Shashwat Pradhan Shashwat Pradhan

Social Graph Politics

Social Graph Politics is an interesting new issue that startups and indie developers are facing. To build a social community is not an easy task, since users need to connect to their friends. Some apps use your address book, then there are some that try to piggyback APIs from bigger social networks so you can find friends. It isn’t a simple road for these smaller apps that are trying to build their social graph by leveraging a bigger graph.

This is what happened to Meerkat. Meerkat is a video streaming social app, that was built on top of the Twitter platform. Twitter had acquired a similar service called Periscope before Meerkat was launched. Then Twitter cut off Meerkat’s access to their social graph just before SXSW. The ‘find friends’ API access was revoked.
This is not the first time it has happened, in the past Instagram cut off access to the popular Tiiny app. Very recently even PHHHOTO, the gif to video looping app lost its ‘find friends’ access from Instagram as well.
The social graph is the most unique data set possessed by a social network. It takes years to build and make sense of. These smaller apps are trying to exploit these lists to build a new social graph in a quicker way. Even Facebook cut access to competition apps like Twitter, MessageMe, Vine and Wonder.

Services like Tinder, building a multi million valuation based on Facebook’s social graph is pretty exciting to see. Its probably not cut off since it makes a case of higher engagement on Facebook. Most of the social API Terms of Service require Reciprocity. They want users to share back experiences on their own networks.

Legally, these API cuts are fine through the API platform policy enforcement. Terms like these are often used to protect social graphs:

You cannot replicate the core user experience of Instagram.com
You may not use Facebook Platform to export user data into a competing social network without our permission

On the other hand, apps like Instagram are using Facebook’s social graph to grow faster. Whenever a Facebook friend joins Instagram, Instagram gives the user a notification about it. This keeps users more connected to Instagram.

This can be pretty scary for startups planning on leveraging or piggybacking on a social network’s graph. With a few hours of window of notice, apps can be crippled or even completely cut off from these social APIs. On the other hand it makes sense for the bigger social networks, since their social graphs mean more than the nodes and links for them. It is interesting to see Meerkat also bringing out their API. Being on the other side of social graph politics, I’m sure Ben Rubin and his team will make sure Meerkat is an open and fair platform for developers.

Sign up for our monthly mailing list