If You Write Your Social Graph, Can You Take It With You?: A Question of Social Networks, Private Property and Market Leverage

Curator's Note

In January of 2008, the high-profile tech blogger, Robert Scobel, noted that he had been kicked off of Facebook for violating the service’s "Terms of Use" agreement. Scobel had applied a script developed by Plaxo that could optically recognize and rip the information that users place it on their Facebook account and put it into their Plaxo account (to see Scoble’s testimony of getting kicked off click here). This personal information is defined by Brad Fitzpatrick as the "social graph", "the global mapping of everybody and how they’re related". While there is no one place where the social graph exists, the explosion of social networks as part of a our media ecologies is the reason why Facebook has been able to become such a potent technological, economic and social force and why companies such as Google are interested in developing APIs that allow social graphs to open up and work together .

 

What Scoble’s experiment/stunt highlighted were two questions: 1) do you own your graph if you place it on a service?; and 2) why is this graph valued? Clearly, the first question is one of contracts legal dispute, but the second question is a point for economic and philosophical investigation. For me, it is clear to me that this not only brings up a classic "is the map the territory" question, i.e. is your social graph your social network, but it asks us to consider whether or not our social networks can be enabled without an effective representation, a graph, of who we know and how we are related. For myself the answer is obvious (it cannot), but for others in these videos and the question of what it is and what it is not, who owns it and what to do with it cannot be so easily resolved. These mappings are too valuable and hold too much at stake in digital media networks for there to be a solution without considerable debate and struggle. And as this video from linkfluence shows, graphing can be utilized as a source of power not only to understand influence but to possibly realize leverage.

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