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The Social Map Is All About Me

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Written by Mark Sigal, a digital media and Internet platform entrepreneur who has done eight startups, four of them as a co-founder.

Call me a cynic, but there has to be more to the Web 2.0 story than accessorizing my Facebook page with one-dimensional pseudo applications. Sure, muscle memory may lead us to congregate, but I believe that the future is about satisfying our need to aggregate.

Isn’t this the moral of the story regarding iTunes, iPhoto and the iPod/iPhone? Namely, that whether blogging, YouTube’ing, Flickr’ing, Digg’ing or tweet’ing, the “forever” bucket is the bucket consisting of my content, my contacts, my contexts and my conversations.

This suggests that regardless of where any of these informational breadcrumbs may originate, each of us needs to think of ourselves as the center of our respective social map universes. In other words, the social map — in order for it to be considered a map – needs to systematically connect the dots between me, my content and my network. A map-lication of sorts.

But it suggests something else as well. That regardless of where my content and data originate, I have a right to pull this data into MY sandbox, a sandbox where I track my threads, organize my media, filter my views and push my content wherever and however I please. While this position seems to raise a virtual middle finger to almost every service provider’s terms of service, it should not be viewed as heretical.

After all, was it heretical that Google became Microsoft 2.0 by spidering the web of third-party web sites, and selling advertising on top of search returns generated using someone else’s data? I certainly remember wondering if Google was crossing an imaginary line between search/organize and monetize, but the market rightfully saw it as a democratizing force. Not only did Google-ification disrupt entire industries (like media and packaged software), but it operated like a tornado on business models, distribution, marketing and product lifecycles across many segments. History suggests, however, that it created a rising tide that lifted a lot of boats.

I bring Google into this equation for two reasons. One, to cite a tangible example of how the market goes about defining propriety and property rights in the information age. Two, because I believe that Google, as a benefactor of these rights, will need to share with consumers more of its social map of user clickstreams, engagement metrics and their correlates if it is to maintain the public trust. Akin to a credit report, I think consumers have a right to this data.

Therefore, what I envision is a consumer-friendly dashboard and analytics application that allows me to visualize the bigger picture by seeing the same contextual relationships that Google sees. Think zeitgeist-type reports that provide answers to the Top 10 questions relevant to MY universe (e.g., who read, commented, shared, how many) packaged in such a way that I can ask what-if questions to my heart’s content. To me, the social map is all about enabling applications that allow consumers to take back control of their data, help them to connect the dots between their various interests, orchestrate their brand and systematically engage their audience. This is the promise of the information age.

Given that, if information is the electricity of this era and information ABOUT information is the richest energy source of all (just ask Google), then shouldn’t we have universal access to this type of data? Heck, if Google wants my heart and soul vis-à-vis their AppEngine initiative, they need to give me a unified way to call upon and interact with all of the global data functions that they have cataloged (web pages, blogs, images, news, video, email, maps, calendars, etc.).

Facebook, Yahoo, and Microsoft: Couldn’t you disrupt the disrupter by doing the same? Is there any reason that you wouldn’t — or shouldn’t?

28 Responses to “The Social Map Is All About Me”

  1. Great information in this site about social map, which is all about enabling applications that allow consumers to take back control of their data, help them to connect the dots between their various interests, and systematically engage their audience.In the same way connecting the people through various media can get a good profits in the business.Internet marketing which is of one such method is getting popular now a days.This can promote an organisation typically with the goal of increasing sales and getting profits.

  2. Anthony, you hit the nail on the head wrt the privacy paradox.

    One the one hand, there is no sugar-coating the fact that there are bad people out there that will do bad things if they have access to your personal data, and the easier it is for them to get their hands on that data, the more likely bad stuff will happen.

    The counter to that reality, however, is that the cow has left the barn already, and it ‘aint coming back so the best alternative is to embrace TRANSPARENCY.

    This logic of transparency is based on the premise that if we all have access to the same set of public data, better tools can be built to manage it, better laws can be crafted that legislate acceptable use and tougher penalties can be put on the books for criminal offenders.

    A lot of my thinking in this area was inspired by a book called The Transparent Society by David Brin. Must read, IMHO, given our shared interests in understanding the privacy paradox.

    Btw, if interested, I wrote a post that looks at privacy in the context of social networks and people pages (and anticipates some application use cases). Here is the URL:

    Spock, social networks and online privacy



  3. Anthony Kuhn

    Mark: Well, we’ll see how this all plays out when Big Brother comes a knockin’…just ask the Chinese how they feel about “Do No Evil.” If only there were a way to keep your information private, oh, wait, that’s not how targeted online ads and social network function. D’oh! Oh well, might as well just admit privacy is dead. Long live privacy.

  4. Mark,

    Great post and comments.

    Absolutely right — this is about the me-centric MY-world in the new web.

    Being new, we need lots of use examples. We try to contribute a piece in this new web of data.

    -a social mesh interconnecting friends and data on different networks.

  5. spot on. the companies that grow and prosper are going to be the ones that facilitate my self centered view of the universe.
    I worked on a couple of User Generated Content projects for previous clients where they thought they could simple give users a chance to provide them with content to sell ads on and somehow they were cutting edge.
    My view is that we need to evolve to a more “me” centric view – I tried to articulate the idea of MeGC ( and I’m pleased to see things like Tumblr and Disqus helping to accululate that stream – now all we need is something like Twine that actually brings me stuff I care about as well…

  6. Sorry for sluggish-ness on response to comments. Some quickie responses:

    To therealmccrea, will check out the post. Thanks.

