December 30th, 2007

Email And Cellphone Contacts Are The Real Social Graph

by

Google has been quietly rolling out social features across all of its services based on Gmail contacts. While Google still has to overcome some of its social tone-deafness (e.g. automatically adding contacts without asking), this move makes perfect sense. For people over 30 (and probably even over 25) email IS the social graph.

Most people over 30 don’t have many (or any) business or personal relationships that don’t involve communicating by email. There are very few people who matter to me with whom I do not regularly communicate by email. Nearly every causal business relationship becomes more substantive through email communication. The only communication platform everyone in my family shares is email.

What’s interesting when you think about email as the social graph is that there is a much higher relationship threshold for email. I’ve been added as a “friend” on Facebook by people I’ve never met, don’t know, and have never communicated with. Same with LinkedIn. It’s way to easy to “add” someone on a social networking application. Just click a button.

Sending someone an email, in contrast, actually requires having something to say. It requires introducing yourself. It requires actually COMMUNICATING substantively, rather than just empty gestures like adding, poking or sending virtual beer.

Want more evidence that, far from being dead, email is the adult social graph? Check out the most recent quarterly earnings report for RIM, who makes the Blackberry. Revenue rose year-over-year to $1.67 billion from $835.1 million. From what? Selling EMAIL devices.

So what about for people under 30? Over the holiday, I did some ethnographic research with various family members between the ages of 17 and 23. As expected, they check email infrequently, because they are still in school and haven’t yet had a business email and its obligations thrust upon them.

What’s interesting is that they don’t us IM much either, nor do they use Facebook or MySpace much. So what do they do? They text each other on their phones.

And, get this…they call each other and actually TALK. Can you believe it? Social networking through actual direct human communication.

Unlike most people in the business world, students aren’t in front of their computers all day long. Their cell phones are their main computing devices. So their social graph is their cell phone contact list. The people they text and call.

I saw these young adults away from their computers all day without concern, but they were checking their cellphones constantly. The same way older demographics check their Blackberries.

It seema that we are increasingly inclined to take our social graphs with us — but not through web-based social networking applications.

I spent a lot of time with non-geeks over the holidays, and while I heard mention of email, texting, and cellphones in casual conversation over many days, I didn’t hear a single mention of Facebook, MySpace, or any other web-based social networking application.

If you prefer numbers over anecdotal evidence, just following the money — consider: Why is RIM so profitable? Why do people pay so much money for cell phone service and text messages? Why is there so much money in email spam?

Facebook’s $15 billion valuation suggests that that dollars are about to flow into the social graphs based on proprietary web applications. Would you bet on that, or an open social platforms like email, SMS, and….phone numbers?

Comments (31 Responses so far)

  1. I wrote much the same thing back in November about email being the real social network (http://www.winextra.com/2007/11/14/i-already-have-my-social-network-thanks/ ) and that opinion hasn’t changed. If anything with google’s slow rollout of its impending socnet and it being based around your Contacts/ email address my feeling has only strengthened

  2. Hear, hear! :) “Nearly every causal business relationship becomes more substantive through email communication” – I totally agree. I have multiple email addresses (use Outlook), plus Gmail, plus use Facebook email extensively. PMB’s are ideal for starting meaningful conversation, which can lead to phone chats, and in-person meetings. It’s all about the relationship!

    (BTW, I think that’s casual, not causal?)

  3. Agree. I’m 38 and email is still “my thing”.

  4. I’m in violent agreement. Email/Cell contacts are also a great example of implicit data – you don’t need to explicitly invite your friends to create a social graph – you’ve voted with your feet, as it were.

    Great post.

  5. Relatedly, RIM also has a BlackBerry Facebook app: http://www.bbgeeks.com/blackberry-applications/the-blackberry-facebook-application-guide-8871/

    It’s interesting that they didn’t focus on duplicating the entire facebook experience, but rather focussed on messaging.

    And it lets you immediately act on those otherwise useless facebook emails (friend requests, wall posts, etc).

  6. Scott! you sound like an absolute social networking luddite! ;-) But seriously, a very good breakdown that cuts through a lot of the hype around social networking sites, the “social graph” and anything else that’s “social” online…

    which reminds me of something one of my contractors said as we wound things down for the year: it was great working with me, but, ironically, it would have been better if I was in their offices regularly. Guess nothing, not even email and telephone, beats f2f for cementing a business or personal relationship.

