back to article Social networks may be imaginary

Eric Bonabeau doesn't mince words. "A lot of this talk about the social graph," he says, "is crap." Speaking to a small army of business-minded folk this morning at the annual San Francisco tech conference dubbed Supernova, Bonabeau argued that the world may be exaggerating the influence of so-called social networks. For years …


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  1. pctechxp

    couldn't agree more

    Social networks are crap, just an excuse to waste time.

    Cant wait till facebook goes titsup, there'll be a lot of Rackable kit going dirt cheap :)

    The alien, because if the Martians did land they'd think we're pretty stupid for spending hours in front of our PCs answering stupid questionnaires on films.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    No argument from me

    I bought into Plaxo and haven't seen anything from it by way of leads, productivity increases or in general, anything of benefit! I once passed a referral question through my network for someone else benefit, but nada for me!

    Having seen that I resisted Facepluke and Tweeter!

    Paris: Cause she knows the real meaning of "social networking", even if it is viral.

  3. Frank Thomas

    Oh good lets control that social interaction

    Methinks the gentleman is missing the point. Social Networks aren't supposed to DO ANYTHING, except provide a medium in which to he social. the point is not to sell stuff to the users, or accomplish any other goal.

    Damn business. they'd charge us for licensing just to talk to a friend if they could.

    Hey Profiteers! everything you've heard about the internet is false. leave it alone, so the rest of us can enjoy it. you won't make a red cent off me.

  4. Martin

    @ Frank Thomas

    Before you start business-bashing, who do you think paid for (and built) all the servers, routers and fibre the social networks (and the wider internet) depend on?

    Social networks *ARE* supposed to make money, thats what they were built for. They were certainly NOT built as a public good for you or anyone else to simply enjoy, whatever fuzzy feeling this delusion may give you.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Uh... Frank?

    Are you kidding me? Do you really think the folks who developed myspace, or facebook (et. al.) did it completely out of charity? Furthermore, if they did, they certainly have an odd way of taking usable space away from the user of said service, and filling it up with those bastard adverts.

    Personally, I don't think a social network business is anything more than maybe one or two really bright people, shadowed by an army of managers, directors and bean counters, who are, in all actuality, too lazy to hire any programmers to provide interesting content.

    The bright people develop the code to allow users to "create" web pages on that site, that the company later injects ads, in hopes that some idiot will accidently click on, for another 5 cents of revenue.

    In short, it's a scam at multiple levels, and any "worth" the company may be quoted as having is only worth the depreciated amount of their servers, after you deduct any monthly operating costs.

    Remember Angelfire, Geocities and even AOL? None are even interesting blips on the consumer radar anymore...

  6. Pyros

    I only subscribe to...

    ...the MonkeySphere theory of social networking.

    I mean, I know, oh, 20 monkeys--most of the time they're in pirate outfits and named Bob, that's part of the theory explaination don't ask--and if I see any more monkeys, they're pretty much strangers. Yet one of my monkeys may know THAT monkey as one of his 20 monkeys, and so on... You get the idea?

    But hey, we're all monkeys in pirate suits and named Bob--it's a matter of which boat we're sailing on, anyways.

  7. P. Lee
    Paris Hilton

    @Frank Thomas

    I think we have a definition "impedence mismatch".

    You're right, social networks aren't supposed to make money, they are merely a representation of connections between people.

    Myface and spacebook are not social networks, they're computer applications which seek to make money by injecting adverts into one of the communication paths used by social networks - IT. To that end they, oversell weak social connections (by trying to upgrade aquaintances to "friends") and devalue strong connections by replacing face-to-face communication with a quick dashed-off text chat. They do this because business in general and computers in particular are good at homogenous, repetitive things and rubbish at social nuance.

    The communication is further obfuscated with adverts and trivial quizes/passtimes in the hope that frantic activity will divert users from the sheer pointlessness of what they are doing and the large number of advert impressions.

    The question is less, "Are social networks making money?" and more, "Is trying to make money out of social networks acceptable to those involved and is it a viable business model?"

    I suspect the answer is that people dislike having their social network being used as a money-making opportunity. Therefore, any business model based on doing this is likely to run into problems.

    Paris, cos she's one of the few who has successfully turned her "social network" into a money-maker - without the benefit of a "likeness quiz".

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Social Networks don't doo anything

    Social networks are just a framework for building applications on

    Social Networks don't really do anything, but they "could" be used as a platform for some really interesting and useful applications. Just no-one has really invented any yet.

    My employer has it's own internal social networking site which I have signed up to, but without any applications, and on it's own it's pretty much worthless. However I can see the potential to create some pretty powerful colaboration tools to sit on top of such a framework.

  9. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Zurick Gnomes and Leprechaun Shenanigans

    "The alien, because if the Martians did land they'd think we're pretty stupid for spending hours in front of our PCs answering stupid questionnaires on films." ... By pctechxp Posted Tuesday 17th June 2008 19:58 GMT

    They'd also Realise the Opportunity for ITs SMART Control.... which would be Uniquely Human.

