Social Graphs – a Billion Reasons Why They Matter

Social graph, or sociogram as it was originally termed in academic context, is a representation of the social connections and their relationships an individua has with other individuals, organizations, and groups.

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Published July 1, 2022

Social graph, or sociogram as it was originally termed in academic context, is a representation of the social connections and their relationships an individua has with other individuals, organizations, and groups. It is effectively a record of all the bilateral connections that exists between different nodes within a population that themselves create larger and more complex interconnected groups.

The term was popularized by Facebook in their early years as the secret behind their growth. Their understanding of the social graph and ability to develop algorithms to exploit it enabled them to create a user experience that led to their meteoric growth. How did this work? Using a simple example: since Facebook knew their users’ social graphs, they knew that Bob was friends with Kevin and Stuart, who were also friends with each other. Since they also knew that Agnes was friends with Bob, they could easily infer from the social graph that Agnes is also very likely to know Kevin and Stuart and recommend them as Facebook friends for Agnes. As a result, Agnes ended up with more friends to follow and a ‘better user experience’ (and by confirming, Agnes provided Facebook with even richer and complete social graph of all four friends’ connections).

However, what really broke the bank for Facebook and other social media giants, was the immense value social graphs had for advertising. With the data the social media platforms had (if they were large enough), advertisers could identify specific groups that had an oversized influence on consumption decisions for their specific products, and pinpoint their campaigns at them, greatly improving the return on investment and effectiveness of their advertising. And it was not just embraced by commercial players, as interest groups, political movements and governments were able to exploit the social graph, ultimately influencing the outcome of elections in a way not possible just two decades ago.
The data and the social graphs that can be mapped from it is what sets the value of the large social media platforms and will remain their most closely guarded secret. Even the user whose data it is supposed to be, will not be able to fully access it. Furthermore, as every social media platform is a walled garden who consider their users’ data as their own, no individual, content creator or organization can take and deploy their social graph in another platform.

That said, the world is changing and the momentum towards a decentralized web3 is looking like an inevitability. At the heart of the philosophy of web3 is the notion that the user’s data is the property of the user, what is also termed as Self-Sovereign Identity or SSI. Several blockchain projects are on the way with millions in investment to set the standards for decentralizing social graphs, allowing users and organizations to export their social graphs between different social media services.
But wait a minute? Why would an individual user, or even an organization, care about their social graphs that much? Ultimately, we all know who our connections are, we just need someplace to record and access them. And who really wants to see the ‘suggestions’ in their feed, instead of content from those they already know and actively follow?

Within an SSI, we can have an undisputed record of who we have exchanged keys with, whether they are friends or followers of our business. When we move to use another service or application, as long as the standards used are the same, it is easy to export all connections and reconnect with those who also use that service (we can already see how easily this works with any of the instant messaging services such as Signal (our favorite IM). These applications link the identity to the phone number and if you have another Signal user’s number on your phonebook, you can message with them. No need for Signal to suggest people you might know).

But who really do need social graphs are advertisers. And it is ultimately advertising that pays for all the content and infrastructure of social media, unless every user wants to start paying to watch those cat videos and send instant messages to their friends [there is also a solution for this that UNITT is developing, but more on that later!].

Unless web3 social media can provide advertisers with the same ability to reach their target audience, same ability to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns, and at least same return on investment as the current social media platforms, the real money will never move from the dark side.

At UNITT, we are developing an environment for decentralized social media that empowers the user by making them sovereigns of their own data, while also ensuring there are better business opportunities for advertisers and content creators to make money than what the current social media platforms can offer. 

Jussi K. Mäkelä

Jussi K. Mäkelä

Chief Operating Officer, co-founder

strategic program director, trainer, global industry association builder