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What is the Social Graph?

By M. Haskins
Updated May 16, 2024
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In the context of the Internet, the term "the social graph" usually refers to the connections between people who participate in a social networking service, such as Facebook, LiveJournal, LinkedIn or Myspace. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has used the term, as well as the term social network, when discussing the relationships between users on Facebook, and how these relationships can make for what he calls a richer online experience. In mathematics, a graph is an abstract representation of relationships between things, and can be used to model various natural and man-made systems, such as power grids, economies, cells, and the World Wide Web. A social graph can be illustrated by drawing a diagram, where individuals are represented by nodes or dots, and their connections are represented by lines drawn between the nodes. The term can be used both to refer to the actual network of connections between individuals, and to a diagram that shows a representation of these relationships.

The terms social network and social graph are closely related. Usually, social networks refer to relationships in the real world, while social graphs describe relationships on the Internet, making them a representation of the social system online. However, the distinction is not a sharp one. Real world societies can be referred to as social graphs, where individuals are connected because they are related or because they know each other from various social settings, like work and school. Brad Fitzpatrick, a programmer and creator of LiveJournal, has described the social graph as a "global mapping of everybody and how they're connected."

Different social network services have their own social graphs that are usually completely separate from each other. In 2008, the Internet company Google Inc. started the Social Graph API, a project intended to make it possible for different websites, including social networking sites, to use publicly available information from the different online social graphs. In this context, the social graph includes not only relationships between individuals, but also connections to virtual objects like photos, pages, and events.

Proponents say that this use of social graphs will make it easier for people to interact with their entire social network online, regardless of what social networking service or website they are accessing. Critics call it a possible invasion of personal privacy. Some have also argued that each individual should have ownership and control over his part of the online social graph and the personal information it contains.

EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By everetra — On Nov 13, 2011

@Charred - I predict that you’ll be on again in a few months. Come on, Facebook is fun. It’s not Big Brother or the Mark of the Beast.

Anyway, I am definitely on, and connected – not only with Facebook but with other networking sites that I use to help promote my professional career.

As a programmer I am also very exicted about the Facebook Open Graph API. This is a library that Facebook is making available to the development community and which will enable anyone to create their own web page that looks and acts like Facebook, with the ability to “friend” people, create fan lists and so forth.

In my opinion this will lead to an explosion of similar sites based off the Facebook technology. The way that I see it, the social graph will only explode, exponentially, in the coming years.

By Charred — On Nov 13, 2011

I recently did something that I know many people would find unconscionable: I disabled my Facebook account, permanently dropping off the “grid” and its attendant social graph forever (notwithstanding any cached pages that may still be out there).

Within a week of dropping off, I was asked by my friends why they could no longer pull me up on Facebook. It’s simple, I said, I no longer exist, not there anyway.

When they asked why, I said I was no longer interested in social media marketing or having my profile and private life online for all the world to see. Plus, the reality is that I didn’t really use it that much.

That being said, I don’t think my little act is going to change the trend of this social networking revolution. It will continue, I’m sure, because people will always want to meet, whether online or offline. I’m the outlier.

By Ivan83 — On Nov 13, 2011

I can't believe how many social networking sites there are out there. We all know about Facebook and Myspace, but there are hundreds of others beyond these. On almost any topic you can think of there is a big and well organized social network that has developed around it.

They have them for sports, music, books, health, fitness, food and on and on. There are even a few that just imitate the look and feel of Facebook, they don't offer any kind of spin on the idea, just a weak imitation. And new ones appear every day. I think we might get to a point where there are more social networks than there are people to populate them.

By summing — On Nov 12, 2011

The social graph is a really interesting idea and something that applies to the way that everything works on the internet. Most sites rely on driving traffic to their content. The internet is so diffuse that the only way to get peoples attention is to create connections between your content and the content they already like.

But as interesting as the social graph is it is also very difficult to understand and even more difficult to control. In short, the internet works in weird ways and things get popular that no one would see coming. Think about Twitter. A few years ago it seemed like a dumb idea. Now it is one of the loudest voice in the conversation.

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