    To Ben, am familiar (at a high level) with the data portability standards push, and all for standards but in this business there is always the paradox between building a spec and waiting for standard boards to bless and solving a problem that market embraces and then trying to standardize. Not an either/or, just a statement on the paradox, as history suggests that market success tends to validate itself. As to the economics and ownership questions, I think that if google had asked for permission before rolling out adwords, they probably would have had a very different outcome than rolling it out, proving out and then offering adsense as the “upside surprise” for publishers.

    To markdykeman, I am less starting from the perspective of ANY piece of content and more starting from MY OWN content, basically trying to reconcile the fact that much of this content gets distributed to different sites, making it harder to manage, track, iterate, etc. That said, some of this thinking does logically lead to content being portable from the get-go by virtue of tools systematizing what today is a hodge podge. I would also suggest that such a model if anything makes content less of a commodity, as over time all sorts of interesting meta-information starts to accumulate around each content item, opening up interesting application scenarios.

    To Emil, will check out your post. To the why would google open this data up, I can think of two reasons. One, the more Google is willing to share the data it has on me in a value added fashion, the more it is in my self-interest to give Google more access to that data (via cookie, client side run times, etc.). It’s akin to the credit bureaus providing access to credit reports, although Google’s mission is organizing all of the worlds information so anything that can get consumers to be helpers in this mission, seems to be a good thing for them. Two is as alluded to in the column. Google is trying to build up an apps play that is one part Amazon Web Services and one part disrupt Microsoft. They are adequate at best at apps side TODAY. They have a serious unfair advantage on analytics type of data/systems so by leading with their unfair advantage they can offer something that the others can’t, and lets not forget a big part of the goodness of adwords/adsense is all of the visibility data they provide to advertisers and publishers so its not like this is uncharted ground.

    To MS, whille OpenSocial is somewhat (but not totally) orthogonal, it is another affirmation of the point that Google does see it in their best interest for open standards to proliferate, and have provided robust APIs on many of their own products. What they haven’t done a good job on is connecting the dots between their various products (analytics doesn’t talk so well to adwords which doesn’t integrate with feedburner; google maps APIs don’t have the same interfaces as YouTube, and so on.)

    To ronald, information is a broad bucket covering but highly structured (e.g., a sales database) and unstructured (e.g., a photo) pieces of data. On the web, it is probably simplest to thing of all of the things that you might put online, share, comment on, rate, etc. and work from there. If you just start with what google organizes (makes searchable) top level, that is a good start — web pages, images, maps, news stories, product listings, email, video, your desktop files, books, blogs, etc. It is a meaty list.


  7. Simple question:
    What is Information ?
    I always see this thrown around, no definition. Only the assumption that we all share the same definition. Well Google claims to organize all the worlds information, without an equation on what they are talking about.
    Do they?

  8. One of the prerequisites for this kind of a “me-centered” online experience to exist is “data portability”. The responsibility is also on the social networks of today to open themselves as much as it is on Google.

    Google has actually been quite cooperative on this front with their OpenSocial initiative (I know it’s not really what we need!) and their Social Graph API – which is a good step in this direction.

  9. Mark… I wrote about a “New Tagging Service From Google” over a year ago ( – very much in the spirit of your post here.

    And while I was writing this comment here, a colleague of mine (who sent me the link to your post) asked the logical question (over Skype, of course): why would Google (or any of the big data silos) share back exactly the meta-data that makes their own service valuable?

  10. markdykeman

    If I understand correctly, essentially the Web should migrate to a form where you can easily find any piece of content; easily publish and distribute any piece of content; and do it all from the user interface of your choice.

    Sounds cool to me. Some people would argue that this can be done today, but quite frankly the methods to do so aren’t that intuitive and take time and effort to accomplish.

    Of course, a true standard UI, platform, transportation method, etc. would easily accomplish that, but it could like squeeze out a lot of standardization or innovation, couldn’t it?

    On the other hand, hundreds or thousands of dial-up sites and services perished as a result of widespread high speed Internet access, so maybe it’s not that scary to conform, as long as there is flexibility on the new platform.

  11. I should add that we’ve developed a format, the Open Data Definition, which can be used to easily enable import/export and synchronisation of both entities (eg blog posts) and social metadata (relationships, metadata, annotations). We’re very excited about it, but recognise that we have to widen the conversation; we will release a draft spec for discussion asap.

  12. I’m certain you’ll be aware of the efforts to promote “data portability”, which in some ways is a take on these ideas, although I don’t think most of them go far enough.

    A Yahoo representative at the first Data Sharing Summit noted that they prefer not to talk about data ownership, but are tentatively able to discuss data control – giving users control of their data. That should tell you all you need to know: full ownership of this data is fundamental to the free business model we’ve come to know and love on the web. As a result, it’s locked up tight; it’s not as easy as all that for another tool to come along and give you access to your data, whether it’s the directly stored stuff or tertiary social map data.

    The only way to enact a change to this is to make releasing the data more lucrative than not – in other words, to turn openness into a selling point. I think it already is for a lot of the tech early adopter crowd, but how on earth do we sell this to the mass market?

  13. Thanks for the suggested links, FritzTheCat. Will check out.

    To SCOGOSTOLOGY.COM: Part of the concept of the social map is that we inherently create an online snail trail of content, conversations and connections across a multitude of sites (eMarketer predicts that the number of people who create “user-generated” content will rise from 77 million in 2007 to 108 million in 2012).

    Thus, it seems logical that applications will emerge that help us take a more unified approach to organizing, managing and publishing our profusion of posts, pictures, videos, comments, tracked discussion threads, playlists and profiles.

    In this piece, I am trying to envision the functional parts and user rights that make such an application MAP-like and manageable while reconciling the decentralized nature of such elements.