Where’s Colin?

Don't blog, just writeYou may have been wondering why there have been no posts since November. The simple answer is I am not blogging but I'm still writing...

I have decided to take a break from the requirements for perfection I place upon myself here and just give myself the freedom to write about anything, without pressure.

For now, you can catch up with me on Google+ where I am conducting a #write365 project to write something every day.

I hope to see you there.

Image by Sarah Reid

Where’s Colin?

App.net broadcast channels and an SOS.

What are ADN Broadcast Channels, what could they become? Could a variant be used to reduce the noise and save our streams?

App.net BroadcastAt first glance, App.net's new Broadcast feature could be seen as just an RSS replacement; dig a little deeper and you might see some parallels with Twitter's emergency alerts but what exactly is it?

Dalton Caldwell describes broadcasts over at the App.net blog as follows:

"A Broadcast is a new type of message that is always received as a push notification. A user only receives a Broadcast when they have explicitly subscribed to a Broadcast Channel. No "promoted content", no black box algorithms, just a simple way to subscribe to valuable information that might otherwise get missed in a busy feed or overloaded inbox."

The idea is for anyone to be able to publish and subscribe to push notifications about anything as long as it can push alerts to a broadcast channel via the API.

Do we need more notifications?

You may be forgiven for wondering why we would need yet another subscription/notification system and, on the face of it, I would agree but Caldwell makes an important point when defining how broadcasts should be used:

"A good Broadcast Channel will send at most 1-2 Broadcasts per day, and most likely even fewer. A successful Broadcast publisher will only publish the most important and high value messages to their subscribers."

We respond more positively and consistently to notifications than to items contained within a pool of feeds so a system to reliably deliver important information that subscribers will both see and act upon is desired.

App.net is designed to act as a standard, open social platform (the emergence of the Twitter-like Alpha was largely a proof of concept) so the potential is for us to receive various notifications from anywhere on the web and have them all appear in the same place. Using one app to manage notifications - regardless of their source - makes far more sense than the current scatter gun approach requiring us to switch between multiple apps and services.

The intention is not to be yet another source of notifications but the source.

Beyond broadcast

PushMy immediate reaction in response to broadcast channels was that the process sounded similar to my idea for push curation last year?

While broadcasts are intended for high value, low volume notifications (no "promoted content", no black box algorithms) I see no reason why the model could not be expanded for the purposes of social curation. Along with the targeted channels we could also have broader, more topic focused, dynamic subscriptions.

Perhaps we could set up channels based on user-created filters and the App.net Passport application (or similar) would let us build these filters from posts based on a range of criteria. If we are willing, I also don't see why we could not subscribe to channels that are based on recommendations and algorithms.

When Google Reader was closing I said that it was a perfect opportunity for ADN to show it wasn't just a Twitter clone. I also suggested that RSS functionality could be incorporated within a social network using Google+ as an obvious candidate.

Wheat from the chaff

While Broadcast aims to rescue the important notifications from the chat, we sometimes also need to rescue the chat itself from the deluge of links and shares.

One of my big criticisms of Twitter has been that it rapidly became a sea of links - the company calls itself an information network rather than a social one - so could a version of broadcast channels serve to keep curation within a social network but separate from the primary stream?

We like having curated links within a social network as it means we can get all of our news and conversation in one place but if curation overwhelms the social element, as it has done on Twitter, we start to lose out. A broadcast style arrangement could help us view exactly what we want if combined with better display and filtering options.

Maybe regular curators could use broadcast channels rather than sending shared content to the stream or links shared by "designated curators" could be automatically filtered. Normal client applications could include our subscriptions as well as our usual feeds - viewed separately or integrated based on personal preference.

Just the beginning

App.net still suffers from being considered an ad free, developer friendly alternative to Twitter rather than the social platform it actually is and Broadcasts is the first big attempt to demonstrate its possibilities.

Social news consumption has been touted as an RSS killer for a few years but never quite achieved it. I can imagine, however, that a derivative of Broadcast could become the mechanism for "push curation" letting us rescue our streams and still keep up to date with news or important updates via the same network.

App.net broadcast channels and an SOS.

Hop: first impressions

Hop claims to transform the email experience: can it live up to the hype or does the execution fall short of the promise?

HopA number of mobile applications are attempting to reinvigorate our use of email; AOL's web-based client Alto sought to improve the experience with better categorisation and easy access to all attachments (but in an interface that, at times, looked strangely reminiscent of old versions of Lotus Notes) while Mailbox aimed to help us to power towards inbox zero on iOS.

More recently, Hop (formerly known as Ping) has stepped into the ring with the ambition of truly transforming how we deal with email by treating it more like instant messaging.

Get in the queue

It seems to be in vogue that applications are soft launching with users held in a queue while the infrastructure ramps up to cope with them. Mailbox started the trend and were lucky enough to be acquired by Dropbox who could better handle the scale involved.

Hop, on the other hand, were willing to admit that they initially dropped the ball at launch and things finally got moving after a couple of false starts: problems scaling to meet demand causing slow movement of the queue and then the legal wrangling with golfing equipment manufacturer Ping which prompted the change of name.

The legal issues meant the launch of Hop was delayed and this time was spent developing "a new and improved version" but my initial impressions are that the app still feels unfinished.

Using Hop

As mentioned above, Hop tries to change the way we think about and deal with email by treating it more like a conversation in a messaging app but not all email can, or should, be thought of in this way.

At first glance the default email UI is a bit unintuitive and seems messy compared to certain other clients, especially the clean look of Mailbox.

Hop: a conversation with no emailHop lets you toggle between an email list view (Incoming) and a "conversations" view (Chats) but, regardless of which view you are in, all mails seem to be treated as being in conversations or threads even if they are not. For example, deleting a mail leaves you in the conversation view for that sender even if the other mails are not related. If there are no other mails from that contact Hop still keeps you in a blank conversation (see right) with no messages rather than returning you to the Inbox.

While we are on the subject of deleting mails, there is no quick way to do so and you are forced to open an email, long press on it then select the trash icon from the resulting toolbar. As with some other actions in Hop there are too many steps involved to perform simple tasks. You can long press an email in the list view to toggle read/unread but perhaps this should be expanded to include other actions.

Zero no more

Having used Mailbox as my primary mail application for a while I have definitely been converted to an inbox zero kinda guy, consequently there are a couple of issues with Hop that leave me wanting. Firstly, there appears to be no "mark all as read" option or, if there is, I can't find it. Secondly, there is the ability to toggle the view between all messages or unread only by long pressing the view selector at the top of the app but this setting is only temporary and the state does not persist when switching from the message list to conversation list.

