Introducing the Material Graph

The social web and the easy availability of information about our relationships to other people has changed the way we use the web. And it is beginning to change the way we live our life. We believe that other kinds of information about people and the world they live in has similar disruptive potential. A rather obvious example is information about “the world of things”.

Over the course of the last 10 years many of us have mapped our relationships to other people in digital form. The so-called “social web” changed not only our ways of using the web. These connections and the fact that they are stored digitally – easy to use and easy to analyze by us and our friends, by humans and by algorithms – has begun to influence our daily lives in ways, we are only just beginning to understand. Almost everything on the web has become ‘social’. Everything is “shared” with close and distant friends.

This can be seen most easily in the younger generation. Rituals of friendship, meeting and mating habits have already changed profoundly. The change is spreading into all age groups and cultures, though.

Easy availability of information changes people, changes society.

This is not only true about information about social relationships.

 

THINGS

Things are an essential part of our life. We use things every day. Some things are important for our survival. Others help us to get something done or to make our life more comfortable, more pleasurable. Things are part of how we express ourselves. Things that others own, wear or use, play an important role in how we see these people. And it influences what we own, use, want or buy ourselves. Sometimes we want to be similar. Sometimes we want to differentiate ourselves.

Things define our culture and maybe humanity itself. The ability to use things, tools, is what differentiated our early ancestors from the animals around them. And when we think about human cultures of the past thousands of years, often we see things in our mind: tools, weapons, sculptures, jewelry, buildings, clothes, furniture …

We work hard to be able to afford things. Some of us collect things, we order things and we have special places for certain things. Buying things is fun for many of us, of course. Wearing things, using things can be enjoyable, too. And often, just knowing that we own some thing can be a source of pleasure and pride.

Things even have a cycle of life. We first buy them – or build them or get them as a present. We own them, and after a while we might get rid of them. And sometimes we fondly remember things we have used and possessed many years ago. Or we keep them even after they have been broken.

Have you ever thought about how many things you own and why? Some people strife to own only a very limited number of things. Others want more, more, more When people move into a new apartment or home, that’s one of the rare moments in which you realize what you own. And you might notice, what is still missing. Or what is too much.

However we might think about it, things are a very important aspect for our personal lives and for our culture as a whole.

The information about what we – or others – own, wear, use, love or would like to own – now, in the past or in the future – is not easily available, though.

We would like to change that!

 

The material graph

The question we’ve asked ourselves a couple of month ago is: how would our life change, if the material graph – the information about our relationship to things– would become accessible as easily as the social graph is now. We believe that the resulting change will be profound – maybe as disruptive as the change the social graph is causing in our society.

We believe that it is time to see what happens if we go a step further and if, not only the data about our relationship to things becomes available, but also this is shared with our social graph.

I have expressed our belief that the availability of – and easy access to – the material graph will have a disruptive potential, which might be as big as that of the social graph. There are many good reasons to believe in this potential. I will elaborate on some of them later on.

But, even if you agree to this assumption, the question remains, how this graph be created. The social graph wasn’t “there” some five or six years ago. It was build over the years – by Facebook and others. We thought about this question and came up with a rather simple – and quite promising – idea: like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Xing asked people about their relationship to other people, we will ask people about their relationships to “things”.

We will start with asking them to tell us more about the things they really love!

Tell the world about the things you love

The idea really is rather simple: You see or think about something you love and own or would like to have. Y0u take a picture of it and post it, describing why you like this thing so much or what role it has played in your life, if and why it is important, what memories might be connected with it etc. etc.

This is already happening on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube on many personal blogs etc. When you do this you get likes, favs, retweets and some comments here and there by people who saw it in their timeline. That’s nice and fun to do. Many people do it more or less regularly. Just think about the “unboxing videos” for new tech gadgets or the famous shopping “hauls” on YouTube. People seem to have a natural desire to praise the stuff they like. And the only reward they get – and expect – is the feedback from other users. This is easy to do – but it also has some major disadvantage:

  1. These praises get kind of “drowned in the noise” from other posts. Whats more, certain kinds of praises seem to attract negative feedback. That’s no fun at all for someone who has invested a considerable amount of time and energy into such a praise.
  2. The stuff being praised is rarely specified precisely. Therefore praises can’t be analyzed and researched easily. Praises of popular stuff, like the latest track by Katy Perry or the new iPhone, can be found with some precision just with a full-text search. But more exotic stuff is really hard to find. Search engines are just no too good at this job.
  3. Neither you nor your readers  get any real insightson the stuff you have posted. You just get alittle feedback from people who saw it and were willing to react. They “like” it.That’s nice … somehow. But is this everything, which can be derived from the vast amount of data generated by millions of users of platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Youtube etc.?

We think that things should be different!

Just imagine …

  • you post a picture of the new pair of shoes you have just bought, and we will show you what kind of shoes you friends like to wear, who else has a similar taste to you and what shoes s/he has in her wardrobe.
  • you see something you would love to own, you post it and we tell you, who of your friends already has it – or another product of the same brand. Wouldn’t it be interesting to talk with him or her about it?
  • you just have read the greatest book in your life, you share this this experience and we tell you immediately, who within your circle of friends loved this book, too – or other books from the same author. This person might have more common interests with you. Or s/he might have interesting suggestions for more good reads.
  • we find out that someone else, somewhere on the web, praises most of the same stuff like you do.
  • we tell you that most people who love a certain brand of coffee love a certain brand of wine, too. Maybe you should try it!?
  • that some day you don’t need to know where you have placed your glasses, your wallet or this set of miniature screw drivers. The material graph will know. And your mobile phone or a product like Google Glass will lead you to the right location.

This is, what thin.gs is all about. Not everything will be implemented in the first beta, of course. Some aspects of our vision won’t even be possible with the current state of technology. But soon they will be.

Stay tuned!