Getting Right With Facebook: Social Graph Value Chain Alignment
An article in the Wall St. Journal on ‘how Facebook ruins friendships’ and the recent spate of photo spam on Facebook got me thinking about social network fatigue again and the specific role of social games therein. Protecting the efficacy of the social graph is a key Facebook imperative as it underpins the bulk of the value they are creating. At a very high level therefore it seems reasonable to expect that applications that align themselves with Facebook’s agenda of cultivating the graph will have access to a growing opportunity space over time and those that do not will experience the opposite. In short, it is in developers’ long-term self interest to orient themselves correctly in the social graph value chain.
As noted in an earlier post, message value and social tie strength are key ingredients in maintaining balance in relationships on social networks:
“My ability to aggressively message a given tie in my social graph is directly proportional to the strength of that tie. Weak ties will quickly collapse when overused whereas stronger ties can endure quite a bit more abuse. Message value plays a strong role of course. Even if someone in my social graph is sending out a high frequency of material, if it is of correspondingly high value, I’m unlikely to filter them. But, when the signal to noise ratio inverts, friend becomes spammer and badness ensues. Information becomes information pollution.
Aggressive use of viral channels (Join My Mafia! Which Star Trek Character Are You? Send A Sloppy Kiss!) can get noisy and spammy pretty quickly. But, as the WSJ author points out, sometimes it is the friend that is annoying and not the application. Therein lies the greater sustainability point I think. It isn’t enough to simply tread lightly on the spam question and not engage in misleading ad techniques. A truly social application adds value to the social graph by improving message value without fatiguing the underlying social ties. It helps us discover in our friends that which is interesting, meaningful, and useful. We are unlikely to be boring, annoying, or spammy when we use it.
Impossibly idealistic? The Facebook photo app does just this very thing. So does their Events app to a lesser degree. This is the gold standard by which third party developers should measure themselves in my opinion. Admittedly, the internally-developed Facebook utilities are teed up against a different goal set and business model than social games are. But, I think the comparison does effectively underline the point that applications which add value to the social graph are in better alignment with the platform agenda than those that leech from it. Which, if you’re in it for the long haul, is definitely where you want to be.