Facebook‘s success in building out the social graph is exciting and scary at the same time. Exciting as it has turned social into one of the key growth drivers of the web, scary as one company seems to control the “social infrastructure” that we all want to build companies on. I am pretty sure that Facebook will remain the only mainstream social graph on the web for the next little while but also think that more and more site-specific social graphs will emerge (check out the thoughts on this topic by Albert Wenger and Fred Wilson). So if you are a startup building a product based on a social graph, I would recommend to follow two strategies:
- Use existing social graphs to build your own (site-specific) social graph by making it as easy as possible for people to find their Facebook and Twitter friends / followers that already use your service (or let them invite additional friends / followers to the service). Up to a year ago most sites focused on email invites to build the social graph but the uptake on this is considerably smaller. So this is really an “ease of use” question with the best implementation award going to Plancast in my opinion as they have really nailed the UI.
- Help create new connections on your site by making it as easy as possible for your users to discover other users of your service that they should follow / friend. This is probably the area where most value could be created but not many sites have built anything interesting. Wouldn’t it be interesting if Foursquare pointed out people to me that frequently check into the same locations as I do? Or Disqus would recommend following people that comment on the same sites as I do? A big chunk of Facebook’s growth has been driven by their “friends recommendation” feature and interestingly enough, no other site has so far focused on the same strategy (with perhaps the exception of Linkedin).
Controlling as much as possible of the social graph will be extremely important for any site so leverage the existing social graphs as much as possible but really focus on creating new (useful) connections among your users.
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