The internet is the social network

Google has released a social-graph API, which in theory — though, unfortunately, not in practice — is what the internet is all about: relationships and connections.

I’ve said it before:

The internet doesn’t need more social networks. The internet is the social network. We have our identities, interests, reputations, relationships, information, and lives here, and we’re adding more every day. The network enabler that manages to help us tie these together to find not just connections or email addresses or information or songs but people — friends, colleagues, teachers, students, partners, lovers — across this open world, that will be the owner of the biggest network of them all: The Google of people.

So with its social-graph API, is Google trying to become the Google of people (or beat Facebook to it)? Yes, but the problem is that this relies on explicit, semantic links we just don’t use. It wants us to include rel= links when we link to someone defining the relationship. I just don’t see that happening. Sometime ago, the semantic folks wanted us to put vote links in (marking them as positive or negative); it never took off.

Here’s Brad Fitzpatrick of Google explaining the API:

I believe the killer social graph app will be the one that sniffs and understands our relationships without our having to take explicit action or by exploiting the actions we take for different reasons. Facebook exists to help us organize our friendships and in the process of doing that, it knows who are friends are (unless you’re one of those who befriends everyone). When I take pictures of people on Flickr or Facebook and they get tagged, it must mean I was there with them. When I tag them, it must mean I know them. When people follow me on Twitter — and vice versa — a relationship of mutual interest is defined. When I join a group at Facebook or Yahoo, another relationship of interest is there. When I go to a MeetUp with someone, both interest and physical meeting are established. When I link to someone’s blog, that, too, defines a relationship and the definition becomes only more explicit if we know who writes that blog and whether they have any other relationship with me. On my blog, I want to link you to the other things I do online, my other identities, and I can do that through ClaimID. Witness:

My claimID jeff jarvis

When you put all those relationships together with my identity and the actions among us, you start to draw the real social graph, the true social network that is the internet.

OK, so what? What benefit is that to me or anyone else? Well, it’s another way to visualize and manage my relationships. We can layer on this content and memes and see where they start and how they spread and that starts to define leadership and curiosity and credibility.

The internet is less about content than relationships and teh true social graph will show us those relationships.

  • Good to know you have a delicious account Jeff. A bit surprised you don’t have delicious network though. Fwiw, I keep three different delicious accounts, and netwoks, for 3 different jobs and they are just about the best source of info I have. Coupled with a raft of keyword search rss feeds, it beats blogs for keeping up to date and relevant.

  • Thanks for the post Jeff. The Social Graph API is interesting, but most relationships are private. Hopefully Google will integrate the Social Graph API with its first real release of OpenSocial – implementing DataPortability.

  • This is another grand proposal like Hailstorm from Microsoft a number of years ago. A vague idea with vague benefits, the brainchild of a genius-employee, that Microsoft backed with all its credibility that went absolutely nowhere because it was ill-conceived and even if it were well-conceived, no one wanted to be locked in their trunk.

    Google has caught up with Microsoft. Stick with your guns, you’re absolutely right that the Internet is the social network. Google used to understand this, when they were small and played in the same schoolyard as the rest of us. Now they think they are the schoolyard. They’ll find out that they’re wrong.

  • A search on Hailstorm on gives an idea of what we were saying about it when it was the new all-encompassing idea for corporate domination of the Internet.


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  • I am curious Jeff – if the Internet is the social network, what role does the non-user generated content have? For example – corporate websites, Manuals etc.
    I wonder if we are “searching” under the street light – maybe it exists offline where real relationships happen: offline?
    I dont know – just a thought :)

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  • You lost me a little in two direction here. For one, how does Google’s provision of an index of some social networking data on the Web contradict “the internet is the social network”?

    The other point I can’t follow is that while the internet may describe, enable and expose social networks, social networks are relationships between people – irrespective of the medium.

    re. “I believe the killer social graph app will be the one that sniffs and understands our relationships without our having to take explicit action or by exploiting the actions we take for different reasons.” – I’ll leave the killer app angle for another day, but if you want to see this kind of thing in practice, create a blogroll.

    WordPress includes microformat data in blogrolls automatically. If you check your HTML source you’ll see XFN is already supported.

  • Hi Jeff, thanks for linking to the video. Like Danny, I’m a bit confused though. From what I can see, the API isn’t relying on average users to put in rel= links (which I agree just wouldn’t happen), it just requires that the builders of web apps use these links in their dynamically generated pages, which as Danny points out is already happening. The new Google service just spiders the links and presents the data to developers in a way that’s easy to build on.
    Are we missing something?