It also appears that Hop doesn't properly support Gmail's structure correctly as archived mails still appear in the Incoming view unless you archive them again within the app itself.

One other annoyance is the need to tap the option to view the full message on long emails - it reminds me of being on a Blackberry and does not seem entirely reliable, especially when there are multiple emails in a chat.

Chat

Obviously, the unique selling point of Hop is that it treats mails as instant messages but for this to work all parties involved need to be using the application so that proper real-time messaging functionality can be enabled; convincing someone to switch their mail client will be difficult. I'm a self-confessed geek and early adopter and am having a problem envisioning myself using Hop over Mailbox so, if I'm not yet convinced, I can see more mainstream users wanting to switch.

Until you are in a proper chat the email experience feels clunky and treating all mails like items in a chat feels wrong - it feels as though everything is being forced through one workflow.

The effect is also somewhat ruined when exchanging mails with a non-Hop user who has email signatures attached.

Procrastinate

Like Mailbox, Hop gives you the option of saving mails for later with the ability to assign items to three different categories: couch, desktop and passholder. There is no explanation of the options and it is currently unclear if they are merely flags to highlight messages for you to manually browse or form the basis of a reminder/recall system like with Mailbox.

I get the impression it's the latter.

Sending, or not...

I'm obviously missing a trick (at least I hope I am) but sending mail seems far more complicated than it should be. On hitting the compose button I am shown a few recent contacts with a search box but no ability to enter an address that is not in your contacts.

Surely, this can't be right?

What about those addresses we just want to fire off a quick one-time mail to? Do we really need to add every address we ever want to mail to our contacts?

Update: Paul on Twitter advises that you can enter addresses not in your contacts by typing in to the Contact Search box and waiting for it to pop up "Add address" but this is far from intuitive.

In summary

Hop probably suffers from being a bit too late to market. Other email clients have better interfaces and more intuitive controls for handling emails.

Where Hop shines is in the chat-like conversation view of email threads but not all emails are equal. Hop seeks to make email more like messaging but we do not interact with every sender in the same manner and, just because mails come from the same sender, it doesn't mean that they should be treated as part of the same conversation.

Although the app is divided into two "views" (Incoming and Chats) you feel that everything is being treated as part of a chat and you lose the differentiation between the two modes. It's almost as if the Incoming list view is superfluous to requirements but, at the same time, is a necessary evil.

With a sleeker interface, more intuitive controls and a better distinction between incoming mails and chats, Hop could be an effective and enjoyable email/messaging client. I am a big advocate of the unified inbox but Hop's execution falls short of truly achieving this. I appreciate the move to treat emails more like messages but including all communications with a contact in the same "chat" feels inherently wrong

Hop includes the ability to invite others to try the app but, until its shortcomings are addressed and the need to queue (you want to be up and running immediately) is removed, I can't see it being widely adopted.

I had every intention of giving Hop a fair crack as my default mail client and I really wanted to like it but the more I use it the more unusable it seems.

Hop: first impressions

Thoughts: building a new global village.

"Social as a quality is still something we're trying to (re)discover..." +John Kellden

BuildWe are social animals and throughout history have gathered in groups for various needs: protection, food, social companionship. Recently, however, we have been less social as a species than at any time in our history.

20th century thinking, self-absorption and technology have made us isolated within crowds but we are finally learning to use that technology and social tools to rekindle that old flame (albeit virtually) beyond political, societal and geographic limitations - rebuilding a new global village with 21st century social presence and collaboration forming key pillars.

The internet replaces the garden fence and our "neighbours" could now be anywhere.

Image by Karin Dalziel

Thoughts: building a new global village.

The social jigsaw.Comments

The social jigsawSocial
/'sōSHəl/
adjective

  1. of or relating to society or its organization.
  2. needing companionship and therefore best suited to living in communities.

Social is a series of shared experiences.

We join networks to communicate and share data with our peers. We may gather in subnets (communities or groups) to better manage resources but there is something more fundamental:

Social is building a jigsaw.

Social is sharing little pieces of you so that others might fit them together and see the full picture - our individual jigsaw, but there is the wider scope.

We identify our corners: our starting points, a base from which to grow.

We find our edges: the connections to others and work out how they fit to establish a social framework.

We recognise shapes and patterns so that we might see how we can build this framework together.

We might think that we are imposing our own structure on the network, defining our own topology but, in reality, we are trying to find our place and, in doing so, uncovering the bigger picture of which we are all a piece.

We don't have the box lid when we start out so don't know how it is all supposed to look. In fact, everyones part of the jigsaw looks a little different even though we are sharing some of the pieces.

Flux

Our jigsaws are never finished as we are always able to add more pieces, move sections we have built to establish their proper place and take pieces out when we realise that they do not belong.

Using social we are organising new communities beyond the influence of politics or geography, outside of the old narratives.

This post originally appeared on Google+ here.

Image by craftivist collective

The social jigsaw.

Does the IPO herald a new dawn for Twitter?Comments

How can Twitter grow to satisfy investors after the IPO? Is change essential, will it foster much-needed engagement or does it come at a cost?

TwitterOver the past couple of years I have found myself going in circles when writing about how Twitter might develop; ideas that seemed fanciful wishes might actually become a semblance of reality. In the run up to its IPO, the company is making the news on a regular basis with much of the focus around how it will make money for potential investors, if at all, and whether a new design or functionality may contribute to this.

When the company's S-1 filing revealed that there were only around 50 million monthly US users and that mobile growth seemed to be stagnating (a worrying sign for a "mobile first" company) talk, obviously, turned to growth, where it might come from and how it could be achieved.

Mainstream

Some tech news outlets took to wondering if Twitter would ever become mainstream but, as I wrote before, being mainstream isn't just about the number of users but exposure to data and how engrained into our daily routine a service can become.

Just as when Google+ was accused of being a ghost town, seemingly low monthly active users isn't necessarily cause for alarm just yet (numbers did increase slightly in the latest figures albeit at a reduced rate) but the network does still need to expand its user base and this is indeed a challenge.

As Josh Costine pointed out over at Techcrunch Twitter's very nature could be part of its problem.

I first asked if Twitter needed to change at the beginning of last year and, while it is widely acknowledged that filtering the main Twitter feed would be a bad idea, you have to wonder about other options to both present and consume the data.

