Inverse Social Network

In thinking about what I really want out of a social network (that is not currently available), I really want the inverse of what a typical social network currently is.

The State of Today’s Social Networks

Roughly speaking, today’s social networks are all about allowing an individual to share information with the rest of the world (pictures, contact information, blog-like thoughts, etc. ) and communicate with “friends” (or receive communications from friends). Clearly, there are different flavors of these networks — LinkedIn serves a different purpose than Facebook — and so the features they highlight and the usage patterns of these features are going to be different.

What’s the problem and what is missing?

The problem here is that people will automatically filter what they’re willing to share to the lowest common denominator. If you are “friends” with your boss, your mom, and your best friend and you don’t want to share everything with all of them, chances are you’ll pull back and limit what you share. Clearly this is an issue unto itself but I won’t touch that because I think you can get around this with groups and group level privacy settings.

This lowest common denominator effect does highlight something else though, and that is that there is clearly a lot of information missing from someone’s profile. More precisely, all of the information I know about someone else is missing from their profile and in many cases this is the really critical information about someone.

For example, if I know my boss’s kid’s name but he doesn’t want to reveal that for the whole world to see on his LinkedIn profile, I actually have a unique piece of information that is quite valuable. Or, if I have a casual acquaintance who has let me know his hometown but who has not publicly offered this information, again I have some unique knowledge about that person that I may want to remember.

Inverse Social Network

Rather than seeing a page of what someone is willing to share there is a lot of information that I know about people that I would like to merge with the information they’re willing to share. This way what you end up with when you’re looking at a profile page of person A is a complete snapshot of everything you know about that person. With a simple search and tagging feature I think this could be really powerful because I would be able to remember everything I ever knew about someone. If I’m going to have a meeting with a client, I can pull up their page and see everything I know about them. If I’m going to see a friend from out of town that I haven’t seen in 6 months and I have no idea what his brother’s name is, I can look it up.

And I may even want to share what I know with other people who may find it useful. So if I have a group of friends whom I trust, I may want to share information about my boss or one of our mutual friends so that we all have access to the same information. I think this sort of sharing would make people afraid but there isn’t much you can do to stop it in the first place. If I tell my friend what my boss’s kid’s name is and he happens to remember it, that pretty much accomplishes the same thing today.

I could imagine this being integrated with an email client as well so that I can easily reference information about people I’m emailing, and perhaps being a browser plug-in so that the information is available while I’m viewing their facebook profile, myspace profile, or linked-in profile…maybe with some greasemonkey or just a simple window overlay that slides in and out easily with a key combination on the keyboard.

I think this would be a huge win for anyone who has a lot of meetings — namely anyone in the business world.

Who Should Build This?

I think he best candidate is probably LinkedIn. They have the right demographic of users and it would fit in nicely with their existing social network. It would also allow them to move into having more of a browser and desktop presence, and if it gets popular enough on the desktop/browser they would end up with the really interesting side effect of knowing which profiles on different social networks are actually the same people so you’d end up with an uber-graph of people connected to each other.

The other type of company that might benefit from this is a startup, exactly because if they end up with good penetration, they would be able to overlay friendships across different social networks on top of each other and create linkages between different social networks. I don’t know how you would monetize that off the top of my head but it seems like useful data.

So someone please go build it. Thanks.

3 thoughts on “Inverse Social Network

  1. Problem with this approach is that you don’t know what the other person want you to share about him/her. Maybe you know that your boss’s kid name is Joe but maybe he doesn’t want your other friends to know this fact.
    And without the sharing part you can’t call this a sns.

  2. Dan,

    I agree you need this sharing aspect and I think it should be in there. As I point out in the post, the fact your boss doesn’t want your friends to know his kid’s name matters but it only half matters because it’s something that you can already do via an email or on the phone. The reason it only half matters is because if it’s sensitive information that he didn’t want people to know, just like in non-inverse social network communication, if you’re the one that let people know this information and he finds out then you lose his trust.

    So, for example, I wouldn’t share that information with the whole world, but I would share it with my spouse.

    In either case, sharing or not, I think the base feature of tagging and storing information about a person on top of their social network profile is something I’d love to have in LinkedIn or as a browser plugin…I might even pay for it if the user interface were clean enough to make it unobtrusive.

  3. A “Stickies” like app for facebook should do the trick for jotting down the extra info about your contact that you’d like to store.

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