Social perspectives: Valuable and Important

I like this TechCrunch post by Naval Ravikant and Adam Rifkin, because it makes it clear that there is not one “social graph” that any one player can “capture”. Instead, there are many perspectives on social ties, and each application (facebook, twitter, email, linkedin, flickr, etc.) reflects different perspectives on those graphs. I suspect the successful social apps are those who have defined perspectives that map well to implicit human relationship types, and then figured out monetization models that don’t get too much in the way. The evidence suggests that the social perspectives offered by Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin to name a few all provide a good combination of user and investor value.

As Ravikant and Rifkin argue, some perspectives have a lot of commercial value, and others much less, either because they’re not interesting to people (most brand-based social networks I hope will fall in this category), or because they represent relationships which aren’t easily monetizable.

Human relationships are much richer and more colorful than (‘friends’, ‘interests’ and ‘colleagues’), however. And some of the social ties that aren’t valuable to investors are however very important to people. Figuring out how the web can support these other perspectives is, I suspect one of the big challenges of the next few years, and I expect the answer will come from sociologists, psychologists and designers working in concert with technologists.

What other perspectives on the social graph should there be on the net, and how can we make it possible for the web to reflect the breadth and variety of human relationships that truly exist?

Important “Little Black Books”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of Thunderbird, and what areas we should invest in in addition to the obvious ones like long-term maintainability, user experience, and the like. One area which is growing in importance in my mind is what’s referred to as “contacts”. By that I don’t mean the current address book features in Thunderbird, which are useful, and a starting point, but minimal. I mean something much more connected, much more central to what the user experience of a communications client should be.

After all, we don’t send emails to email addresses. We send emails to friends, family, colleagues, partners, bosses. We mostly don’t read corporate blogs, we read the blogs of our friends, idols, and enemies. We don’t send instant messages to aliases, but to significant others, co-conspirators, and other people.

What this means for Thunderbird’s future is still to be figured out, but I thought I’d mention it today because I saw this story from InfoWorld about a Yahoo initiative called oneConnect, which seems to be along similar lines of thought as my own, including interoperation with various social networking to build up a fuller picture of one’s true relationships, which is richer than any one provider’s perspective.

There’s one major distinction between my vision and the one oneConnect seems to promote, which is that I think individuals should be at the center of their own “social manifold”, not Yahoo, or Yahoo/Microsoft, or Google, or any other central party. And that’s a place where I think Mozilla’s approach, whether through the use of desktop software or hosted storage of client-side encrypted data, is the approach worth advocating. Individuals should be able to choose to trust providers to store that data for them, or not. And they should be able to change their mind as to the state of those trust relationships, especially given this heady M&A frenzy.

In particular, consider the implications of something like Yahoo’s oneConnect and the possible Yahoo/Microsoft merger, given this other story from Fortune about Microsoft’s approach to data portability.

Josh Quittner summarizes his perspective as: “My contacts should belong to me”. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Dopplr and language choice

I just joined Dopplr (at this point, why not?). The idea of a social network aimed at facilitating connections between people based on the congruence of their travel plans is intriguing. In some ways it’s a longer-timescale, spatially richer version of our more granular but geographically limited Up4 app. We’ll see if it is actually useful in practice (shudder!).

Anyway — in Dopplr, contacts aren’t called friends (thank you!), they’re called “fellow travelers”. I liked the name, and mentioned it to Emily. She knows a lot more about words than I do, and thought it was a funny choice, as the term used to be a code name for communist sympathizers. After 30 seconds of searching, I haven’t seen any hint on google that the etymology was a factor in the choice.

Connotea: for scientists

Doing a little digging on the topic of my last post, I was poking around, and found connotea, which is described as a derivative of It is apparently similar to an independent effort called CiteULike.

At first, it seems like an awful lot of duplication — the core is basically a clone of The biggest difference seems to be that it seems to think of URLs as handles to actual bibliographic entries, which are extracted at bookmarking time from the pages being bookmarked, and the bibliographic handle is the “primary key” (I wonder what happens if two URLs point to the same biblio entry). The analysis works on a few major sites so far, including pubmed and Amazon. Having the bibliographic data then lets them do integration with citation management software (like EndNote). If enough of one’s sources are found online, then I can certainly see that as being a useful tool — I spent way too much time entering LaTeX bibliographies over the years.

But is the new feature “worth” having a segregated social bookmarking service (and data pool) just for scientists?

First, will it work? Assuming that the system is bootstrapped, my guess is: probably. The social aspect of, i.e. the tag-sharing, link-exploring and folksonomy-building will probably work just fine in a “vertical” community such as scientists or lawyers (assuming a high enough degree of participation). The profession-specific shared bookmarking service could very well make folksonomy development go a tad faster, within well-defined communities with a shared jargon (although I feel that jargon semantics don’t carry across subfields, with one field’s definition of a term quite at odds with another’s). Paul Kedrosky will be happy to see another vertical search concept (if he doesn’t know about it already!).

Apart from the duplication of effort, which is only theoretically bad, one obvious downside of the verticalization of the tool is that people doing interdisciplinary work (e.g. scientific lawyers, aka patent lawyers) will probably suffer from the compartmentalization of the meta-data — but they’re used to it by now.

Most interesting to me is the notion that the folks at Nature may have figured out a possible new feature/concept for systems like Maybe it’s worth considering the possibilities that follow from doing more in-depth analysis of the “stuff” being bookmarked, and extracting the key parts of the content of interest, as opposed to focusing (as technologists would naturally do) on the “simple bit”, i.e. the URL. After all, the URL isn’t what’s interesting — it’s the stuff in the page that is.

As an example, this morning I bookmarked the page on gawker that was my introduction to the Starbucks corporate anthem (warning, it’s depressing as hell). I bookmarked the page because “it was there” — but it would be nice for the system to know that what’s key about that page is the link to the MP3 file — not just the words that Gawker uses to introduce it. If others have bookmarked another page that happens to include the same link, wouldn’t let me know about it. A version of something like Connotea that knew about link structures might.

As my kids say, very instering.