Visual

It was reported recently that Twitter is working on the next, more visual, revision of the service with new mobile apps to enhance the user experience. Part of this reworking is said to be the removal of the #Discover tab in favour of a more media led main feed. If #Discovery is to be removed, how much of its functionality is going to pass to the primary stream?

Part of my original idea for change was iteration of the #Discover tab and for it to become the default view - the main, unaltered feed would still be available. Are we seeing the network take a similar approach but by merging #Discover with the main feed?

I have no doubt that #Discover would have been far more popular if it had not been a secondary view.

Contradiction

Twitter falls victim to contradiction: it knows it needs more engagement, which is why we have the conversation view, but the current appearance is not very engaging. I have previously referred to it as being "awash in a sea of links".

At the risk of repeating myself, there needs to be enhanced discovery to allow people to find interesting content. In this context many tweets would become almost comments on those discovered items - a ready-made conversation starter.

The new @eventparrot account illustrates that although Twitter is already a real-time broadcast network it needs to make better use of the data and actually get it in front of people. By sending notifications of breaking news events via Direct Message you not only engage those who are currently online but also, because many will have either email or SMS alerts set up for DMs, draw people back to Twitter to see what's going on.

The company now also allows you to receive DMs from anyone who follows you without the need to follow them back first. This is opt in (at least for now) and is obviously designed to increase engagement (especially for brands) but could be a double-edged sword as it leaves the door open to increased message spam.

It would appear, however, that Twitter may have tried to preempt this as some are reporting that most links can no longer be included in DMs, although this could be a glitch or the first signs of a complete messaging revamp.

It's in the cards

Twitter CardA new visual approach will make much greater use of Twitter Cards and the network has been sowing these seeds for a while. Things could go further.

If more media is going to be available pre-expanded and visible in the stream then Twitter could work with e partners to provide better text summaries of news items and, maybe, allow more characters.

We are not online 24 hours a day and often miss breaking news (especially in other time zones) so why not utilise cards to summarise key tweets while you were away? Resurfacing popular or breaking content from when users were offline could be a good way of kick-starting a new wave of engagement.

Management

As has been demonstrated time and time again, people are usually terrible at managing their social circles: lists are underused on Twitter, Circles are poorly managed on Google+ etc. To counter this could Twitter benefit from employing Facebook-esque smart lists? Would automatic classification of some of our connections into pre-defined groups help us manage our feed more effectively?

Twitter placed the hashtag firmly in our minds but has since seen its implementation surpassed by the likes of Google+ inserting up to three related hashtags automatically. While Twitter has maintained its simplicity this could have been working against it.

The network could take advantage of the automatic application of related hashtags for enhanced discovery and extend the conversation especially when a tweet is identified as relating to a trending topic.

With an increasing amount of data appearing outside of the body of a tweet can the network start adding meta data of this nature to cards? It was always argued that all data had to be retained as parts of the tweet body because of those using the network via SMS but with the increased prevalence of smartphones running applications capable of displaying this data is it time for Twitter to give in or, at least, offer a two-tier service with available functionality scaling to your method of use?

All will be revealed

Twitter has been trickling out new small features regularly in the run up to IPO no doubt in an attempt to convince the market that it is innovating and has more tricks up its sleeve.

It is unlikely we will see any major changes before the company goes public as there is a danger that drastic action could negatively affect the opening share price. Although this will be a risk at any point post IPO, after the Facebook fiasco, there is a need to make a good initial impression.

Twitter has plenty of options to modify the service in an attempt to increase engagement but it all depends how far it is willing to go without over-complicating the service or alienating existing users.

Does the IPO herald a new dawn for Twitter?

Jungian archetypes in the social age.Comments

Collective Unconscious - Jungian archetypesDoes the spread and impact of social media allow us to redefine the archetypes behind the core of our personality and behaviour?

Jungian psychology proposes that we take on the traits of established personality archetypes - patterns and images that define our behaviour; derived from the collective unconscious and a counterpart to instinct.

Once an archetype is imprinted upon us it is modified according to the experience of the individual and cultural influence but the archetype remains as the central core to our personality.

Collective unconscious

Does the collective unconscious exist? Is there really a reservoir of primal knowledge and experience that we all tap in to or is it merely a derivation of instinct from prehistoric times?

We might wonder what's the difference?

Are personality archetypes simply a natural product of parental, societal and cultural influence?

If personality traits are reproducible across social, class and cultural barriers then what does it matter where they come from. Just as eusocial species like ants are imprinted with their roles in the colony are we, too, imprinted with a base, instinctual purpose but one which has become diluted due to evolution?

Does social change us?

The rise of social media on a global scale causes us to reassess our interests, our behaviour and our relationships. The meaning of the word "friend" became diluted as our social circles widened and our sphere of influence increased.

Suddenly we are part of a global village with global concepts, global trends and global concerns. Our day-to-day experience is no longer limited by physical location or restricted to a tiny fraction of the population. We share ideas across social and cultural boundaries which would have been previously thought impossible so are we changing?

In the social age are we heading in a more eusocial direction with crowdsourcing turning us into temporary colonies with a natural division of labour according to our archetypes as opposed to enforced division according to power or status?

Knowledge is power

Does direct access to knowledge and the thoughts and experiences of others via social media and the internet now allow us to define new archetypes or redefine our own nature?

If archetypes are modified by parental, social and cultural influence is social media - despite its global impact - merely an additional cultural influence forcing us to remould the archetypes according to our experience?

As we evolve so the collective unconscious should evolve with us; surely, it is not an intransient thing but a fluid amalgam of what it means to be human. With technology and social media changing our thoughts, behaviour and relationships the collective unconscious should, over time, adapt to match the human experience. At what point do we cross a boundary and an existing archetype become sufficiently moulded as to form a new genus?

If we as a species are changing (culturally and intellectually, if not physically) then how long before the traditional archetypes no longer apply?

This post is a rewrite of an original discussion on Google+ here.

Image by Justin Davila, Wikimedia Commons

Jungian archetypes in the social age.

Twitter going mainstream by not being social.

Not a social networkIt's hard to believe that it was over five years ago that I started talking about social media's dream of going mainstream.

I said that it would happen when social services became part of everyday life, part of what we normally do and sat invisibly in the background.

We can talk all we want about having billions of accounts but numbers are only part of the story; we need to look at how services are used. Twitter, more than the others, seems to finally be achieving this new status with the likes of TV agreements (making it the second screen network of choice) and the recent announcements of instant NFL replays and crisis alerts.

