Monday, April 27, 2009

Value my social graph

When I hit Google tonight to search for something or other, the top "Google Promotion" link was something I'd never seen before: Google Profiles.

Naturally, I Googled it to see what it was. Some very quick-and-dirty research suggests it's not new -- I very quickly landed this reference from 2007. I clicked the Google Profiles link out of curiosity but probably wouldn't have given it a further thought, except for this line of text in the standard "give us your stats" solicitation:

"A little personality: Something I can't find using Google."

Sure, I can tell you something you can't easily Google using my relatively public legal name and I play the cello extremely badly. (Though really dedicated Googlestalkers could even figure that out.) I have a totally excellent recipe for something resembling pan bagnat, which I can't spell without consulting a dictionary or other reference text, and which I made for dinner tonight but didn't start making till about 9pm, kicking off an extended debate with the spouse about what time "dinner" should traditionally occur at.

But I'm not going to tell Google Profiles any of that. Because I'm currently in the mood to be fairly guarded about who by and how my personal information gets monetized.

This is on my mind lately because I'm very, very suspicious of Facebook, which I cracked and joined last-yearish and check more often than I like (maybe twice a week) because it's where a lot of my friends have migrated for their social networking needs. I set up my own first-and-primary social networking profile in 2002, on a site that I still check daily but am grudgingly accepting is becoming passe. (Hint: It's the one popular with teenagers and geeks, and now owned by "a Russian media company.") My original site has the ethos, community and interface that most appeals to me, but it's fast losing its original core crowd -- at least among my demographic -- to Dreamwidth, and I can see it going to way of my beloved Palm pilot: eventually, I will be one of the only ones left clinging to the neglected ruins of this once-trailblazing technology.

Which leaves the nextgen upstarts like Facebook and Twitter, with the slick interfaces (ok, that one, not so much for Twitter) and nakedly commercial ambitions. I don't like Facebook. Never have, doubt I ever will. I don't like it because it feels like all Facebook really cares about is using widgets and memes to entice me to cough up details of my social interconnections, to help it fill out its Social Graph Theory of Everything so it can sell that info to whoever will give it a zillion-dollar valuation or IPO.

I don't think anyone has quite figured out the business model just yet, but someday, the social graph is going to be an incredibly valuable piece of marketable data. To lots of people, I suspect. I, personally, might not be that valuable a marketing target. But if you can figure out who I talk to, what I care about, what I'm doing right this minute, where I am, what I'm reading, or what I care about enough to write about, and do that for millions of people -- you have a very saleable data set. Right now, Facebook is the leading application. Everyone, especially Google, would love to toss out APIs and become the infrastructure.

And I don't wanna play. If I'm going to hand over all the details that create a map of me, that some corporate entity will aggregate and sell for a billion dollars at some point, I don't want to do it because someone said "throw a sheep!!! and shsssh we'll infer from that who you know well enough throw a sheep at!"

Some years ago, I heard estimates kicked around about the value of all the physical components in the human body. The estimates appear to range wildly, from $4.50 to $45 million. I wonder how long it'll be till we know precisely the value of a human mind, and all the monetizable social connections it sustains.