The Social Map Is All About Me

Written by Mark Sigal, a digital media and Internet platform entrepreneur who has done eight startups, four of them as a co-founder.

Call me a cynic, but there has to be more to the Web 2.0 story than accessorizing my Facebook page with one-dimensional pseudo applications. Sure, muscle memory may lead us to congregate, but I believe that the future is about satisfying our need to aggregate.

Isn’t this the moral of the story regarding iTunes, iPhoto and the iPod/iPhone? Namely, that whether blogging, YouTube’ing, Flickr’ing, Digg’ing or tweet’ing, the “forever” bucket is the bucket consisting of my content, my contacts, my contexts and my conversations.

This suggests that regardless of where any of these informational breadcrumbs may originate, each of us needs to think of ourselves as the center of our respective social map universes. In other words, the social map — in order for it to be considered a map – needs to systematically connect the dots between me, my content and my network. A map-lication of sorts.

But it suggests something else as well. That regardless of where my content and data originate, I have a right to pull this data into MY sandbox, a sandbox where I track my threads, organize my media, filter my views and push my content wherever and however I please. While this position seems to raise a virtual middle finger to almost every service provider’s terms of service, it should not be viewed as heretical.

After all, was it heretical that Google became Microsoft 2.0 by spidering the web of third-party web sites, and selling advertising on top of search returns generated using someone else’s data? I certainly remember wondering if Google was crossing an imaginary line between search/organize and monetize, but the market rightfully saw it as a democratizing force. Not only did Google-ification disrupt entire industries (like media and packaged software), but it operated like a tornado on business models, distribution, marketing and product lifecycles across many segments. History suggests, however, that it created a rising tide that lifted a lot of boats.

I bring Google into this equation for two reasons. One, to cite a tangible example of how the market goes about defining propriety and property rights in the information age. Two, because I believe that Google, as a benefactor of these rights, will need to share with consumers more of its social map of user clickstreams, engagement metrics and their correlates if it is to maintain the public trust. Akin to a credit report, I think consumers have a right to this data.

Therefore, what I envision is a consumer-friendly dashboard and analytics application that allows me to visualize the bigger picture by seeing the same contextual relationships that Google sees. Think zeitgeist-type reports that provide answers to the Top 10 questions relevant to MY universe (e.g., who read, commented, shared, how many) packaged in such a way that I can ask what-if questions to my heart’s content. To me, the social map is all about enabling applications that allow consumers to take back control of their data, help them to connect the dots between their various interests, orchestrate their brand and systematically engage their audience. This is the promise of the information age.

Given that, if information is the electricity of this era and information ABOUT information is the richest energy source of all (just ask Google), then shouldn’t we have universal access to this type of data? Heck, if Google wants my heart and soul vis-à-vis their AppEngine initiative, they need to give me a unified way to call upon and interact with all of the global data functions that they have cataloged (web pages, blogs, images, news, video, email, maps, calendars, etc.).

Facebook, Yahoo, and Microsoft: Couldn’t you disrupt the disrupter by doing the same? Is there any reason that you wouldn’t — or shouldn’t?