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