DGTL12002 – Week 6 – Social Graphs

The social graph in the web world is a graph that shows personal relations of internet users. This graph has been referred to as “the global mapping of everybody and how they are related”. Wikipedia provides an example of Facebook’s platform which takes advantage of the relationships between users in order to offer a richer online experience.

A further explanation of a social graph involves a diagram that shows interconnections among people, groups and organisations within a social network. The term refers to both the social network itself and a diagram representing the network (Rouse 2010).

According to Wikipedia, Facebook’s founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has pushed Facebook’s goal of offering the website’s social graph to other websites so that a relationships can be put to use on websites outside of Facebook’s control. This can be accomplished through the Facebook Open Graph API.

Rouse (2010) explains that individuals and organisations are called actors and are nodes on the social graph. Interdependencies called ties, can be multiple and diverse, including such characteristics or concepts as age, gender, race, genealogy, chain of command, ideas, financial transactions, trade relationships, political affiliations, club memberships, occupation, education and economic status (Rouse 2010).

Websites such as Facebook simplifies the exchange of information, news, photographs, literary works, music, art, software, opinions or even money among users. Therefore, the social graph for a user consists of the set of nodes and ties connected directly or indirectly to that actor (Rouse 2010)

When represented as a diagram, a social graph appears as a set of points or dots connected by lines. The points represent the actors and the lines represent the ties. A small scale social graph can be drawn with a pencil on a sheet of paper. Due to the complexity of interconnections between users, a social graph is generally too big to fit on a single page and can be rendered only on a computer equipped with specialised application software(Rouse 2010, p. 1 of 1).

Mr. Zuckerberg announced at the Facebook F8 function in 2007, that “it’s the reason Facebook works”. He continued to explain the social graph and that it is “changing the way the world works.

As Facebook adds more people with more connections, it does not stop growing and is therefore more useful at a faster rate. We are going to use it to spread information through the social graph”, he said.

The IT geeks explain it this way: It draws an edge between you and the people, places and things you interact with online.

A slightly less technical explanation….

You are at a party, standing in a circle with two friends. You reach out to touch your friend’s shoulder. The he touches your shoulder. You all touch each other’s shoulders. You are creating connections between you and other people.     Then you start to become hungry.     Luckily, there is pizza in the middle of the circle. However, only two of you like pizza. You and that other person become part of a network because you both showed you liked pizza.

Source: Dickinson 2012

When a user clicks on Facebook’s “like” button, it becomes an edge. The edge is the connection point between the user and other people, places or things.

Dickinson (2012), claims everything individuals listen to on Spotify is shared with their friends, which means they are able to see what music their friend is listening to. Spotify was one of the early applications to tap into the Facebook’s Open Graph platform, which the company introduced in 2011.

Facebook wants to take everything a person does online and place it onto Facebook. The company is able to do this by viewing an individual as a user, identifying an action and then publishing it as an object (Dickinson 2012, p. 1 of 1).

Below are a few limitations and strengths of social graphs.


However, there are limitations to this type of social graph, such as:

  • Brad Fitzpatrick, a prominent programmer and creator of LiveJournal explains that there does not exist a single social graph (or even multiple which interoperate) that is comprehensive and decentralised (Gilbertson 2007). Instead, there are hundreds of dispersed social graphs, most of dubious quality and many of them ‘walled gardens’, the graph needs to exist outside of Facebook. The following social media sites have good data:
  1. LiveJournal
  2. Digg
  3. Twitter
  4. Zooomr
  5. Pownce
  6. Friendster
  7. Plaxo

An important point to make is that any one of the above sites should not own it, nobody or everybody should. It should just exist (Rouse 2010).

  • A big misunderstanding about the social graph is that it is not actually a graph, but a data structure.
  • GraphActionObject

Source: The Business Insider 2013

  • The social graph defines our personal, family or business life on social websites. However, the social graph is being duplicated on multiple websites according to Owyang (2014). We are using multiple websites. Social graphs should be self-managed from a single trusted source, replicated to websites of the user’s own choosing which would result in accurate, efficient, relationship management.
  • Privacy concerns and multiple security issues
  • Legal and government may get involved.
  • One blogger, commented on Web Strategy LLC’s (Owyang 2007) blog that organisations are able to replicate the social graph between sites or services seems to be a great idea, perhaps it is a patchwork fix to a social dynamic issue that is not fully studied or understood.