By being a data channel rather than a social channel (albeit one that allows for social interaction) Twitter is positioning itself as a bite-sized traditional media style service for the Internet age.

Context

Service updates such as the recent conversation view keep us in the social mindset but the new ethos leading up to the IPO involves making Twitter a point of discovery for anyone with or without the need to actually be social.

Social discovery is something I've been going on about for a while, especially in the context of Twitter. The service has needed a way for new users to be able to find interesting content and things that matter to them in order to invest in the platform and, possibly, start tweeting.

The #discover tab started moves in this direction but didn't iterate as much as expected. The rumours that it will be shelved in a future update is, therefore, not that surprising but a better alternative must be found.

Why Twitter?

You can see what Facebook was trying with Home: altering the context by taking your social content outside of the social sandbox. Facebook was also first to have strong connections to the 'normal web' with the Open Graph so why is Twitter the social network that seems to be making the biggest "mainstream" inroads?

There are two factors, in my opinion, which have caused Twitter to lead the way:

  • its innate simplicity, even after UI & service changes, and
  • the deals it has done for content originating outside of the network

Here is the news

Twitter made it's public mark as the go-to home of real-time, crowd sourced news as far back as May 2008 when a massive Earthquake hit China. On the ground reports from normal people "as it happened" far faster than normal media channels could manage made the world sit up and take notice of a service that had been previously seen as just a geek playground or a passing fad.

I remember watching Robert Scoble collating all the information he could find and retweeting it to the rest of us mere seconds after being published - it's a small world on Twitter!

Events such as this led many to view social, especially Twitter, as an RSS replacement years before Google decided to sunset Reader. Not only could you follow the accounts from your favourite blogs (who would be tweeting their posts) but get the thoughts of others and a wider context all in one place.

Bring this right up to date and you have shared links served up within Safari on iOS7 - social news without the need for a social app. Some have criticised Apple and Twitter for tucking this away in Safari Favourites but they are thinking "socially" rather than as Joe Public - there is a different mindset at work.

By the back door

I used to say that social would go truly mainstream via the back door (by incorporating it into our normal daily tasks) and this certainly appears to be the way we are heading with the current shift in focus.

Twitter is embracing the non-tweeters with content while Google+ seeks to expose itself to a wider audience via it's commenting service. The trick is to latch on to whatever people already enjoy doing and add a social element without placing too much of an imposition upon the user.

Twitter seems to be closest to finding the right balance.

This post is an updated version of one that originally appeared on Google+ here.

Image by whatleydude

Twitter going mainstream by not being social.

A social paradox.

This is the first post in which I will be looking at the ideas of motivation and self-determination in social media, less of the "what" and more of the "why". What affects our behaviour and how can we resolve our internal motivation with external influence.

Fork in the pathSocial appears to be heading along two discordant paths: one where identity and the individual are less important as discovery takes deeper root, against a need to be identifiable for systems such as authorship and influence.

What is obvious is that we come to social (and the internet as a whole) from very different places and for different needs; what's good for the goose is not always good for the gander.

Social platforms must accommodate both paths so that creators and consumers, storytellers and audience can meet in the middle - find a common ground on which to build their relationships.

But, herein, lies a problem: how to weave both paths so that all can conduct their journeys in their own way?

Search and discovery

Search and discovery are two distinct sides of the same coin; traditional search supplies an expected answer to a specific question, nothing more - you get what you pay for.

Discovery, however, leaves things open to chance, leaves us to stumble across gems beside the path that we might not have otherwise found; those serendipitous moments of realisation and recognition.

Despite what some quarters would have us believe, search is not dead and search engines are not facing extinction but search on its own is not profitable, search is not truly able to surface patterns or interests. Search needs identity to move to the next level.

All paths lead to semantics

Search engines are trying to coerce users, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs in the hope they will entice us to the same endpoint even if our paths vary. Knowledge Graph data, related authors, social results, they are all designed to catch the eye and draw us away from basic blue link searches.

Linking search to social networks introduces identity but doing it in such a way that we log in for one and stay so for the other - one account for all.

Without realising it we are feeding search engines with a feast of our interests, our behaviour and highlighting patterns which, perhaps, we were not consciously aware.

Interests, context, semantics, discovery, impulse: these are profitable and we are exposed to temptation.

The social paradox is, therefore, not that we walk different social paths but that all paths lead us to the same end despite the direction of our journey.

Image by hockadilly

A social paradox.

Thoughts: Twitter conversations

Twitter conversationsTwitter recently introduced an update to make it easier to identify and follow conversations "in stream" linking related tweets by a blue line and placing the tweets in chronological order (first tweet on top).

We are used to the reverse chronological nature of social streams but, to follow a thread effectively, it needs to emulate how we normally read text: all together and from the top down.

An enhanced conversation view should be welcomed but has it gone far enough? Is anything more possible in a stream-like context? By introducing the new feature Twitter has already broken convention so why not go further?

Softly, softly, catchee monkey

The new conversation view need not be the end of the line and could herald further changes in future. twitter, however, has to be careful and not rush too radical a change.

How could we move on from here? I have written before about different ways to implement more conversational structures within Twitter:

  • beyond the hashtag -> could be achieved with modified event pages
  • native chats -> could be achieved with modified event pages
  • buying Branch -> spin out conversations based on a tweet but within the context of Twitter

It is widely recognised that the Twitter feed does not suit everyone and it has never been a very strong conversation platform. In fact, the busier it gets and the more people you follow the harder it is. This is why Twitter's move to group conversations in a more obvious visual manner is essential.

The whole point of "social" media is talking to people but the Twitter feed makes that hard so that we can end up with a broadcast of contextually redundant statements and a sea of links. For the casual user this doesn't offer much value.

Twitter conversationsI went on record in the past to say that I will continue to use Twitter despite finding more utility elsewhere but the inability to have decent conversations, as opposed to somewhere like Google+, has limited my usage. It is harder to feel involved on Twitter when you are not part of a regularly conversing group.

Short and sweet

The decision to stay with the 140 character limit has been a subject of discussion for quite some time as many feel you can't have a proper conversation in such short bursts but, with a proper conversation view this need not necessarily be the case.

Social conversations tend to follow a status + comments structure and this is what Twitter has been missing. The new conversation view is certainly a step in the right direction but I still feel that the service could be bolder.

Any change to an established paradigm is obviously going to be divisive - people don't like change - but a change such as this (and subsequent user comment) shows the fickle nature of the tech press who first hailed the feature before later comparing it to Twitter's Quick Bar which was universally lambasted and later removed from the iOS app.

