is the sweet crude that runs their Web 2.0 engines. The relevant question for the learning industry is: how is your organization powering work with the Social Graph?

To what ends?

The typical view of the Social Graph is not one that sees it as an engine for powering work. Most writers seem to look at the Social Graph simply as an underlying philosophy about social media. At best, people think of it as the way to build user identity in order to create a more potent target for advertisers. But what if we repurpose that data to enable a targeted approach to accomplishing work?

Wikipedia defines the Social Graph as, “the global mapping of everybody and how they're related.” Surprisingly, the site doesn’t offer much additional information. However, the lack of wiki-based information doesn’t mean it’s not an important concept. The Social Graph is becoming the parent app for all things Web 2.0. Whether you are using LinkedIn, Google, Facebook, Spotify, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, iTunes, or any Web 2.0 technology, those sites are harvesting bits of information about you. As more of your identity is revealed, they use it to power their business model. Some of you may be getting visions of The Matrix as you read on, but I am not suggesting we are human Duracell batteries. Or am I?

The Social Graph exists everywhere you go. Like the Matrix, it is everywhere.  As you sit in a Starbucks, your Social Graph is active, but it is raw. You need some catalyst to initiate it. For example, if you overheard someone sitting next to you talking about politics, your Social Graph would be more evident as you connect with that person based on a common interest in a particular candidate. Social technology, such as Enterprise Learning Ecosystems (Jive, Wisetail, Bloomfire, and others), help communities realize their connections through their profiles, shares, comments, friends, points, and other activities provided by the platform. You can easily harvest this information through the analytic engines on these platforms, but the value lies in how you purpose those metrics.

Figure 1 is part of a larger infographic on the Social Graph.




Figure 1. The Social Graph

Using the Social Graph

As with anything else, how you use a tool defines it. A hammer can be a paperweight, or one of the most essential tools of carpentry. The Social Graph is no different. It can be more than a philosophy. It can be a tool. Clearly your organization isn’t harvesting social identities in the same way that Google and Facebook do, but you can deploy the Social Graph to get work done. Use the Social Graph as:

  • a decision-making engine, by validating your direction based on information (Analyzing);
  • a feedback tool, by helping you understand the popularity of your strategy, product, or workflow  (Designing and Developing);
  • a marketing tool, by virally engaging users (Implementing); and
  • an audit tool, to help you steer your community and measure ROI (Evaluating).

Every one of these Social Graph deployments is useful when facilitating learning or training in an organization. The fruits of social media are easier to harvest with semantic technology, but traditional approaches will still surface the analytics needed to drive work, as they have for centuries. In this regard, the Social Graph can be a productivity tool, if it is converted from a raw resource into a fuel to drive some engine in your organization.

The Social Graph is at the heart of everything we do. We’re not victims of it. We are part of it. It is the global DNA of everything human. Web 2.0 Platforms like Facebook and Google are trying to create the most comprehensive graphs. They connect us to what we say, the media we consume, what we like or don’t like, who we know, how often we do a certain activity, and what tools we use – and they’re looking for anything else they can possibly harvest. Giving up this information is the price of admission to participate on these platforms.

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Not that the social graph was created for the purpose, but it does look very much like a tool of Connectivism learning theory espoused by George Siemens. See
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