  • Relationships can be promptly shared once and replicated across multiple websites. It allows relationships to be transplanted from one social network to another in order to reduce inefficient adding of relationships, improving accuracy of the network, and providing users with control and management of their relationship data.
  • Efficiency and control for users over their personal data, relationships and how they are deployed on different social networks – makes navigating the web easier.
  • Social networks can benefit by increasing the amount of users as the social graph will populate all of the users’ network they allow.
  • Companies that are not currently on social networks, for instance a corporate website, expect these social features to be part of their site. Individuals will co-surf and share information about content.
  • Facebook’s social graph appears to be more targeted to what friends like. Its’ search is no longer as random as it previously used to be.
  • When organisations have advertisements on a business page, they are able to search publicly to determine whether friends of friends are in their target market. It also helps to find out what other interests those friends of friends have for better targeted advertisements.
  • On the Facebook social graph, a user’s original search can be narrowed to who they are searching for.



“I did a basic search for my friends who like pizza places in Louisville, KY. In my first search, I found out one hundred of my friends liked pizza places in Louisville, KY. I then narrowed my search to only include my female friends that were married, and liked pizza places in Louisville. It seems that I narrowed it down to twenty two girlfriends.     If you click the view grid button on your narrowed down search, it will bring up your friend’s profile pictures in large blocks, which is very visually appealing”.

Source: Social Abundance Marketing 2013

  • If an individual attempts to search for an event or function, they are able to search photos tagged with a business page. For example, a user will search for photos of North End Café in Louisville and will find nice pictures of food and happy customers.
  • Choudary (2015) explains that for third parties — this “social graph” makes it possible to make personalised recommendations. For example, TripAdvisor controls Facebook’s social graph to ensure that when people are searching for reviews of hotels, restaurants, and flights, any reviews posted by people they know appear exactly at the top.

The next step in the evolution of the Social Graph is the Commercial Graph, where all businesses operate the same way as the Social Graph. Businesses already use supplier and customer relationship management tools to manage their commercial relationship (Choudary 2015) but do not generate a higher layer of intelligence to aid with new business development or new supplier discovery. They offer no visibility into another enterprise’s connections with other businesses, or its reputation based on a track record in dealing with others. By adding this new level of insight, says Choudary, commercial graphs will allow businesses to connect more powerfully.

Growing a community is not only adding new members. It entails adding both people and relationships – nodes and links (Krebs 2011). Node counts are significant in a social network, but it is the relationship and the patterns they create, that are crucial. A community flourishes by its connections, not by its collections. Krebs says, “It is the relationship and the prospect of future relationships that keep members active and excited”.


Choudary, S. P 2015, Harvard Business Review, The Rise of Socail Graphs for Businesses, viewed 02 September 2016, https://hbr.org/2015/02/the-rise-of-social-graphs-for-businesses

Dickinson, B 2012, The Business Insider, What Exactly is the Social Graph, http://www.businessinsider.com.au/explainer-what-exactly-is-the-social-graph-2012-3?r=US&IR=T

Gilbertson, S 2007, Wired.com, Brad Fitzpatrick, The creator of LiveJournal, on the long road to open social networks, viewed 28 August 2016, http://www.wired.com/2007/08/brad_fitzpatrick__the_creator_of_livejournal__on_the_long_road_to_open_social_networks/

Krebs, V 2011, Orgnet, Connecting the Community, viewed 04 September 2016, http://www.orgnet.com/community.html

Owyang, J 2007, Web Strategy LLC, Explaining what the “Social Graph” is to your Executives’, viewed 28 August 2016, http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2007/11/10/what-is-social-graph-executives/

Rouse, M 2010, Whatis.com, Social Graphs, viewed 26 August 2016, http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/social-graph

Social Abundance Marketing, 2013, Facebook Social Graph and Pros and Cons, viewed 30 August 2016, http://socialabundancemarketing.com/facebook-social-graph-the-pros-and-cons/

Wikipedia 2016, Wikipedia – the free encyclopedia online, Social Graphs, viewed 26 August 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_graph






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