Who Hosts the Largest “Social Graph”?

Valleywag pointed me to Fred Wilson’s commentary on Saul Hansell’s recent NYT piece, entitled, “Inbox 2.0: Yahoo and Google to Turn E-Mail Into a Social Network“. As readers of this blog know, I am a strong proponent of the notion that address books are on a collision course with social networking. (See my previous piece on Address Book 2.0.)

So, it is great to see the attention on this topic. But I have to say, the analysis so far has been very shallow. Web traffic is a lousy measure of a “social graph”. The question of who has the largest social graph should certainly include Plaxo, who, though new to social networking (and therefore not high on Comscore), is the custodian of an enormous social graph. Plaxo built up its social graph over the last five years, while operating the largest and fastest growing network of “networked address books.”

plaxo_logo_sphere_with_type

Plaxo hosts address books for roughly 20 million members and has a partnership with Comcast that will more than double the reach of their network. And Plaxo has managed to “sync” together the treasure trove of social graph data buried deep within a wide variety of tools and services, including Microsoft Outlook, Yahoo! Mail, Hotmail, GMail, AIM, and Mac Address Book. What all this means is that Plaxo is very well postioned to take advantage of the market opportunity created by Google’s OpenSocial initiative, which essentially levels the social network playing field.

So, while Comscore or Alexa let you see the tip of the iceberg, the massive untapped potential is currently below the waterline, hidden from view.

Fred also uses number of members as a proxy for size of social graph, but this, too, is an improper measure. By definition, the social graph is not a count of all the people in the crowd; it is the map of who is connected to whom. What’s the difference? The roughly 20 million members of Plaxo are connected to over half a billion unique individuals (based on who is in who’s address book). Such ties are not as strong as the one-to-one connections typical of social networks and business networks, but I think of them as a strong skeleton on which a true social network can be grown. Now, as Plaxo Pulse is starting to take off, I keep a close watch on the rate at which people are establishing connections (as friends, family, or business network). It will be interesting to watch as the worlds of address books and social networks do, indeed, collide.

[Disclosure: As my regular readers know, I head up marketing for Plaxo.]

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