Feeds

Social networks may be imaginary

Think of them as spherical cows

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Supernova Eric Bonabeau doesn't mince words. "A lot of this talk about the social graph," he says, "is crap."

Speaking to a small army of business-minded folk this morning at the annual San Francisco tech conference dubbed Supernova, Bonabeau argued that the world may be exaggerating the influence of so-called social networks. For years, web pundits have said that the social graph - aka all those virtual connections between everyone on earth - will reinvent the way businesses distribute and market online applications. But Bonabeau - a complex systems guru best known for his book Swarm Intelligence - points out that setting up a network, including a social network, is less important than what you actually do with it.

"We see a lot of focus on the structure of networks. Structure is nice. It can be graphed. It can be displayed. It's beautiful. And people can relate to it," said Bonabeau, the founder and chief scientist of Isosystem, a company that tells other companies how to deal with complex computing problems. "But what's really important when you're trying to predict or control or alter the behavior of a system is to really understand the function of the network."

In the Bonabeau lexicon, social networks are spherical cows. "If you ask a mathematician to give the milk yield of a cow, he says 'Let's assume a spherical cow.' There are a lot of spherical cows out there, and the problem with spherical cows is that if you're in the prediction business, they're not that good at predicting anything."

In other words, the social graph is just an idea that makes people feel good. "The social graph is a spherical cow. It's a mental construct. A metaphor. Just because the image looks good doesn't mean that it's useful."

Rather than talking up the social graph as some sort of online cure all, Bonabeau argues, we should focus on the apps themselves. Some apps lend themselves to online propagation, and some don't. If you've got an app that doesn't, he says, then link it to one that does.

"Whatever the structure of your network, you can design a layer on top which does what you want," he concluded. "When you have services that aren't necessarily viral - which do not necessary spread on the network - you need to create and connect some sort of viral vector."

As an example, he pointed to mobile banking services. "No one would say that banking services are viral - but they are if you connect them to things like micro-payments or contributing to some sort of social cause."

OK, Bonabeau may be over-thinking things in his own (entertaining) way. But it's nice to hear someone call the social graph "crap." ®

Remote control for virtualized desktops

More from The Register

next story
Euro Parliament VOTES to BREAK UP GOOGLE. Er, OK then
It CANNA do it, captain.They DON'T have the POWER!
Download alert: Nearly ALL top 100 Android, iOS paid apps hacked
Attack of the Clones? Yeah, but much, much scarier – report
NSA SOURCE CODE LEAK: Information slurp tools to appear online
Now you can run your own intelligence agency
Post-Microsoft, post-PC programming: The portable REVOLUTION
Code jockeys: count up and grab your fabulous tablets
Twitter App Graph exposes smartphone spyware feature
You don't want everyone to compile app lists from your fondleware? BAD LUCK
Microsoft: Your Linux Docker containers are now OURS to command
New tool lets admins wrangle Linux apps from Windows
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing and building an open ITOA architecture
Learn about a new IT data taxonomy defined by the four data sources of IT visibility: wire, machine, agent, and synthetic data sets.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
5 critical considerations for enterprise cloud backup
Key considerations when evaluating cloud backup solutions to ensure adequate protection security and availability of enterprise data.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Driving business with continuous operational intelligence
Introducing an innovative approach offered by ExtraHop for producing continuous operational intelligence.