Thin Blue Line

The current UI change might not be perfect and will most likely be modified in future iterations but it does show that Twitter is taking conversation tracking and discovery seriously; it has to.

Personally, I hope that this is just the beginning and that more advanced views appear in future, possibly akin to my earlier suggestions.

Thoughts: Twitter conversations

Author Rank and the changing face of Facebook.Comments

Social networking is big business and much is made of the positions and strengths of the major players such as Facebook and Google.

I was recently sent an email by Vincent Schmalbach promoting his post "Author Rank: Larry Page's Nightmare" in which he likens Facebook's EdgeRank algorithm with the concept of Google's Author Rank.

I cannot agree with the starting point of his piece, for the reasons stated below, but he does raise a few interesting questions.

EdgeRank is not author rank for Facebook

EdgeRankEdgeRank is an automated relevance engine based on behaviour: it observes who we interact with, what we like, the types of post we most engage with, etc. and works to show us more of the same thus hoping to pique our interest and enhance our engagement - the overriding aim is to remove irrelevance and provide a better experience in our News Feed.

Author rank (according to patents) seeks to determine the relevance of individual authors to specific search queries and promote those with the most authority within search results. EdgeRank is far more personal.

Once Open Graph data is available via Graph Search, however, a form of author rank could be employed by surfacing web content with the most likes/external Facebook comments as relates to the search query and this is where Vincent's notion of transferring "EdgeRank to web search" comes in to play but, as it stands, this will be more personal than a strict Author Rank.

Search

As I have said in the past, Facebook is outsourcing its search engine index to users via Open Graph but, again, it is a relevance engine: it is not an index of everything but an index of everything that mattered enough to Facebook users that they felt compelled to Like or comment.

Author Rank coming, YodaOne thing Vincent and I do agree on is that Bing's social search initiatives could be a serious competitor for Google with regards to Author Rank and Open Graph data from Facebook could play a large part via nodes, connections and relationships. Unlike Bing, however, Facebook is not currently after definitive external data sources but about likes, interests and influence.

There is massive potential within Facebook but it exists in a state of dichotomy; on one side we have EdgeRank and Graph Search promoting relevance but, on the other, Facebook is constantly criticised for the complete lack of advertising relevance as though our interest data is being completely ignored.

Work is needed to make better use of the data held by the social behemoth.

Facebook's changing face

Much of Facebook's problem is that its social model, the traditional friending model, is becoming less relevant in the wider context of other services across the social web.

Social platforms have an increasing propensity towards discovery rather than just connecting:

  • Twitter's #discover tab and continued use of hashtags
  • Instagram and Foursquare explore options
  • Google+ communities, automatic and related hashtags

While it is seen as copying other services, Facebook is having to change and adapt to the new social paradigms and this is what we have started to see recently. Be it something simple such as Subcriptions or, coming up to date, Graph Search this is now not the look of a network that relies solely on people connecting with those they already know.

What not who

No identityDespite what we may tell ourselves, the business of social is increasingly less about existing relationships but more about establishing connections or edges and what tiny signals might possibly be inferred or extrapolated from even the most innocuous of actions.

It's not who you are but what you do, where and when you do it, who you do it with and how they share that experience.

Facebook used to care who you were as that determined why family and friends might want to join and connect with you; your real identity was important. Now, however, things are shifting and changing focus.

I said a while back that Twitter didn't care who you were, Facebook cared a lot and Google wasn't bothered as long as you were consistent. The reality now is that all social properties require that element of consistency so that users can be effectively targeted with advertising etc. either directly within the network or within connected services.

The need to know exactly who we are is diminishing as long as we always have the same identity, be it real or not.

The role of social

So, if identity is not strictly as important as it was, social platforms will have little interest in becoming true identity providers but merely identity services. Rather than wanting social identities to be our digital passport it needs to be more our entry ticket.

Take your seat.

Author Rank and the changing face of Facebook.

Is Facebook reinventing its image?Comments

Random NetworkIs Facebook being forced to reinvent itself adding, new features to reinvigorate its user base and placate the disaffected youth?

I have made no secret in the past that I am an admirer of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his vision for creating a socially connected world.

After the Facebook Home announcement in April I wrote:

"While I am not a big Facebook user I am fascinated by the principles of network science so the company interests me because it displays the most obvious adherence to these principles both in structure and terminology. Networks are about people and the connections we make with those people rather than the means of that connection."

Facebook suffers from having to accede to the business requirements needed to keep the company funded and the resultant advertising is a big turn off to many users.

Activity monitoring and the Open Graph supply the network with data about our online and social behaviour but we are still in the relative infancy of the social business model. Facebook appears to have problems either targeting us with relevant advertisements or, perhaps, getting relevant advertisers signed up with which to target us so needs to placate its users in other ways.

Drama

Recent studies have shown that teens have waning enthusiasm for the Facebook due, in part, to "stressful drama" and there are often jibes on other networks about the behaviour and ignorance of Facebook users so the findings are no surprise.

While relationships are the real social currency, users are increasingly taking to social networks for their supply of news and information about current events; social media even plays a part in shaping those events so it is understandable that networks should want to exploit this behaviour.

Facebook is looking to do just this in a number of ways.

Reinventing interaction

Facebook hashtagsFacebook's Graph Search aims to readily surface information related to a specific query but this goes way beyond just people. Being able to find interests, places, restaurants and local businesses all with the added benefit of social recommendation is a powerful departure from existing relationship based behaviour.

As I have previously suggested, the implementation of Graph Search could have an effect on user behaviour; if it is so simple to expose our actions then such a system might encourage some to moderate their behaviour. This would obviously benefit Facebook's reputation as a place of discourse and reduce the "drama" experienced by its members.

The introduction of hashtags had been rumoured for a while and its recent inclusion serves to add a new dynamic to the Facebook experience.

Hashtags are simplistic in nature on Twitter, allowing users to easily follow a specific topic in real-time. Google+ has now taken this one step further with auto-tagging and related tags which provides enhanced, more serendipitous discovery.

Facebook will be aiming to combine both as it takes a slice of the real-time conversation pie whilst iterating its hashtag implementation to facilitate enhanced discovery to act as a perfect counterpoint to Graph Search.

Newsfeed or news?

Facebook RSSAs is the way of the social web, rumour once again suggests that Facebook might be looking to further expand its remit by adding RSS consumption functionality to its toolset.

