Who's Winning The Battle For The Interest Graph: Facebook, Google+ or Twitter?

Posted by chad on Mon, 04/30/2012 - 13:00
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Do you use Google+ more than Facebook? Are you an avid Twitter user, but not so active on Google+? Do you auto-share online media, such as songs or news articles, onto Facebook? These are just some of the questions being asked in the ongoing evolution of the "Interest Graph," succinctly defined by software engineer Adam Rifkin as "WHAT people care about." He was contrasting it to the term popularized by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, "Social Graph," which is WHO people care about.

As I've watched the Interest Graph evolve over the past year, what's struck me the most is that it has forced people to make a choice. I'm willing to wager that most of you have chosen one platform as your primary means to track and express what you care about.

Here is more of Rifkin's definition of an Interest graph:

A very important aspect of the Interest Graph is that unlike the Social Graph, which is for the most part static (except for an occasional friending or unfriending), the Interest Graph is elastic, dynamic, and rapidly changing for any individual consumer based on:

- What a consumer searches for (on Google, Bing, YouTube, Twitter, etc)
- What a consumer follows (on Facebook, Twitter, Google +1, Tumblr, Quora, etc)
- What a consumer expresses (as blog posts, tweets, pins, stashes, statuses, reviews, pictures, conversations, etc.)

When it comes to determining what people care about on a daily basis, it's most obvious in Rifkin's third point: what they express. With that in mind, here are a few trends I've noticed in the evolution of the Interest Graph:

1. Many of the people I most enjoy following use Twitter as their primary platform for daily thoughts. For example, I like to know what PaidContent founder Rafat Ali is interested in, seeing as he's a smart and successful media entrepreneur. Most of his daily thoughts can be found on Twitter. He uses Google+ and Facebook too, but to a lesser degree.

2. Google+ is the main Interest Graph platform of only a minority of people I track. Kevin Kelly, another person I admire and whose thoughts I like to know, is an avid Google+ user and very rarely uses Twitter. But he's an exception. Most of the other thought leaders I track are far more active on Twitter than on Google+.

3. Facebook is an ongoing experiment, but right now it's too noisy as an Interest Graph. In my view, Facebook is the most innovative of the 3 companies in developing for the Interest Graph. However, it's also the hardest place to find the signal in the noise - because of those very innovations. In particular, Facebook's so-called "frictionless sharing" - where music you listen to or articles you click on are automatically posted into your Facebook news feed - is adding a large store of data to the global Interest Graph. However, because Facebook users aren't necessarily selective about what they listen to or click on, the Interest Graph data in Facebook is less focused than on Twitter or Google+.

The Winner

If I had to pick a winner of the Interest Graph battle right now, it would be Twitter. It is used by most of the thought leaders I track. It's easy to see what those people are interested in, by seeing which Twitter accounts and lists they follow. It's easy to search for things, using hashtags (although Twitter does have an issue with archiving data). Most of all, Twitter's very format lends itself to incisive, two-way discussions about things people care about: features such as the 140 characters per post, the ability to conduct a back-and-forth exchange with other like-minded people, the real-time 'thinking out loud' aspect.

Google+ has a lot of promise as an Interest Graph. You can do more detailed, thoughtful posts than on Twitter. You can utilize Google's unparalleled search to find topics of interest, then subscribe to those searches within Google+. However, as a digital map of what people like, at this stage Google+ is not as comprehensive or oft-used as Twitter.

So what about Facebook? After all, it dominates the Social Graph due to the sheer number of users it has: 900 million. There's no doubt that Facebook wants to also dominate the Interest Graph too. Proof of that is in the frictionless sharing, the relatively new Timeline that highlights all of that sharing activity, and other innovations such as allowing you to "subscribe" to Facebook users (typically utilized to follow celebrities and thought leaders). These are all great features, designed to help Facebook win the war of the Interest Graph. Which it may well do over time, but first it has to overcome the noise problem and the fact that most of its users' Interest data is still private.

Despite the premise of this article, this isn't a winner takes all scenario. Some people happily use all three platforms, optimizing for each one. Also it's often horses for courses. For example, Google+ may be better suited to you for some scenarios - like tracking certain topics in your industry - and Twitter better for your daily discussions about those topics.

Even so, most of you will have chosen to use one of these Interest Graph platforms more than the other two. I use Google+ the most for my professional musings, because it suits my style of thinking. Although I also love experimenting with Facebook's media sharing functionality. How about you: what tool do you use the most to track and discuss the topics you care about?

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