Matching Your Social Media App With The Right Social Graph

Secret launched for Android yesterday. Keen to try it out, I was extremely disappointed that it “runs” on contacts. As it turns out, the intersection between my contacts and the people who use Secret is a single digit, which provides a rather disappointing Secret experience.

Secret wants my contacts

Secret wants my contacts

I should have known this would happen. My phone contacts are people I call and email most often. They include doctors, tree-trimmers, printers, schools, restaurants, and, of course, family and friends. Of this motley crew, I don’t really expect any of the first group to be on Secret, I only expect my close family and friends to be there. Sadly, these people are not even on Twitter, so I really don’t expect them to join Secret any time soon. They’re great friends, they’re just not part of the tech scene.

This experience with Secret got me thinking about who we call “friends” on social media. Social media apps like to call everyone you’ve ever had any sort of contact with a friend. That seems like too broad a definition. Twitter specifically avoids the term and LinkedIn adopted the business-like “contacts.” Jelly uses my Twitter followees as a basis for who sees my posts and whose posts I can answer and it calls these people my friends. This became a bit absurd when a few weeks ago I was notified that my friend @Caterina had just joined Jelly. As much as I admire Ms. Fake and wish her well, I don’t consider her a friend, and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t see me as one either.

Secret is probably correct in choosing to define friends as those in your phone contacts. After all, these are the people you are actually in contact with. If we were to plot our social graph on a scale of how intimately we know our contacts on each network it would look something like this:

Friends scale (2)


We can’t call all these different groups, with their different level of intimacy, “friends.” Maybe We need as many names for friends on social media as the Eskimos have for snow!

More importantly, if you’re starting a social media application you have a crucial choice to make regarding the social graph you want to use. First, you need to decide if you want to have your users re-create their graph on your app or use another application’s list. With the former you have a lot of work ahead of you! With the latter you’ll need to decide what application you’d like to import from. From the above (excluding LinkedIn because as far as I know they don’t allow other applications to user their contacts) make sure you choose the right list or lists based on the appropriate level of intimacy for your application. For Secret, using phone contacts makes sense. For Jelly, using Twitter contacts also makes sense.

Just don’t call them all friends.



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