  7. Scott,

    Can you tell me what and how you used “ethnographic” research in this sense?

    Thanks.

  8. 100% right on.

    And, then think about how SMS is also at the base of the new hottest thing I’ve been involved in for some time, Twitter. I’ve had a Twitter account for some months but only started to seriously engage with it for the last month.

    Very lively.

    Lots of stuff to keep anyone interested.

    And, forwardable to my mobile via SMS, with return publishing built-in.

    Add to that Seesmic, the new Twitter + YouTube alpha with which I’ve also been recently experimenting, and you have a whole social networking suite moving around on a mobile platform.

    Cool.

  9. No trackbacks?

  10. Very nice post. I agree that trying to infer a social graph without access to key data inputs (phone, IM, email, etc) is a tough task. I wrote something similar on my own blog last week: http://www.charleshudson.net/?p=420

  11. [...] Scott Karp argues that for those that are over 30, email and cell phones make up the majority of their social graph. He is completely right. You won’t see my mom tweeting on Twitter and you won’t see her updating her status on Facebook (even though she now has a profile). My friends that fall into the 30-something crowd aren’t tweeting up up a storm (except for a few social media connoisseurs). Ultimately, Scott Karp has successfully stated the obvious. I would like to pronounce here and now that the sky is blue (when there are no clouds and the weather is nice). [...]

  12. [...] UPDATE: Heh. RIM and the “social graph.” [...]

  13. [...] Google has been quietly rolling out social features across all of its services based on Gmail contacts. While Google still has to overcome some of its social tone-deafness (e.g. automatically adding contacts without asking), this move makes perfect sense. For people over 30 (and probably even over 25) email IS the social graph.[From Email And Cellphone Contacts Are The Real Social Graph - Publishing 2.0] [...]

  14. Even though I agree with email and cell phone being the social graph, I wonder why you left out postal mail then? I have no problem if you argue that email and cell also serve as the social graph but calling it the real social graph is just naive. You talk like those older generation people who refuse to accept that email has replaced postal mail.

  15. [...] Read the rest of this post Print Sphere Comment Tagged: Scott Karp, social graph, Gmail, Google | permalink [...]

  16. scott –

    i’m really stoked to read this post.

    email is just itching to be reinvented yet again isn’t it? i look at classic technologies and think, if we can add serious value to the process of using email, think of the market size on that. let’s say if we can make using your existing email more fun, more “persistent”, more integrated with other web tools, etc. and give such a service away free, we’ll have latched onto something very very big that could make us rethink how email is a social network indeed.

    i’m so excited about 2008 :)

    – srini kumar
    ceo
    metanotes inc.

  17. “Want more evidence that, far from being dead, email is the adult social graph? Check out the most recent quarterly earnings report for RIM, who makes the Blackberry. Revenue rose year-over-year to $1.67 billion from $835.1 million. From what? Selling EMAIL devices.”

    We are interested in business-social networking. We are advocates of pushing emails to mobile devises to enable tribal conversations to develop organic networks; much like drums in the jungle where tribal communications can be fostered. Our drum of choice – a blackberry linked to an enterprise grade exchange server (for some specs see – http://www.123together.com/mobility.xhtml).

    Companies like 123 Together have also grown nicely based on the email adult social graph. Great insight!

  18. [...] Even with all of the hype surrounding new social platforms on the Internet in 2007 (and $15 Billion valuations) , email and mobile communication remain the social champions at the end of the year. Unlike social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace), giving someone permission to be on your email or mobile contact list is scrutinized on a much more personal, requiring trust and relevance. I get new friend requests from people I don’t know every day on Facebook; and it’s not uncommon to see personal profiles on Facebook, Bebo or MySpace which contain thousands of ‘friends’. Personally, I’m a bit slow to add new, unknown friends into my social networking circle. Social networking environments are like a rave (for younger users) or a conference mixer (for professionals), in which you mingle with many you don’t really know and have a bit of fun. But the next day, you email or text your real friends or colleagues and talk about the party. Even the Generation Y set distinguishes between superficial, large-group social activity and more meaningful, interpersonal communication. “…What’s interesting is that they don’t use IM much either, nor do they use Facebook or MySpace much. So what do they do? They text each other on their phones. And, get this…they call each other and actually TALK. Can you believe it? Social networking through actual direct human communication. Unlike most people in the business world, students aren’t in front of their computers all day long. Their cell phones are their main computing devices. So their social graph is their cell phone contact list. The people they text and call…” continue reading [...]

