finding value in “the golden age of graph innovation”

I’ve been playing around with Etsy’s taste test. Before you click on that link, I should warn you that it could potentially cost you a lot of money if you have poor shopping impulse control. What this nifty thing does is get you (in a few well-designed clicks, choosing preferred items) to a selection of objects it thinks you will really like. And it works: out of the vast inventory of things for sale on Etsy, it knew right away to serve up birds, quirky illustrations and octopus-related items.

screen grab from visualcomplexity.com/vc/

I like the idea of a taste graph much more than I like the idea of a social graph. Ok, let me amend that: I like the idea of Etsy graphing my taste far better than I like Facebook’s ham-handed attempts to own my social graph. Etsy isn’t saying it has the final word on what I like, it’s saying hey, if you like these things, you will probably like these things also. This is pretty convenient for me and for Etsy, because otherwise I’d probably never find these things.

Etsy isn’t overreaching — it isn’t saying it knows just what movie I should see or what book I should read next (perhaps Hunch could help me figure that out, or LibraryThing, or check-in taste profiler GetGlue). Chris Dixon, one of the founders of Hunch, thinks the next few years may be the golden age of graph innovation. I hope he’s right.

I am not looking for one graph to rule them all. I’m looking for tools/services that will make it easier for me to discover things I’d like, and things that will make is easy for me to share discoveries with other people without feeling like I’m pimping a service or spamming my friends. I want to plug in all sorts of info — my twitter stream, the bookmarks I save with pinboard — as well as answer questions, or set some parameters, and be happily surprised by how eerily accurate the suggestions served up are.

If a service seems useful enough, I’d pay for help managing/sharing my graphs and the graphs of others. That is one of the things I use twitter for, albeit in a clunky sort of way. I think there is much room to innovate in this space, if people can get past the build-an-audience-get-lots-of-eyeballs-for-advertising model. That model is broken. It’s not that well done. (Facebook frequently serves up completely irrelevant ads, such as one for a dating service for folks older than I am, despite knowing my age and that I am married.) It’s boring. It’s not adding any value.

I am increasingly mindful of the notion that if you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product. I don’t want to be a product, though I may want help in finding great products, or telling people I know about great products. Folks who can make the distinction and build a service that puts me in charge of my information and the information about my connections — I want to see what they let me do and build with my graphs, what they make possible or just easy that was impossible or impossibly difficult before.

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