A lot happened at the F8 developers conference last week, the most significant was changes to the Facebook GraphRank and the Social-Product Graph.

Instead of offering a single degree of freedom, to ‘like’ anything or remain silent, it will be possible for people to state (verb) + (noun) something. I have ‘read’ + ‘this book’. I have ‘watched’ + ‘dexter’. I have ‘eaten’ + ‘breakfast’. And, I hope, I have ‘bought’ + ‘this phone’. This goes to the notion of ‘friction’.


The term ‘frictionless’ was used a lot at the conference and this has significance.

Friction is resistance to sharing information. It’s caused by technology, experience interruptions, and by, yourself.

Let’s start with you.

There’s a pretty good model, put forward by Wendy Moe at the last INFORMS Marketing Science Conference, that people undergo two stages when interacting with social media. The first stage is considering if they’re going to say anything at all. The second stage is how they’ll moderate their opinion for the audience and their peers. A lot of evidence was put forward at the 2010 INFORMS MS Conference about the ‘need for self-expressiveness’ amongst individuals, and youth in particular. Your subjective opinion of ‘over-sharing’ depends a lot on your attitude towards self-expressiveness. Another way of saying that is sensitivity to privacy, or need for privacy.

Your perception of Mark Zuckerberg’s language around ‘expressing yourself’ is likely heavily moderated by that very same attitude. Do you feel the need to post everything you do, all the time? Do you feel the need to update anything at all?

You cause friction. Technology causes it too.

The like label on the like button is such a technology. The verb ‘like’ forces an editorial or an endorsement, and, applying that Wendy Moe model, if somebody were to share an opinion, it’s going to be moderated. You have only two options. Click like, and generate a social endorsement, or don’t click like – which generates no social signal whatsoever.

Reporting facts, without the editorial, ought to increase the volume of sharing. They can certainly increase the volume of data volunteered by reducing the self-censoring, self-moderation step.

The addition of objective ‘reporting the facts’ verbs will contribute a large amount of data to the social graph. And that’s not trivial. The volume of information about what somebody experiences will increase, and it will be organized through the graph.

Changes to the allow technology are another factor. The photo below caused Mark Zuckerberg’s heart to sink. It’s easy to see why. If Super Mario Bros was released during the era of Facebook, this is what you’d probably see. What a terrible experience.

The publish allow is common. It causes friction, and, it ruins many user experiences. It has its origins in privacy concerns. It’s at this point that a ‘utility’ becomes an ‘unwanted technical solution’.

Arguably, if you have an app from Netflix, or from RDIO, on Facebook, what you listen to will be added to your social-product graph seamlessly.

The Benefits To You, The User: Relevance

This information is arranged on a product-social graph. A graph is a mathematical representation of vertices and edges. You’re a vertex, and you’re connected to your friends and the things you like. You will also become related to the things you’ve read, games you’ve played, songs you listened to, and so on.

All of that information can be used to filter the newsfeed to surface relevant information. It should also enable data scientists to help you discover new music, better TV shows, and just in general have a better time with the long tail of content. The objective is better experiences.

You’ve been the beneficiary of such technology long before Facebook was ever created.

Consider how Google uses the web graph to generate relevant experiences, specifically, how to find content. Google’s key insight was to add information to webpages based on how they are connected to one another. They use this information, among many other pieces of information, to make recommendations to you on search terms. Google returns hundreds of pages of results for some words. Most people click on one of the top 3 returns. People are generally satisfied with the results returned by Google. Google’s algorithm is called PageRank, and it operates on Graph Data.

Facebook, too, uses an algorithm to optimize your newsfeed. It’s called GraphRank, and it will operate on more complex information. In theory, the more you share through Facebook, the better GraphRank will become, personalized to you.

The aim is to compete on relevance.

Competing on Relevance

GraphRank will be taught through user control. Users will decide who their close friends are and who their acquaintances are, and list them as such. Even though most people ‘don’t make lists’, many people will make lists if they figure they’ll get a return on that effort. Users can easily decide to censor those that share too hard or share too much. It may very well be the case that there’s no such thing as sharing too much, it may be the case of sharing not enough relevant information.

Brands, too, will have to compete more than ever on relevance. The degree of user control means they can slap a brand with censorship without ‘unliking’ them. The flip side is that never before has there been so much intelligence to understand an audience (non-PII). This linkage between analytical intelligence and communication strategy is better than ever.

It used to be that being boring was a good way to reduce risk. Being boring may actually be more risky. Nobody is going to be rewarded with endorsement and engagement by being boring. But what constitutes ‘interesting’, what constitutes relevance, varies by audience.

What constitutes ‘interesting’ can be observed directly from the product graph, especially with expanded linkages and data.

Privacy and Utility

When the product is free, you are the product.

Whenever I publish a web page, a blog posting, or put up a site – it is scanned and indexed by Google. Google helps people find my site. I am the product. But I get utility. I have the ability to suggest to Google not to scan my website (blogger excluded), however, I have to do something to opt-out, instead of doing something to opt-in. Of course, I run the other way. I use Google Analytics because it’s worth the value exchange.

Whenever I publish an update to Facebook or exhibit a valuable behavior, it is scanned and indexed by Facebook. Facebook helps people find things I like, and developers who create new apps will help me discover new content. I am the product. But I get utility.

So long as Facebook educates people, and people educate themselves, about the privacy they are exchanging to Facebook in exchange for utility, we have a value exchange. There is consent from the user. There is consent from Facebook.

Users ought to have control over what they share, and what they don’t. Utility will adjust as a result. Tradeoffs.


A lot happened at F8 to GraphRank.

There will certainly be a reduction in friction. There will most certainly be an uproar around privacy and informed consent. There will most certainly be an explosion of really awesome, useful, functionality forthcoming to Facebook.

One thought on “Facebook GraphRank

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