With the social web becoming ever more complex with services becoming more demanding of our time do we really need a new destination to provide us with the illusive interest graph or would we be better served by enhanced functionality within existing services?
The biggest failing (if you can call it that) of existing social networks is that there is little emphasis on the interest graph: the organisation of your interactions around any given topic.
Twitter has its hashtags but, in the absence of a meaningful search experience, this only amounts to real-time trend identification rather than any true focus on a particular topic. Facebook has pages but these tend to be focused around a particular entity and there are lists but these are under-used.
Google+ has tried to address the issue with Circles thus enabling you to divide your contacts into discrete groups which can be topic specific but even this requires you to find people (often more by luck than judgment) and then try to fit them to a suitable circle. There is also no guarantee that you will only see items related to your reason for Circling someone.
In addition, Plus now has a decent search engine (as you would expect from a major search provider) and supports clickable hashtags but, while these searches can be saved or even shared, there is no notification system.
The new "interest network" from UberMedia, chime.in, is aiming to tackle the issue of the interest graph by focusing on the topic rather than the person and doing away with the shortcomings of those existing services.
It must be asked, however, whether the interest graph would be better served by enhancing the functionality of the services we already use rather than introducing yet another destination in an already crowded market.
People are entrenched within their network of choice and will normally find ways to bypass any service inadequacies in order to locate content that interests them so is the effort of managing another network worth it?
People or passions?
It is claimed that chime.in "wasn’t designed to replace any networks, but to enhance the social media experience with a platform tailored to a clear, specific need" - a convoluted way of saying it offers something others don't. Regardless of this bold claim there is a doubt in my mind as to whether the service is truly convinced of its own intentions.
Bill Gross, UberMedia CEO, argues that chime.in is different because you only follow part of a person, the part that interests you, but why are we following people at all? Since signing up my inbox has been bombarded by notifications of people following me which, while good for the ego, seems to be contrary to the whole idea.
We set up our profiles and specify our interests which determines what we see in our "Chimeline" then, when we post, we decide on the topics related to our content. By following an interest we will, therefore, see all items from others that are relevant so we shouldn't need to follow a part of a person (their updates to specific topics).
Despite being focused on the "interest" it seems that the network can't drag itself away from the follower model; perhaps it is feared that following a subject rather than those contributing to it is too unusual and we must be given a more traditional option in order to feel more at home.
Our mainstay social networks are hugely focused on the people so a change of emphasis to the topic could provide a refreshing new experience so, rather than resorting to an additional destination, how could existing services provide an interest graph within their current frameworks?
Anyone will tell you that Twitter needs to greatly improve its search as this has been sorely lacking for too long. While there may have been capacity issues in the past which meant that maintaining a large search index was an overhead they couldn't afford Twitter has put a lot of effort into improving reliability so there is really no longer an excuse.
A meaningful search experience is the first step in any attempt to build an interest graph.
Back in March I suggested a way that Twitter could go "beyond the hashtag" and employ a means of better tracking tweets related to a specific topic or event. After seeing the recent changes to the Facebook interface I have also wondered if Twitter could make use of a "ticker" of their own to facilitate the following of a particular topic, keyword or hashtag. Such a ticker could be housed in the media pane enabling the user to monitor a live stream without having to move away from the main feed much as you would watch a search feed in an extra column in TweetDeck (in fact this is the only reason time when I do use TweetDeck).
The continuing noises that Twitter is looking to simplify the service and unify the usage experience across different platforms could, however, put paid to any ideas along these lines.
Facebook have been expanding on the use of lists but these still focus on the individual. What is more promising is the recent news that the service utilizes keyword algorithms to group similar items in your news feed.
These algorithms could be easily applied to searches and, therefore, be able to identify content you may be interested in rather than people and notify you accordingly. Now that we can subscribe to the public posts of anyone who permits us these publicly shared items could help us on forming the basis of an interest graph.
Google+ has possibly the easiest task due to the existing search mechanism enabling us to save and share searches but, with the power of Google behind it, these saved searches could be set to crawl public data on our behalf. If Google Alerts can be used to monitor the entire Google database then, surely, a similar tool could be used to alert us to relevant content from within the confines of Plus.
Negating the need
With varying degrees of effort our main networks could provide a means for us to build the basis of an interest graph thus negating the need for an additional network to provide it. With our time and attention at a premium, the ability to perform all our tasks in one place is preferable to relying on multiple destinations; chime.in may be facing a difficult future.
Image by russelldavies