  • computerman

    from: computerman:
    sunday febuary 3rd 2008 7:57 am:

    why dont people use their real name
    and real information on the computer ?

    how do i stop people from stealing my comments and posting my comments and my posts on to other websites behind my back ?

  • OT, sry:

    Jeff, have you seen this article on the decline of the newspaper corps (via Atrios)?

    The author raises some points you made repeatedly, too, especially the call for decentralized, local online”papers”. Well worth a read, imho.

  • Hmm, OT again, but I’m only answering to computerman:

    Plagiarism has happened to other boggers, too, and is not really a new development. I remember a prominent case of content stolen from the somewhat popular blog “This fish needs a bicycle” in 2004.
    Check this archive, especially the comments. The plagiariser build her whole blog on stolen content!

  • computerman

    some time in the future when ever i have my own website how do i stop other people from stealing and copying and taking pictures and videos and audio and posts from the website and posting it on other websites ?
    #2: how do i erase my email how do i destroy my email so i dont delete it on to the internet ?
    #3: how do i stop the computer from stealing information and sending it out all over the internet ? how can i stop people from stealing and using pictures video and information from my website ? can i stop people from copying and stealing and using my pictures and my posts and my information from my pages ?

  • Btw, this might be interesting for other readers here, too: “Fish” did find the plagiarism by using Works great! Insert at the prompt there, for instance, and you’ll find other sites, where the stories are mirrored (legitimate, I guess).

  • Computerman, there’s a lot you can do, but this isn’t the right blog here for answering all those questions. Better google for websites deliberately covering privacy/spam/spyware/malware issues, pls!

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  • .If Microsoft would have done this we would up in arms….
    Google does not control the relationships or the api……Just like they dont control any of the content that they spider that does not belong to them…..and turn this content that they dont own into billons of dollars for Google and very little for the original creators of the content….If goog is so good….why don’t they open source the entire project and create a non profit to run “Open” Social….They will not do this because they want to corner the market on the indexing of relationships that should be owned and controlled by the end users and not Google…Will Google ask me for permission to crawl my relationships ?

    Can I delete my relationships from the Google servers…The data is on Google’s servers….and they are a company…so they do own the data…

    I can believe that you are saying it is not a walled garden…..It certainly is….Once the our friendship data is on the google server we can only reach it from an api that Google controls…That is a walled garden….How is this better than facebook ?

    Did Google contact any of the other companies that have social networks to ask them for their input ?

    Will there be a standards committee that allows end users and companies other than Google to have some input into “Open” Social..Dont hold your breath….its not going to happen…

    Any initiative to deal with a “Social” Graph should not be run by anyone company…Google is a company and we should stop fooling ourselves that they are in business for the public “Good”.
    Google is in Business to make money and this means that by their nature they will try to dominate with little to no regard to any notion of an open standard that would even the playing field for their competitors.

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  • Great post and education for me. But, as I sit in the world of enterprise collaboration, I have to wonder about the implications for the Internet as the Social Network in an environment — both intranet and extranet — where most people are defined in a singular way (their profile inside one software app) and relationships exist primarily between those people as they are characterized by that software.

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  • Leslie K

    Yes, the internet is a social network filled with synchronous and asunchronous communication. Some social networks focus on personal lives, music and media exchange, while others focus on a main theme or content. While this article focuses on businesses making or not making a profit on social networks, I believe more designers and businesses should focus on education as the main priority when creating new social networks. While the dollar is what motivates everyone, even on the internet, as an educator I tend to think creating communication tools such as social networks intergrated with k-12 curriculum is a better reason to spend time designing better technologies.

  • Mr. Jarvis…in the midst of reading WHAT WOULD GOOGLE DO?…..

    As a technoignorant in my early 60’s, to whom do I turn to get ‘caught up’ on the internet possibilities available to my Sports Recruiting Service?

    we have a lot to offer, but right now what we do is to use the internet as a ‘departure point’ rather than as a destination……

    If anyone wants to offer an opinion, those opinions would be appreciated….

    What we offer is a website and coach database to allow high school student- athletes use their sport to gain a ‘backdoor’ access to a College..

    our site is

    I still think of the pushbutton pen as ‘high tech’……please..

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