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A growing list of companies are making “interests” the focus of their value proposition: Twitter allows you to “follow your interests”; Gravity (AOL) “unlocks the interest graph”; Pinterest “organize(s) and share(s) the things you love”; Quora “connects you to everything you want to know about” — just to name a few.

Many believe the company that dominates interest networking will be The Next Big Thing (1) (2) (3).

But interest networking remains a bit of a mystery. What is it?

Interest networking is not social networking

Interest networking is often seen as an extension of social networking. Rene Reinsberg (MIT) describes the Interest Graph as “an online representation of individuals’ interests, with people and interests being the nodes of the graph.”

Part of the confusion here is that social networks are often leveraged to construct interest networks, but the end shouldn’t be confused with the means. By definition, a social network organizes information about people and their activities. An interest network organizes information around a set of interests, which may be yours and yours alone. Interest networks do not need social networking.

Collective vs. individual interests

Virtually all interest networking products and services are focused on collective interests, shared across groups of people. For example, Quora takes a collective approach, as does Chime.in, which lets users “build communities around topics.”

But the collective approach fails to recognize that interests are highly individual. It’s frustrating to have an interest in, say, classical guitar duet sheet music, only to be told, “Sorry, we don’t know anything about that. Did you mean Learn Guitar?”

Interest networking services need to manage the individual, unbounded nature of interests.

Transparent vs. opaque interest networks

Social networks don’t leave you with any doubt about who your friends are. Similarly, interest networks should make it transparent which interests they connect on your behalf.

Many companies are building black-box, opaque interest networks. When these services provide recommendations, they frequently have an almost-creepy feeling to them: We’ve recommended this article to you based on a statistical analysis of your usage. It makes the user wonder what the service knows about them.

Interest networking services should be absolutely transparent, enabling more human-like recommendations: Because you like the history and culture of Egypt, we thought you would find this article about Cleopatra interesting.

The Core Features of Interest Networking

In summary, interest networks should:

  • organize around interests, for people, not about people;
  • support very specific and individual interests, not just broad topics or categories;
  • be transparent in their operation.

If you’re interested in building your own interest networking solutions, please check out our developers site.

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