The Rise Of The Context Graph
Flavors.me hit the web just two years ago and with it the rise of a basic concept: it should be extremely simple for people to express their identity on the web in a visually compelling way. Instantly, numerous companies took note and either duplicated Flavors.me (e.g. About.me) or integrated flavors.me functionality into their own products and this trend continues today.
Yet a broader trend is just beginning to emerge: contextual identity. Flavors.me let’s you express your public context: those contexts that you are willing to share with everyone. Facebook and Google on the other hand enable you choose who you share content with. It’s too tedious though. That’s why Google+ circles are going to fail miserably: they are too time consuming to manage. Facebook friend lists already proved that most people won’t take the time to group their friends. Facebook’s latest attempts is automated lists, but it’s not even clear that those will work.
That’s why there is a massive opportunity for new products that cater to individual aspects of our identity. Dating sites, for example, enable us to express our sexual and relationship identities. Other sites will emerge that cater to other aspects of our identity.
Central Identity Management Has Failed
Throughout our lives we build relationships through shared contexts. A conference, gym, classroom, video game … anything! When contexts collide they can be both enlightening and awkward. On Facebook when you connect with someone from one context and suddenly realize they know one of your friends who you know through a totally separate context it can result in excitement, “Wow, how do you know so and so?!?”
It can also result in an entirely awkward experience: “Whoops, you weren’t supposed to see those photos!” Over the coming months and years developers will attempt to build new applications that cater to these various contexts. We’ve already witnessed the beginning of these attempts with varying degrees of success. Some applications define the context while other applications serve as the context itself.
Applications like IntoNow and MisoTV attempt to connect you to those people who you’d enjoy watching television with. Zynga attempts to connect us to those individuals who we enjoy playing games with. Path, attempts to connect you to a broadly defined inner circle that you’d want to share the personal moments of your life with. This is actually a contrast to Instagram (believe it or not) that has built a community for people who want to share photos with each other.
For many on Instagram, the application has become the context, for Path that’s not the case. Google+ has also been an attempt, albeit a somewhat awkward attempt, to define all of those contexts through circles. Facebook has attempted to combine all these contexts, and while it has worked with varying degrees of success (we all have a friend who quit or won’t join the site), they’ve done the best job of any company on the internet.
2012 And Beyond
Since Facebook and Google aren’t yet able to effectively manage all aspects of our identity, an increasing number of developers are going to begin building systems that cater to pieces of our identity. Clearly this has already begun (see the examples above), but it’s about to explode. For Facebook, Google, and Twitter, they’ll be forced to battle with users’ perceptions of their context in relation to each product.
Apps will connect us to each of our various contexts. People we’d want to connect with online, offline, and combined, segmented into various contexts. These applications will attempt to fill the gap where Facebook falls short. Facebook (and even Flavors.me to a certain extent) will continue to serve as a sufficient overview of all our public context graphs in a single location.
If there was one prediction that I’d be willing to make about next year, it’s that a new wave of applications will enable us to more efficiently connect with various individual context graphs. Those companies that can most accurately reflect our contexts will be able to generate the most revenue or at least will be acquired as these contexts make up our identity, something that Facebook, Google, and all the other internet giants want to own.