My brain has been spinning for days thinking about the library’s role in the social graph. It started when on a recent TWIT podcast Kevin Rose, of Digg, mentioned the social graph. I’ve heard that term bandied about before, but when Rose said it this time I wondered if I really knew what it meant. A Google search led me to information on the social graph and the confirmation that this graph is really another way of talking about six degrees of separation. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, is often quoted when people write about the social graph. For example, “Zuckerberg attributed the power of Facebook to the ‘social graph,’ the network of connections and relationships between people on the service. He said, ‘It’s the reason Facebook works.'”

OK, so the social graph is about how people are connected to each other. Now the idea of the social graph is in the news because of new tools like Google Friend Connect and Facebook Connect. The idea behind these tools is that people will be able to connect to each other across sites and not only site by site. The way it is now, I sign into Facebook and connect with my friends that are there. But, those friendships don’t transport to Twitter unless I add all of my Facebook friends to my Twitter friends – as long as those friends are signed-up for both services. For quite awhile people have been saying it’s a no fun to have to recreate a personal social graph for every service.

Google Friend Connect, and Facebook Connect, are going to make that recreation of the social graph disappear. The New York Times explains it pretty well:

It’s the friend list that makes things interesting. Say you go to a Web site on a specific topic (Google’s demo is a site for guacamole lovers). Once you log in, you can see the names and photos of all of your friends who are members of that site. Hmm, you say, I never knew that Joey was a guac fanatic. Click, click, click. You might be able to see all of Joey’s comments on the site, his guac reviews, and his killer poblano corn guacamole recipe. Maybe you will even be able to send him a message with a question about why you were never invited to that Cinco de Mayo party.

The social graph is going to get even more automated – which is a good thing.

Now, the question really is, how does the library fit into this? If you think about it, couldn’t and shouldn’t the library be the center of every community’s social graph both virtually and physically? Isn’t the library what everyone in a community has in common? It’s the place that people (teens) can go – virtually or physically – to connect with people, information, programs, etc.

Zuckerberg said the social graph was what made Facebook work. Is it also what makes libraries work? And, if it is, how do teen librarians make sure they are paying enough attention to the graph? Perhaps by:

  • Paying attention right now to Friend Connect and Facebook Connect as they are developed and not after they’ve become a part of the lives of the teens, and others, that the library serves.
  • Starting to think right now about how the library might integrate the Connect tools into their own web-based services.
  • Brainstorming right now about the ideas of the social graph and the various Connect services with colleagues, teens, community members, etc.
  • Starting to think right now of the library as a social networking facility – in both the physical and and virtual realms – and promoting that idea to teens and other members of the community.

The social graph is not new. It’s something that’s always existed. But, perhaps libraries considering how they fit into the social graph is new. And, if you think about it, teens are all about the social graph. They talk about who knows who. Who is friends with who. Who likes who. And so on. It makes sense then that if libraries are more aware of the social graph and how it works, in the physical and virtual space, then libraries will be better able to support teens.

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.

3 Thoughts on “The Social Graph, Google Friend Connect, & Libraries

  1. Interesting thoughts. I think your problems or questions are large problems and worthy of spending a lot of time solving. Isn’t the library losing its relevance?

  2. Allan, it’s hard to know where to begin answering that question, largely because it’s hard to gauge the context from which you ask it. Are you asking as someone who sees libraries as relevant, but worries that a younger generation no longer sees them that way? As someone who sees libraries as irrelevant himself?

    First of all, I find it interesting that you say “the library” rather than “libraries.” I read “the library” as some kind of monolithic institution, implying that all libraries have enough in common that we can generalize about them all. I prefer to use the more general “libraries,” because I can see how vastly different my childhood public library is from, say, the digital collections at Harvard.

    And it’s precisely those differences that keep libraries relevant. Yes, individual libraries that fail to adapt to the changing information needs of their populations may be losing their relevance. But to say that All libraries are losing their relevance seems a bit shortsighted to me. Many library users can still meet all of their needs at a local public library just by checking out books. Many library users have needs that extend to online resources and remote reference. Many young adult users have needs that include social networking and multimedia creation and sharing. *All* of these needs can be met by libraries (and librarians!) who understand their populations and work for and with them.

  3. TRMite on May 16, 2008 at 9:33 am said:

    I agree with MK– “the library” sounds rather scary and very antiquated but on the other hand if you are talking about “my library” (the one in my neighborhood) then there’s nothing antiquated or irrelevant about it at all.

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