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Google Laying the Groundwork for Identifying Latent Social Networks




google social graph api graphicHours after VentureBeat kicked off the latest round of social search speculations, Google announced the Social Graph API. The API could use information contained in files and links on a site (including FOAF and the XFN relationships meta data, which you may already be using) to identify social relationships between the people behind websites.

Like other meta data, this information is not generally available to visitors to your website (unless they view your source code). However, Google is quick to note that this data is already public and clarify that they will not be using private profiles or social networks to find relationships between people.

The XFN meta data can indicate relationships from everything to casual acquaintances to familial relationships to crushes. (But, uh, you might want to be careful about publishing that kind of info on your website.)

If you use WordPress, you may already be producing some links which include the XFN relationships meta data, specifically in your blogroll. When adding a link, below the dialog box for the URL et al. there’s a Link Relationship (XFN) menu (which is probably minimized):

blank xfn menu in wordpress

By checking boxes or radio buttons, the rel: field is automatically filled in with the appropriate attributes, for example:

filled in xfn in wordpress

This would generate the code in bold below:

<a href="http://www.example.com/" alt="quite exemplary" rel="friend neighbor parent">Example Website</a>

The simple reason why this capability has long been included in WordPress is that WordPress founding developer Matt Mullenweg was also among the authors of the XFN relationship meta data.

Now Google will begin using this data to establish and interpret not just linking relationships between sites, but the interpersonal relationships of site creators, including multiple sites authored by the same person.

Naturally, this is more germane to personal sites, where there is a single person behind a website who can have interpersonal relationships. (At least in my experience, companies generally don’t ‘date’ or have ‘crushes’.)

This of course makes us wonder what Google wants with this information. Will they begin promoting results to me based on who my friends are? Somehow, I just don’t think the people I’ve linked to on my personal website and identified as friends are looking for or [bureau of economic analysis] anyway.

But even if they were, why should Google assume that the sites that my friends in Ohio and Alaska find relevant for anything from weather to news to vacations would automatically be relevant to me?

For more information about the API, check out the Social Graph API. See also the full profile of the XFN meta data, including the valid values for the attribute, as well as coverage from Search Engine Land, ReadWriteWeb and Google Blogoscoped.

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  • http://www.marketingpilgrim.com Andy Beal

    Nice job explaining a complex announcement!

  • http://www.jordankasteler.com/utah-seo-pro-blog/ Utah SEO

    Great article. I hope 2008’s the year that XFN relationships and microformats really take off. This could give ‘em the push they need.

  • Jordan McCollum

    @Andy—Thanks, but I can’t take all the credit. I had NO idea what the heck it was until I read Danny’s article, then I remembered the WordPress thing and was like, “Oh, THAT’s what it’s for.”

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  • http://www.thevanblog.com Steven Bradley

    For the average website what would be the advantage of using the xfn data. I can understand if you have a social networking site that it would make sense to identify the relationship. But say I add a link to this article on my site. What advantage would their be for either Marketing Pilgrim or myself to identify some sort of relationship in the link.

    I can think of many more ways for a search engine to use the information against a site than I can see any benefit in the information.

    Am I missing something? It’s been known to happen.

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