Evaluating the Knowledge Graph vs. Social Graph

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What’s more valuable, the vast inter-relationships of all known factual knowledge or the interconnected set of personal relationships of one billion people?

Social versus knowledge

In many ways, that sums up the argument of Google vs. Facebook. To find the answer we need to look at both companies’ most important asset, information.  Information is the true long-term strategic asset, but which of these two online giants has the real long-term edge?

To find out we need to examine the information each of these two companies possesses, because when it comes to information, the real value isn’t just in a list of data elements, but in understanding the properties and relationships, basically how these data elements connect. That’s what a knowledge graph and a social graph truly represent.

Knowledge Graphs: From Facts to Answers

In recent months, there has been a lot of talk about Google’s Knowledge Graph (http://www.google.com/insidesearch/features/search/knowledge.html). Now, when you search for Abraham Lincoln, there is more on the SERP (search engine results page) than a list of links and ads – there are a series of panels providing information on the President and other resources that Google thinks will interest you.

At the heart of the knowledge graph is the known set of all people, places, companies, schools, movies, events – the “things.” The graph is the inter-relationships or properties of these things and how they are connected.  For example, knowing that Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, is an entity with a property.  But more importantly the graph is also the relationship. Knowing that Abraham Lincoln was also a president, leads to important information about other presidents.

The scale of information is almost as enormous as the difficulty of mapping out this level of information on a broad scale. However, what can you do with it? How valuable is it?

The implications for search are perhaps revolutionary. Imagine a guided search that leads you through these data relationships, guiding your knowledge discovery process from point to point. That’s actually the easy part. Imagine being able to answer questions that comprise more of just the facts. For example, what republican presidents were born in the 1800s, formerly served as vice president, and also served in the military? These are recursive knowledge discovery queries.

The long-term value of a large-scale knowledge graph is an engine that can find answers to complex questions, not just point you to a web page with keywords.

Social Graphs: We the People

So how can a mere social graph compare to a factual knowledge discovery tool that could border line on artificial intelligence?  It’s a tall feat to top. Given my own natural inclination to geek out, I’d say it’s game over. However, we are social creatures. Our social interactions and social needs are a defining part of what makes us human. An informational asset that could help facilitate that is enormously valuable.

One aspect where social data is of inherent value is the realm of subjective queries. What’s the best Italian restaurant in town? Facebook is currently developing a search functionality that can take into account our social data, friends and geographic location to provide the perfect answer. Social graphs can help provide the qualitative feedback and recommendations we value from our friends.

At the heart of the social connection graph is the inherent monetization and marketing potential. The interconnected preferences and interests of one billion people (so far) has enormous marketing potential. It’s given rise to viral campaigns and accelerates nobodies to somebodies. There’s enormous potential here to make a lot of money.

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
We’ve all been told that it’s not what you know, but who you know at some point in our lives, but do we really believe it? The most successful people typically possess both quantifiable and social assets, as the combination of both and can lead to greatness.

We see these two graphs being blurred with Google constantly working to evolve Google+ and Facebook adding community/interest pages. It’s clear that the ability to control information, social or factual, delivers a massive benefit. With both Google and Facebook racing to have it all, the question remains: can only one win? As we move into 2013 it will be interesting to see which data set takes center stage or if collaboration plays a role on the journey towards a hyper-intelligent online experience.

Image credits: Graph mashup – courtesy © puckillustrations – Fotolia.com © & vujkekv – Fotolia.com

John Mihalik
John Mihalik has over 20 years of experience in the software engineering industry. He has extensive experience building large scale enterprise and consumer facing technology... Read Full Bio
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  • Mike Campolattano

    Great read for me the social graph is as important if not more. I am excited to see how the marriage will unfold.

  • Riza Berkan

    What Google has is not a Knowledge Graph. It is a Behavior Graph. Amazon had already did it “people also searched these items”.. Knowledge graph would not connect Leonardo da Vinci to Picasso. Two man have nothing in common except being painters. That connection is what people are searching one after another. Peoples’ behavior do not represent knowledge. They represent behavior. There is a huge difference. Google is ignorant again when it comes to basic scientific definitions.

    • John Mihalik

      I do agree Google has a great way of incorporating behavior into searches. However, connecting the facts that Leonardo Di Vinci and Picasso are artists is what makes the knowledge graph a very powerful data structure. Take a look at this at Freebase:


      Freebase was acquired by Google a few years ago with the intent to fold this type of data into search results. We are starting to see the first signs of this already.

    • Joseph Beah

      This response makes no sense. The fact that Picasso and Leonardo da Vinci were painters has nothing to do with behavior. It is simply a fact. The Knowledge Graph simply connects the two together based on the fact that they were both painters. What does that have to so with behavior?
      What Amazon does in “people also searched for these” is indeed referring to the behavior of people. However, the knowledge that people did also search for those items is a fact that does link the items. This is an example of where the Knowledge Graph and the Social Graph do converge. What Amazon has could be termed a Behavior Graph but that does not mean it is not also a Knowledge Graph. Google’s Knowledge Graph includes information about behavior as well as properties of objects including people, places, and things.

      • Evelyn M

        It an overlapping graph. Google has the “knowledge” that most people who search Leonardo De Vinci, have the “behavior” to also want to search out Picasso. As a contemporary west coast artist, I have both the intellectual “knowledge” of this as well as my own emotional “behaviour” trend. As both artists where trend setters, those that would have this “knowledge”, would follow the “behaviour” of wanting to know as much as possible about both. It was an excellant choice of metaphor. I state this with absolute confidence. What where their trends? Leonardo’s was the need to know what was happening under the skin so that he could more acurately portray his subjects. Picasso’s was to explore new ways of expressing himself through art and leaving it to others to perfect his ideas, such as found art, (see his Bull’s Head).

  • Evelyn M

    This topic is something that I am in the midst of figuring out. Just over a month ago I started a Home and Garden blog on my Localhomespot.com website and in order to “announce” the blog, and “announce” the weekly entries (amongst other relevant current news) to a greater audience I joined facebook 6 days ago. I belong to several local community organizations that will give me a platform to make announcements on their facebook pages which is far broader reaching then going to their luncheons, dinners etc. The big question I have is how does twitter fit into this. In the social verses knowledge game, how big a player is twitter. Do I really need to use it as well?