  19. That next wave of Social Network users do not necessarily get all 2.0 concepts and how to use social networks.

    They have however embraced email and understand the internet is a valuable tool.

    They are busy being business owners and works and email is the way to engage this next wave of social networking adopters and provide a single social interface for them to interact with their networks.

  20. [...] Email And Cellphone Contacts Are The Real Social Graph [...]

  21. wow – this is right on!

    i discovered i was getting back to the “ole skool” with my iPhone after walking away from email for a good 3 months. the SMS app is killer and the fact that it is organized by conversations (rather than the standard inbox/sent paradigm) is a god send – you clear conversations when they are complete and suprisingly, i don’t feel a need to *have* to archive my SMS threads. however, this would be an added feature in the future not to mention a slew of other features to organize your threads by differing states and/or contexts. all in all, i’m impressed.

    i can’t wait for the ultimate integration of IM, email, social net app, SMS – Google has the beginnings of it via Google Mail – they just gotta keep running!

  22. [...] Email And Cellphone Contacts Are The Real Social Graph – Publishing 2.0 “For people over 30 (and probably even over 25) email IS the social graph. Most people over 30 don’t have relationships that don’t involve email. Under 25: They text each other on their phones. And, get this…they call each other and actually TALK.” (tags: communication email mobile social+networks relationship+building tidbits+fodder telephony) [...]

  23. Yup, I agree… did a similar blog post recently…

    http://www.networkweaving.com/blog/2007/11/email-history-social-graph.html

    Also, my 15 yo son, says NO does FB or MS at his school… mostly texting, on-line gaming, YT, and some email! Yes, the cell-phone is THE device for his group.

  24. [...] Email And Cellphone Contacts Are The Real Social Graph – Publishing 2.0 Email and Mobile as the Social Graph. Good stuff. (tags: media mobile gmail facebook email socialnetworking socialnetworks web2.0 socialgraph socialmedia) [...]

  25. [...] Email And Cellphone Contacts Are The Real Social Graph – Publishing 2.0 (tags: communication email facebook google media social socialnetworking technology 58ninety mobile socialgraph socialmedia) [...]

  26. [...] dieser Tage. Man spricht viel vom sog. Social Graph und Publishing 2.0 schreibt sogar, dass unsere E-Mail- und Handy-Kontakte der wahre Social Graph [...]

  27. Nice!….I like it..I personally like the cellphone than the email because of the mobility it provides…I actually also use it for networking more than the internet…I’ve been a part of the mobile mob from Mozes and it gives me instant updates for all the bands mob I’ve joined. I like it. I’m going to stick with my cell phone.

  28. [...] Email And Cellphone Contacts Are The Real Social Graph – Publishing 2.0 “Facebook’s $15 billion valuation suggests that that dollars are about to flow into the social graphs based on proprietary web applications. Would you bet on that, or an open social platforms like email, SMS, and….phone numbers?” (tags: social network comparison texting ttotd shwpl sms facebook graph) [...]

  29. And when you consider that Google did buy Jaiku, that is big addition to real social networking tools. If they integrate it systemwide with Gmail/Gtalk and allow users communicate from Jaiku mobile addressbook together with their location information, it could be quite great business application. Combine that with functionality of photo- and videoblogs etc. other services and you start to see larger picture. They already have software for mobile phones, they just need to improve it based on new ideas and larger needs for communication tools.

    One thing that need to be noted is that users should have good ways to control amount and type of data shared. I know that tracking of movements of mobile phone sounds quite bad thing in privacy aspects, but many people would still use it.

  30. thanks for the heads up re: Jaiku – i am looking into it and curious how it contrasts twitter.

    i am a big fan of being tracking – my argument would be it would create less communication around “connecting” and finding people and more space to communication as related to creating futures! ;-)

  31. Nice insght. Email is signinficant for a real communication. LinkedIn has feature that requires users to require an email before they can add a person to their network. This is to ensure that you will be added by people who know you. Messaging is more personal, since it is filled with more personal words. Social sites should promote responsible people and real relationships – that would be the essence of socializing…relationship.

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