Yahoo's search for a social graph

Yahoo's search for a social graph

Summary: Earlier this week I posted about Yahoo's missing piece, it's lack of a social networking hub at the center of its people-centric approach to providing Web-based applications and services. Yahoo's attempt at a social networking hub, Yahoo 360, hasn't gotten any traction, and there is a constant flow of rumors about Yahoo and Facebook and more recently News Corp exchanging MySpace for a large chunk of Yahoo.

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Earlier this week I posted about Yahoo's missing piece, it's lack of a social networking hub at the center of its people-centric approach to providing Web-based applications and services. Yahoo's attempt at a social networking hub, Yahoo 360, hasn't gotten any traction, and there is a constant flow of rumors about Yahoo and Facebook and more recently News Corp exchanging MySpace for a large chunk of Yahoo.

speiser.jpg

At Supernova 2007, Mike Speiser, vice president of community at Yahoo, was on a panel discussing the social Web and I later talked to him about Facebook and how he plans to fill Yahoo's social networking void. Speiser came to Yahoo last year when it acquired his company Bix, which lets users compete online in beauty, karaoke, or contests.

He views Facebook as an interesting experiment worth looking at, which is an understatement that carries a past history of acquisition talks between the two parties.

"It's premature to declare Facebook a success," Speiser told me. "We are definitely investing [in social networking] inside Yahoo. There are many different ways to solve the problem...it's a challenge for the whole Web. Facebook has one approach." He added that although the atomization of the Web is creating more opportunities and innovation, and bringing many more players into the fray, few will emerge as winners.

Agreed. The question is whether Yahoo will be a winner as a social networking hub or as a set of applications and services that plug into external social networks...or both.

Speiser described search and social networks as dealing with two different problems. Search is more like the index of a book, with keywords with pages references. A social network, like Facebook, is like a table of contents, and more about discovery and easier navigation.

We know who is winning on the search front today, and if Google were to acquire Facebook, we know who would be one of the leading table of contents, at least in terms of user profiles and relationship connections, in this second (Web 2.0) round of the battle.

"We can be a giant table of contents for the Web," Speiser contended. "We intend to be one of the players providing a social graph."

In unpacking those two statements, I'll start with the social graph, a term that boldy surfaced when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg introduced his company's F8 Platform last month. He attributed the power of Facebook to the social graph, which he defined as network of connections and relationships between people on the service.At the launch of the Facebook platform, Zuckerberg said, “[The social graph] is changing the way the world works. As Facebook adds more and more people with more and more connections it continues growing and becomes more useful at a faster rate. We are going to use it spread information through the social graph.”

Speiser's broad take on a social graph, and table of contents, is to "make it so that each user who uses our product improves it for others." That is the ultimate network effect.

Speiser wasn't specific as to how Yahoo would become a giant table of contents and social graph. No product announcement forthcoming. He pointed to Yahoo Messenger as a social network, but its lacks the social graph of content and discovery that flows into services like Facebook and MySpace. Speiser mentioned Yahoo Groups, which has 100 million users, but again it's not a platform for building a viral social graph of relationships starting from an individual profile and integrating external applications as Facebook is doing.

During the panel, Speiser talked about using the billions of metadata bits and lots of parameterization and bucket testing (systematically testing a hypothesis with a random sample of at least 100 users) to improve the user experience and efficiency of Yahoo's sites and page real estate.

He described collaborative filtering--people who like this also like this--as "massively powerful," especially at large scale, where more data breeds better algorithms. "Collaborative filtering and social networking dramatically improve the experience of browsing," Speiser said.

Indeed, Yahoo is well positioned to mathematically leverage the actions of each user to improve Yahoo's services for other users.

But where is the complementary social networking hub, managing the network of connections and relationships between the 500 million people on Yahoo?

Topics: Social Enterprise, Networking

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6 comments
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  • Facebook a success?!? Damn Tootin'.

    interesting comments by Mike... altho i know he probably can't say everything he's thinking, he's one of the smartest folks over at Yahoo imho.

    re: facebook tho, i'd have to say that success has already been achieved -- dramatically so. the only question now is how big is that success:
    http://500hats.typepad.com/500blogs/2007/06/facebook-world-.html

    Microsoft & Google should decide now how much they're willing to pay... the price will only go up if they wait.

    - dave mcclure
    davemc500hats
  • Facebook is a success, jury is out on F8

    Dave, thanks for the kind comments.

    My point wasn't that Facebook "is not a success" (it clearly is a success by any objective measure), but specifically that it's premature to declare Facebook's *F8* a game-changer already. It's interesting, no doubt. But will it be the Web OS that many in Silicon Valley believe it will be (or hope that it will be)? Possibly, but maybe not.

    About 10 years ago many people declared Netscape the owner of the Web OS (especially those in Silicon Valley who wanted Microsoft to go down). Microsoft had other plans. A few years later the conventional wisdom was that Alta Vista would own search for the rest of time. You get the point.

    Facebook's move is interesting, but don't count Yahoo, Microsoft, Google, and MySpace (and some other new startup we haven't heard about) out just yet ;-)
    mspeiser
    • whether or not a long-term winner, f8 already a game-changer

      hmm... well, i might agree the game isn't over, but i would have to say by any measure facebook platform / f8 is killing it right now.

      and as far as a game-changer, well i'd be surprised if *everyone* at Yahoo, MySpace, eBay, Google, Amazon, and every internet startup & VC isn't thinking about it morning, noon, & night over the past 30 days. at least that's been the case with the 3 startups i'm spending time with, and most entrepreneurs & vcs i know.

      so you're perhaps correct the game isn't over, but the game certainly has changed -- significantly & dramatically.

      in any case, looking forward to seeing what Yahoo & others come up with. should be an interesting year :)

      - dave
      davemc500hats
    • social graph

      Mike,
      Thx for adding your comments...and agreed that it is early in the game...that is indeed what makes it challenging and interesting...

      DF
      dbfarber
  • Yahoo is a dinasour

    Facebook an interesting experiment? Take your head out of the sand Yahoo, 24 months from now Facebook will have a market cap greater than Yahoos. It is so sad to see such a power house comapny fall so quickly,
    cmadone
  • Yahoo FAilure

    This is going to be a sad chapter as Yahoo closes up. Their site is a vast gooey mess. You get lost an confused trying to do anything. It is a mess!

    they will not focus

    they will not create any more value for internet users

    their traffic will be picked off little by little

    they have WAY too much overhead, they are stalled

    Google is AWSOME and they know how to keep it that way while continuing to add features, applications and just plain VALUE to the internet user. Yet you go to the site and nothing! I love it.

    Like I said Yahoo is a mess, great potential but they look VERY confused, it is about creating extreme value to the user, if they don't someone else will.

    Like Dell, Yahoo has forgotten its route to success; quality and service. The stock market has a hand in crashing these internet companies just as much as it helps them, the management HAS to know how to navigate these waters.
    seanka@...