A Stroll Through Your Social Graph

Of the top few hundred most popular Facebook applications, none do more than engage you with ONE of your friends. This is not based on some comprehensive research but from playing around and reading about a few hundred Facebook applications currently available. It is very odd that none of them make use of the most powerful tool available on Facebook (and basically any other social network) – the social graph. Here is the current pitch for a Facebook application: you add the application and now your friends can do something to you, and you can do it back to them. What is the point?

When I read about the Facebook application platform, the first idea I had was to build an application where my actions will affect my friends, and their friends, and so on like a wave. I have been waiting for someone to offer this power for a few years. Of course, Facebook does not make it easy to create such an effect and for a good reason. Can you imagine what will happen if someone allows you to do something that will impact every single Facebook user at the same time? But being unable to take a stroll through the entire social graph should not limit application developers from finding creative ways to harness the graph to create innovative and exciting applications.

Without giving too much of what JabAbout is all, well, about, imagine a basic internet tool such as email built on top of the social graph. Instead of sending a message to an email address, you send it to an abstract “friends” entity. The definition of “friends” can be wide (everyone I list as a friend) or narrow (friends I have a certain type of relationship with such as family). So far this is just a fancy address book rule system, but now comes the social graph. When you send a message, you can say how many degrees of friends you want it to reach.

Let’s say I list in my profile I am a fan of Open Social Networks, and I would like to send this blog post to all my Facebook friends who are also fans of Open Social Networks. What if I could send a message to this subgroup of my Facebook friends, and when they get the message, it will continue to their friends with the same interest. Of course there should be some limit on how many hops this message is allowed to travel, and my friends should be able to block it from going to their friends (we don’t need more spam). But this is still very powerful stuff.

Using the social graph means going beyond a list of friends. It is the links between people and the way applications “stroll” them. When Six Degrees came out in 1997, one of their examples was very powerful – the world is so connected that I might know someone who knows someone, 6 degrees removed from the CEO of my next dream job. And to get 6 people to make a simple introduction is easy enough. Now we finally have social networks where millions of kids and CEO alike join and actively use – all we need are the social graph tour guides to take us for that stroll.