When Google announced that it would be shutting down Reader I suggested a possible way that Google+ could incorporate RSS feeds to replace it. Could it be that Facebook is moving to entice over Reader users who have not yet moved to another solution?

Although social networks, via user curation, can do a good job of disseminating news we are not on permanently checking our feeds. Subscribing to RSS feeds allows us to catch up with specific sources at our leisure so perfectly compliments the real-time flow of social.

Grow and adapt

Facebook has changed from its humble beginnings; it has moved from being solely the domain of university students to friends family and more via pages and subscriptions - it's not just for friends anymore.

The new design - which has yet to roll out to all users - and recent introduction of new features would seem to indicate that Facebook is trying to encourage a different breed of social networkers to use its service - those who are more focused on news, discovery and the intricacies of networking.

While the pressure is on to increase revenues via advertising and other initiatives there is equally a pressure to ensure that the user base is happy with the service. With everything that is happening this appears to be Facebook's biggest challenge and the long term fate of the network depends on getting it right.

Images by OpenBioMedical, myself and Techcrunch.

Is Facebook reinventing its image?

Exploring iOS7

iOS7 bannerWelcome to an experiment in liveblogging an exploration of iOS7 beta 1 on an iPhone 4S.

As I dig through the apps, screens and options in Apple's latest iteration of iOS I will be updating this post so check back regularly for new updates.

iOS7 seems to be quite divisive with some loving it and others feeling Apple went too far. Personally, I want to spend some time with it before making any decisions.

My gut reaction is that there are a lot of great features which place Apple back on parity with Android but has it given the iPhone the edge?

Let's see...

Exploring iOS7

Waiting for iOS7.Comments

iOS7 bannerWe are just hours away from the WWDC keynote during which we expect the big iOS7 reveal and the rumour mill continues to turn about a possible Jony Ive inspired redesign.

I think we can all agree that iOS needs a new coat of paint, or at least a bit of a touch up, but that should not be the primary focus of the new version and we will be doing ourselves a disservice if we become blinded by the emperor's new clothes.

Apple needs to deliver

It looks as though we will have the launch of iRadio to show that Apple is still able to match Google but we don't want Apple to match anyone, we want Apple to surpass them!

We want better tools, we want a more robust but flexible system, we want better services and a new look can't paper over the obvious cracks forming in an ageing ethos. iOS has come a long way but Google and OEMs are really pushing the envelope with Android, its ecosystem and connected systems.

Apple needs to excite us in new ways. We no longer have Jobs' reality distortion field and Cook can't wow an audience in the same way so for us to be impressed things need to be genuinely awesome.

I wrote last year:

I have no doubt that iOS7 will be a tipping point where we will see the culmination of what has been started with Maps and Siri, the iPhone will become:

  • location sensitive
  • contextually aware
  • intelligent

I still believe that Apple must take the integrated services route to keep the pace. I have also said recently that offline dictation and better social integration are a must but Google has the advantage of its own social network to draw from so Apple has to rely on its partnership with Facebook.

We have also seen rumours of deep integration of both flickr and Vimeo which, if true, would be designed to tackle the threat posed by Google especially now that the search giant is said to be buying Waze - one of Apple's suppliers for mapping data.

Enhanced social integration will help to solve the disconnect between device and service but Apple must also integrate its own services into a more cohesive offering to fully take advantage of the benefits.

Special

Whatever Apple does with iOS7 it has to be special.

We've heard the talk of opening certain system APIs to third-parties (maybe even allowing alternative keyboards) and this will be a key factor in determining the direction for iOS. Opening up in this way need not compromise system security or stability if the APIs are designed correctly and there is sufficient oversight of the development process - Apple can always reserve the right to refuse an application entry to the App Store until it is confident that there will be no repercussions.

I'm really looking forward to trying iOS7, I just hope I won't be disappointed.

Image from iMore.

Waiting for iOS7.

What if Twitter introduced native chats?Comments

Twitter chats are an extremely popular, and many say powerful, way to utilise Twitter for specific topic discussion and it is, perhaps, surprising that the network has not made strides into this area. What if Twitter chats went native?

Twitter ChatI have made no secret of my recent personal dissatisfaction with Twitter, not as a product but as a medium in which I can express myself and obtain sufficient social value.

In case you missed it: I can't.

Facilitator

It was over five years ago that I first said "Twitter is a facilitator":

It facilitates connections, friendships, citizen journalism but what is really doesn't facilitate is conversations in situ.

Twitter Chats became the de facto way to get round this but there has been a lot of noise in certain quarters about chat applications closing because they were "killed" by changes to the Twitter API.

Twitter Chat applications manage topics by focusing on a single hashtag, only displaying tweets with that tag and then auto-appending the tag to any tweets you make from within it - this is reminiscent of my original ideas for Twitter channels.

I'm still of the opinion that Twitter needs to move beyond the core feed experience and, unlike my suggestion of integrating Branch, need not sacrifice simplicity to do so.

In house

DiscoverMuch to the chagrin of third-party developers, Twitter has a history of taking user-built functionality and incorporating it into the service. Hashtags, retweets, cashtags, URL shortening, an image upload service - the list goes on - all went in-house after proving to be popular with users.

Social discovery is key for social growth.

We have seen iterations to the #discover tab and search improvements (although neither were as ground-breaking as they might have been) but discovery and focus is still an issue.

Twitter tested Event Pages which promised to be an effective way of natively following a single topic but these disappeared, never to be heard from again.

Video

video recordingWith Vine and the recent announcement of TV ad targeting it is apparent that the company feels video is a good direction to take its service but what about a potential next step: video chat?

Skype, Google+ Hangouts and Facebook Video Calling all point towards a common destination for social with Hangouts really serving to prove the popularity of multi-participant, face-to-face communication which has yet to be matched elsewhere.

Could video chat work within the context of Twitter? Is there room within the established market for another video conferencing service? I believe so, yes as heavy Twitter users would probably relish being able to enhance their connections, just as Google+ users do, without having to leave the network.

Could Twitter purchase a company such as ooVoo which already supports multi-participant chat, recording and a Facebook app?

Native Twitter Chats?

As stated above, chats are an extremely popular way to focus on specific interests whilst working within the Twitter environment and I feel it is a prime example of user-led functionality that could be incorporated into the network.

As third-party applications remove the conversation from the stream, any solution would need to emulate this so what if Event Pages could be reborn as native chats?

To extend this idea, what if Twitter allowed for creation of scheduled "chat events" with reminders and notifications?

