Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Grooming my Social Graph

Google Buzz peaked my interest in my social graph. I knew about Google's Social Graph API but I never looked into it before. It turns out that it uses XHTML Friends Network, XFN for short, to declare links between various services. The entire system is built on top of the existing web and uses links that are already in place. When a person links to another person's page, they describe the relationship using the "rel" attribute. There are several defined ways you can describe your relationship using a link that are shown in the following table:

Depending on how you want to describe your relationship, there will be different values used in the rel attribute. You can also use multiple to describe a single relationship. For example, if you have met someone and are their friend you may use rel="met friend" in a link.

Right now there are a growing number of sites that are using their existing data and simply declaring these relationships. The power comes when big companies such as Google index these pages and can then surface and analyze this information.

The only real way to use this type of information at this point in time is to correct your social graph. When I looked at mine using Google's Site Connectivity tool, I noticed that all of my profiles were not all linked together. When you enter in a URL of on of your profiles on services such at Twitter or Digg or the URL of your personal home page or blog, it uses the public data to connect to all of your other services. Even though I had a lot of established links, it simply was not fully connected.

What I needed to do was update all of my profiles so they provided a two way link using the "me" relationship. This mean each of my profiles on the various services needed to link to one of my pages that I was claiming to be me, I choose my blog because it is where I have the most up to date content. This is just half of the link that is required. A link from my blog would need to be traced back to each profile. This way both ends are in agreement and can substantiate the same claim. The link does not need to be direct and can pass through several nodes. For example if my Twitter account claims my blog, my blog claims my Google profile, and my Google profile claims my Twitter account, this provides the same authority as two profiles claiming each other.

After adding and updating links between all of my profile pages my graph was corrected, but was not updated. Luckily Google provides a tool to force a recrawl of updated pages to correct the graph. The pages you can recrawl are those claimed on your Google Profile, so if you want to correct a link just add it and force the update. I did this for several pages that I then removed from my profile. They were linked to on other places in my social graph, but I did not want them listed on my Google profile.

While it is not yet useful, as more sites support XFN, this may change the way we use the Internet. There are valid concerns about privacy, but the potential applications are very exciting. I'll leave the explaining up to Google:

Monday, February 15, 2010

Google Buzz and the Not-So-Live Web

The thing Google has realized is that people want everything to happen instantly. This is most true when it comes to communication. However, that is not the area in which Google shines. They have probably done more for means of instant communication than any other company on the Internet. The product that comes to mind that no one really cares about is pubsubhubbub. This is a way that instant communication means can scale in a decentralized method.

What it comes down to is alerting other services when an action is performed. In my case this is most often posting a status message on Twitter. Facebook manages to import this message as me status in only a few seconds. Occasionally it doesn't work, but the delay is typically very small.

Now one of the benefits of Buzz is that you can import feeds from other services. One of the first things I did was import my Tweets into Buzz. Twitter is great because typically the things you say are time sensitive. Right now, messages take many hours to be imported into Buzz. So when I say I'm watching TV at 9 PM on Twitter, it gets sent out to the world on Buzz at 3 AM and my friends thing I'm crazy. You would think at the very least they would use the post time included as part of the Atom feed.

The real problem probably doesn't boil down to technology. The problem is more likely companies and openness. Twitter believes it has value in keeping their data locked down, at least slightly. This is not going to be the case moving into the future. Users are going to be in control of their data, and if we want two services to integrate and they do not, something is going to have to give.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Google Buzz Further Bifurcates the Conversation

I post my status messages to Twitter and have them imported as my Facebook status. I occasionally have people @ reply to me on Twitter, but more often I have people like and comment on my Facebook status messages. With Google Buzz I will have my Tweets imported and syndicated (along with blog posts). This adds another place where my posts will be commented on and liked. While Google was very smart in integrating Gmail with the service to guarantee a large user base out of the gate, it didn't solve the underlying problem and actually made the current environment worse.

If Google Buzz provided some way to bring together the reply to Twitter messages and Facebook status messages along with comments on blog posts and other platforms and combined them with messages posted directly on Buzz, they would have something going for them. However, this doesn't appear to be the case.

While everyone says Buzz competes with Facebook and Twitter they are missing the point. With regard to Facebook, the value of the company lies in the information they know about how people are connected to each other. Google wants this information and this can be seen in their other services such as Google Profile. Buzz will provide an accelerated way for Google to gain information about who we are connected to and this is really the center of the product.

As long as Buzz integrates with a large number of other Google products seamlessly it will do more good than harm. From how I have seem my friends use the product so far, it looks like a large number of Google Profiles will be filled as people use the service. This opens the door for social search. This will definitely be a service to keep an eye on as the web continues to evolve.

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