Build a social graph from your mailbox

The implicit web is all about analyzing information a user has generated as part of some activity, and giving them a new way of looking at that data, generating insights they wouldn’t otherwise see. The most common source of information is web browsing, which sites are visited, which links are clicked. There is a source that’s just as interesting, but nobody’s using it; your mailbox.

Who sends mail to you, and who you respond to, how often and at what length. If you take that raw data and plot it in a graph, with links between you and people you correspond with, you end up with a pretty damn accurate graph of your relationships, limited only by the extent to which you use email to interact with your friends and colleagues. What’s more, by using the frequency of correspondence, you can approximate the strength of each relationship, and by seeing who else is included in emails, have a sketchy idea of the links between your friends.

As well as a social graph, you can also look through mail for links to web pages. Each one of those can be treated just as if that friend had voted for it in a service like Digg, and can be added to a list of the sites recommended by your local network.

Why’s no one doing this, if it’s so wonderful? Because it’s really, really hard to get to that data. Web-based email services like Google Mail or Hotmail would be able to do it on the server side, but that approach requires a large existing user-base. An alternative I’m investigating is writing an Outlook Add-In to gather some of this information. This would restrict me to business users, and involves wrestling the COM beast to the ground to implement, but I should be able to reuse some of my Internet Explorer BHO work at least.

Funhouse Photo User Count: 1,552 total, 123 active. This is encouraging, another peak in the growth rate, and no public holiday to account for it this time. Perhaps the graph is becoming slightly less linear?

Event Connector User Count
: 41 total, 10 active. Not much change. I’m still talking with promoters, trying to arrange official support for another conference.

One response

  1. Pete,
    Great post. I couldn’t agree more. As we’re been talking to people about EventVue, we’ve heard lots of advice that we need to integrate with Facebook, Myspace and Linked-In. Of course, the problem is that the average 40 year old conference attendee isn’t on Facebook! Perhaps instead of expecting the older generations to switch to new services like Facebook, we should use the implicit web to expose the social graph that already exists in our email accounts.

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