What if Twitter introduced "Chats on Air" with core participants in a group video chat sat at the top of the event page while others contribute, as at present, via tweets?

Live simpleKeeping chats limited to tweets would maintain consistency with the "simple" mantra championed by management which would, no doubt, preclude the inclusion of Branch-like discussions and long form posting despite the acquisition of Posterous in March of last year.

Community

Building Twitter communities is currently big news with services such as Nestivity giving users ways to engage followers in a more meaningful fashion. Providing native chats, with or without video, would serve to enhance community building whilst negating the need for users to go off-site.

Images by derekbruff, swanksalot, Katie@!

What if Twitter introduced native chats?

What next for Twitter?

TwitterTwitter is doing well for itself with burgeoning user numbers, ever more tweets, increasing revenue from advertising and the introduction of new functionality such as the #discover tab and Twitter Cards.

I have long been asking, however, if things needed to change.

I suggested a form of channels to sanitise the stream and keep topics contained which "Event Pages" seemed to agree with but then disappeared as quick as they appeared.

I thought that Twitter could iterate and develop the #discover tab, using it as the default view or a focal point for content discovery.

I also recently proposed the idea of buying and integrating Branch to add an additional level of conversation to the mix.

Depth

Twitter is a media darling, unbeatable for real-time discovery and breaking news, but I have personally felt that there needs to be something extra to back this up; something to let users take it to the next level and translate discovery into discussion - a way to get more in-depth.

Prior to the launch of Google+ I was of the opinion that Google suffered from having no "destination" as its primary business was all about getting you to go elsewhere and leave the Google ecosystem behind.

I wonder if Twitter is looking at a similar situation now that the stream is full of links.

I keep asking the same questions:

  • is the stream enough?
  • will it continue to hold the attention?
  • will it be engaging enough for users?
  • does the network need more?

Many wondered about the possibilities once Twitter acquired Posterous and I am still of the opinion that there is an opportunity to extend Twitter's functionality and remit in a way that goes beyond 140 characters, away from the main stream.

But yesterday I had a realisation, a moment of clarity.

Twitter, it's not you, it's me.

MindMy mindset has changed and I can no longer think in 140 characters but am I just an edge case?

When I first heard about, and then joined, Twitter back in 2006 I knew we were on the cusp of a new era of social. The service excited me in a way that MySpace and others had never been able.

For the past couple of years, however, I have been in two minds about the social/information network with my desire to see something else on the one hand whilst declaring its simplicity as its key for success.

Longevity

Having existed for over seven years with a largely unaltered recipe, history would appear to suggest that Twitter has a winning formula so why should it need to shake things up to cater to the likes of me?

Previous changes to the service have been absorbed and embraced by users as they have left core functionality largely unaffected but I keep wondering if living the simple life is enough to sustain the network in the long-term.

While I will still use Twitter it will no longer be a social priority but my concern for the network is that I can't be the only one thinking this way.

What next for Twitter?

Of circles, communities and serendipitous discovery.Comments

Social discovery is key for social growth.

DiscoverI have long said that saved searches are isolated events and treated as second class data when they should, in fact, be an incredibly valuable means of discovery. We have the ability to save searches on networks such as Twitter and Google+ but when you consider that Google a "search first" company it is surprising that this does not feature more prominently within its social network.

Let's consider how we connect and discover with people and content on Google+:

  • when we circle someone we have a permanent connection and can choose the amount of posts from their circle to include in our stream
  • when we join a community we have a permanent connection and can choose the amount of posts to include in our stream

Realistically, a community is essentially a topic based circle that is independent of its membership but wholly reliant on that membership for its content - an implicit network within the Google+ whole.

What about saved searches? What about hashtags?

Proposed on Twitter by Chris Messina back in 2007, the hashtag has become a social staple and popular means of discovery and content tracking. They were adopted on Google+ as an alternative to other potential options such as badges or labels - which already existed within the Google ecosystem - and that is testament to their ubiquity. Even Facebook is rumoured to be considering their implementation.

Automatic hashtagsMachine learning

Google search relies on algorithms to rank the returned results and the introduction of social signals and search personalisation based on Google+ activity means these algorithms are more complex than ever.

In my previous post I discussed the implications of our social feeds being constructed based on behavioural algorithms - as occurs with Facebook's EdgeRank, for example - but it would appear that Google is looking to enhance our experience with these algorithms rather than dictate it.

The new automatic hashtag feature introduced with Google+'s new look is an ideal starting point to spawn a new means of discovery; we can now click on hashtags (up to three per post) to view a card showing related posts in situ, without having to leave our place in the stream, and are also presented with related hashtags.

Google is obviously doing some good work behind the scenes with content extrapolation in order to bring us this additional information but our checks to find these extra posts are still random, isolated, manual acts.

SerendipityAutomation

This is a great start but such means of content discovery is an area of hugely untapped potential.

What if Twitter allowed us to follow topics instead of people and have those tweets appear in our feed? What about if Facebook allowed us to subscribe to Graph Search queries so that we could see real-time results within our News Feeds as soon as they happen?

What if we could subscribe to a hashtag on Google+ as though it were a circle so that related, topic based posts appeared in our stream that were not dependent on us following any specific individuals or joining communities?

This would be discovery based on our stated interests.

What if we took this one stage further by having posts from those related hashtags appearing in our stream every so often and Google's algorithms learning our tastes so that those related hashtags could be tailored according to our own behaviour and consumption habits?

Now that would be truly serendipitous discovery.

This is an extended version of a Google+ post that can be found here.

Image by truk (cropped)

Of circles, communities and serendipitous discovery.

Social relevance, algorithms and choice.Comments

Apart from family and existing friends ... the interest graph is actually the primary driver behind expanding the social graph - The lines are blurring.

One of tDiscoverhe most important factors in social growth is discovery, discovery of posts and of people.

Google+ was launched on the premise of being "real world sharing for the web" - it aimed to make it easier and more natural to divide our online lives into "circles" just as we are part of different groups offline (family, friends, colleagues, etc.)

Social networks afford us multiple stages of relevance management and taking Plus as an example we have:

  • Circle management
  • Circle volume settings
  • Community membership
  • relevance by association which is discovery by similar actions, posting comments to the same thread, for example)

ControlControl

One of the most controversial and divisive aspects of Facebook is Edgerank - the algorithm used to decide what gets displayed in our news feeds based on the relationships and interactions with our friends. Essentially, our actions are analysed and we are shown more of what we "like".