    What do you know of Aliens, pctechxp?

    You have an interesting tantalising moniker, pctechxp. Phresh Mountain AIR&dD Territory?

  10. Rosco

    Academic point

    It seems like Mr Bonabeau is making a bit of an academic point about what's interesting about social networks. He thinks structure is meaningless but that's not really the case. If you look into the work on network theory and in particular, scale-free networks, you see that network topology is extremely important to the function of a network.

    Scale-free networks are those where the frequency distribution of nodes with x arcs is logarithmic. Almost all nodes have very few arcs but a tiny few have huge numbers and those tiny few are extremely important. It turns out that lots of naturally occurring networks self-organise this way - social networks are one, the nervous system of the c.elegans worm is another. The 'hubs' provide shortcuts between otherwise disparate nodes so that you can traverse the network very quickly. The famous Kevin Bacon game relies on a few extremely prolific actors to act as hubs so you can traverse the co-acting network quickly through the hubs. In the social graph, research was done on the spread of HIV in the early 80s - looks like a very few extremely promiscuous individuals allowed the HIV virus to traverse the social graph. Extrapolating this to the field online social networking websites, it would probably be valuable to expend most effort targeting the hub members to spread messages/advertising virally. Sounds obvious but it only works when a network has a scale free topology.

  11. Matthew Ellen

    Bonobo (@Pyros)

    And as we all know, Bonabeau are the most social of monkeys!

  12. Paul Kinsler


    (1) It's usually Physicists who hypothesize spherical cows, since Mathematicians are too busy with obscure algebraic properties or whatnot to bother themselves with cows. I'm not sure we would need to simplify to spherical cows in order to approximate the milk yields, though.

    (2) There are many applications of the phrase "social networks", of which web2.0 marketing bollox is the least useful. There's some interesting work done characterizing the structure of a variety of real-world social networks; and no doubt a cultural anthropologist (or perhaps even an economist) will be along in a moment with some other usages.

    Social networks don't become imaginary just because some passing webtard can't see anyone making money from them. I dare say even an economist wouldn't make that mistake; but I suppose it's different for the business-minded.

    And: "setting up a network [...] is less important than what you actually do with it"? If you can somehow tune the structure of the network by biasing the way it's users behave, then that might well make an enormous difference to what you can do, or how effectively it works. Would pyramid selling schemse/scams work so well for the originators if they weren't pyramids?

  13. Fuion


    <--- Always up for fresh air, it's good for the lungs you know.

    "Zurick Gnomes and Leprechaun Shenanigans"

    ---> Wondering who wouldn't be dying to enjoy such wonders of the world ?

  14. Fuion

    @couldn't agree more

    "The alien, because if the Martians did land they'd think we're pretty stupid for spending hours in front of our PCs answering stupid questionnaires on films."

    ---> Would "Martians" be laughing at You even before landing?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You are not telling me ...

    that there are other humans on this net thing, I thought they were all AIs.

  16. Secretgeek

    I want a spherical cow.

    I had a dodecahedron chicken once.

    You should've seen the eggs.

    Ta daa!

    Nope that's it.

    I'll get my hemi-spherical butt out of here.

  17. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Horses for Courses

    "Sounds obvious but it only works when a network has a scale free topology." .... By Rosco Posted Wednesday 18th June 2008 08:05 GMT

    The Internet has no ceiling on scale free topology and it allows one access into every social order ......

  18. David Kesterson

    The Value of Social Networks

    Scrabble, or more specifically Scrabulous!

  19. Brian
    Paris Hilton

    Ummmm Spherical Cows?

    Maybe I don't know very many mathematicians, but if I asked any of them I know how much milk a cow will produce, they would be more concerned with current daily yield, or age of the cow. As for social networking, I would ask how many teenagers have committed suicide on a given site :) much more appropriate for determining how effective they are.

    Paris because she milked cows once, and everyone has pulled on her udders.

  20. Pyros

    @Matthew Ellen

    No kidding--bonbos are the only other primate that I know of that actually *enjoys* the act of procreation!

    Chimps are better at social networking, though. The problem is that we seem to outsource to orangutangs pretty most of the time.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RE: Secretgeek

    OK, THAT was humorous! Actually shot a little carbonated drink out my nose when I read that one... And while I'm not overly amused at the pain caused by co2 saturated liquids passing through my nasal cavity at near supersonic speeds, the laugh that followed certainly made up for the pain.


  22. Andy Warren

    A bigger splash

    What about the unmeasured impact of social networks on business, such as all the cctv and security firms that will be getting more enquiries to prevent the Myspace/GoogleEarth pool spotters from chucking a spherical cow into their kidney shaped paddlers.

  23. Paul Kinsler

    here's a social networking thing you can make money from ...

    ... if you sell booze, at any rate:

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