As Meerkat shows, Twitter's value is in the social graph

As Meerkat shows, Twitter’s value is in the social graph

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Meerkat is a simple app – it lets you live stream from wherever you are. A novelty at first maybe, like many digital tools it will take time to develop and find its true value for users – perhaps more citizen journalism than the endless streaming of conference sessions we’ve seen from SXSW. As people experiment with the app it will mature and the value it has will become clearer.

But what makes Meerkat work, and will allow this experimentation, is having an audience for your live streams. People will quickly lose interest if nobody is watching what they stream or if they have to work hard to find things to watch.

And that is where the beauty of using Twitter’s social graph came in – when people you follow on Facebook join Meerkat you automatically follow them; and when people who follow you do they follow you. A simple and effective way of giving the app every chance to grow and develop. Until Twitter shut them off, limiting their access to Twitter’s social graph.

Of course this doesn’t ‘kill’ Meerkat, although it may stifle its growth. It will force the app and its users to work harder – building connections and finding ways to discover content. And this effort is not to be underestimated.

The real value in networks like Twitter and Facebook is in the connections that its users have built up. This social graph has real value – it locks users in to the site (“all my friends are on Facebook”) and acts as a barrier to entry to new services (nobody likes to be in an empty room).

We’ve seen social networks develop by growing their user-bases – increasing their penetration in markets. With established players like Facebook and Twitter, and in established markets, the role has moved from growing an audience to maintaining the quality of that audience. This is why it is more important than ever that they protect access to their social graph as their critical business asset.

We’ve already seen the impact this protection is having on brands on Facebook – which must now pay to promote content to the fans they have built. The value in social networks is the map of connections between users – a value that we will only see the established networks work harder to protect.