viewing a wall of portraits
The social graph has not yet fulfilled its promise to surface connections in content, people and tasks in the workplace. Microsoft Graph is in the best position to succeed PHOTO: geralt

The idea of the social graph has provided the underpinnings of social collaboration for the past 10 years. During that time, much as been made of the power of the social graph and how it will transform work as we know it. For the most part, however, social graphs have been used by vendors and collaboration systems administrators to prove that knowledge workers actually use social collaboration products such as enterprise social networks. The real power of the social graph — the power to connect people and resources together for the benefit of the company — has gone unrealized.

It’s important to remember that this differs from the effect of the social graph on social media. LinkedIn and similar networks and services help connect businesspeople and job hunters, Facebook is an important way for old friends and family to stay in touch, and Snapchat is a primary communication tool for the under-30 demographic. These products are driven by a social graph, but their primary purpose is individual communication, not business collaboration.

An Idea in Search of a Purpose

Microsoft Graph has the same challenge as every other social graph: It’s a good idea in search of purpose. Making good use of Microsoft Graph meant adopting Yammer or maybe getting some suggestions about content. Microsoft’s Delve offering is an attempt to help knowledge workers find interesting content based on what others were working on using Microsoft Graph. It is, unfortunately, yet another application that knowledge workers must use rather than something that is a just a part of their daily work lives.

What knowledge workers really want is to have content recommendations, communication and search functions baked into their everyday applications. This is what Microsoft Graph is doing now. It’s part of every Microsoft Office and Microsoft Dynamics application. It creates opportunities for knowledge workers to search intelligently from whatever application they are using, and to add that application’s output to the total knowledge of the graph.

Microsoft Graph thus becomes the river running through several communities. No matter what application you use most — which community you belong to — the knowledge of the others using different applications is available. This has the potential to meld together disparate types of communications, such as real-time commenting in Office, customer conversations in Dynamics and team communications in both Outlook and Teams.

AI Enhances Search

Microsoft takes the social graph a step further by employing artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance searches for resources — content and people — that are relevant. AI helps decide which information is presented first, in theory, reducing information overload.

Microsoft was not the first company to add AI to its social graph or to use a social graph to tie together different applications. Jive, SAP, IBM, Oracle and others have done so in the past. What is different in Microsoft’s case is the breadth (and sheer popularity) of the applications that Microsoft Graph affects. Microsoft Office is the most ubiquitous application suite in business and it now has a social pipeline running through it.

It remains to be seen if social graph technology will live up to its potential and fulfill its promise. Microsoft Graph, however, has the best opportunity to do so.