Social networks such as Facebook and Google+ are cultures of affirmation where we only have the option to Like or +1, while this is intended to create a positive atmosphere it risks creating a closed loop where our feeds becoming more insular and focused.

When conditions exist such that we have multiple levels of relevance management do we need the social stream to be further filtered for us?

In response to user queries over strange stream behaviour, Google has confirmed that it is testing a relevance algorithm and "experimenting with ways of bringing the most relevant posts to the top."

The issue of control has come up before.

Engagement

Relevance engines are intended to maximise engagement - if we see things we like we are more likely to interact with them - but they can remove the opportunity for in-stream serendipitous discovery.

Is affirmation an indication of future behaviour? If I like (small 'l') an item about Jimi Hendrix today does that mean I always want to see items about Jimi Hendrix? Even if that were the case is this a zero sum game and does exposure of related content mean that other content has to be filtered out?

Engagement

The introduction of Communities to Google+ put a new slant on how we manage our engagement, consumption habits and connections; they are interest based rather than people based.

Could the addition of a relevance algorithm the main stream indicate a possible shift away from people towards interest or is it intended to supplement our normal consumption highlighting the things we might have missed?

Who does it serve? The network or the user?

Conflicts

While Google have advised that problems experienced by users were due to issues with the relevance algorithm it is clear that those users are concerned about any potential changes.

Can (or should) the interest-based discovery paradigm of Communities be forced upon the main stream? Are we able to reach a state of equilibrium between serendipitous discovery and being nudged in the right direction?

Alternatively, do we have a paradox of choice where being overwhelmed with content causes us to interact less or with fewer individuals? Could a relevance engine benefit us by filtering the stream and lessening the load?

Google+, in two different respects, suffers from having a dualistic nature:

  • social network v social layer, &
  • people focused stream v interest focused communities

In both cases, while there is an element of cross-over, they have their own strategies, subtleties and sensibilities. We just have to remember the reaction to Community posts being included in our personal feeds - this heavily divided user opinion forcing Google to give users a choice.

RelevantRelevance

There is concern that the intention could be to move us away from in-stream to in-community discovery but is this the network being purely reactive to usage patterns since the introduction of Communities?

The notion of relevance based on solely on stream activity is a worry to many and we should instead ask if relevance be dynamic (platform, location, time etc.) and we should definitely have the option to apply these filters or not?

Using Google+ search as an example we are able to filter by "best of" or "most recent" - that is a user choice and should be available for the stream should any relevance algorithm be retained. Facebook's Edgerank may be divisive but we at least get a choice.

Choice

The degrees of complexity involved are immense and opinions as to how social networks should operate are as numerous as their users but two factors are paramount: choice and consistency.

We should have a choice as to what we see and where we see it and this choice should be evident wherever we are within a network.

Update: Yonatan Zunger, Google+ Chief Architect, has confirmed that no new relevance algorithm exists and that stream problems were the result of a bug. Glick's statement about bringing relevant posts to the top most likely refers to the way Circle volumes filter content.

Images by Carnie Lewis, runran, darkuncle

Social relevance, algorithms and choice.

Facebook, Waze and Apple – a new dynamic.

WazeThe news that Facebook is considering a $1 billion acquisition of Waze seems like an obvious move but it also brings me back to a few ideas I had previously considered.

Location is becoming increasingly important with "local" being vital for marketing, advertising and targeting as separate from the global, social conversation. Facebook changed the importance of location in social by killing the check-in and making location integral to everything we do so having access to crowd-sourced data from Waze will take this to another level.

Apple and Facebook

As Waze is one of the suppliers of data for Apple's Maps application any acquisition would add a new dynamic to the relationship between Apple and Facebook; it also makes me wonder about deeper integration between the two companies.

We now have a collective of apps and services which could complement each other rather well:

  • iOS,
  • Facebook,
  • Messaging,
  • Apple Maps,
  • Waze, and
  • Instagram

Putting it togetherBringing it all together

The recent launch of Facebook Home with its ever-present "chat heads" highlighted the more closed nature of iOS but made me ponder how Apple could introduce a similar native UI (a radical departure, admittedly) and integrate Facebook messaging along with iMessage and SMS. A native solution could mean Chat Head like functionality but without the need to change third-party app permissions within the operating system.

While we're thinking a little radically what about integrating Facebook's Graph Search with Spotlight to add a social element to iOS search?

But, seriously...

Maps

In a previous post I suggested how Apple Maps could use shared photostreams to boost their Maps application with crowd sourced images of locations as a way of combating Google Street View in a social way. With Facebook buying Waze the potential exists for Apple and Facebook to really jump in bed together so that a range of Facebook data could be used within Apple Maps.

Forget the added layer of complexity and permissions required to enable shared public photostreams when people are already sharing pictures socially.

Apple MapsBy combining location information and sharing permissions, geo-tagged photos from either Facebook or Instagram (or those specifically tied to a location such as a landmark) could be displayed within the Maps application. Additional context specific data from Waze could be used to display different images or information based on current circumstances using the type of crowd-sourced data already obtained by the service.

How far is too far?

It is obvious that Apple sees Facebook as a leader in the social sphere and integration of the latter into iOS has evolved over time. Apple does not do services as well as the likes of Google - hence the need to rely on the likes of Waze and Tom Tom - but how far will the company go in allowing itself to be reliant on third-party data?

iOS may never get Facebook Home but a deeper underlying integration with the social giant may be of much greater value.

Image by .reid.

Facebook, Waze and Apple – a new dynamic.

Could Author Rank influence the display of Authorship snippets?Comments

Author rank seeks to highlight influential authors based on links, citations and peer review but how will this be presented to the public? Could Author Rank influence the display of authorship snippets in search results?

Author rank seeks to highlight influential authors based on links, citations and peer review but how will this be presented to the public? Could author rank influence the display of authorship snippets in search results?  Google authorship and the concept of author (or agent) rank has captured the popular imagination in a way virtually nothing else search related has been able to do.  Authorship is so easy to set up that anyone can do it but a misguided belief that authorship equates to author rank means that many feel their rankings will improve just by ensuring their rich snippets show up in search.  Author rank, as is widely understood, doesn't exist yet (as far as we know) but according to David Amerland in a recent conversation, search expert and author, Google uses the term "author rank" internally to refer to a number of different values relating to authority via "relational extraction mapping" or the detection of semantic relationships between items: who, what, how, where.  So, author rank per se doesn't exist (yet) but key signals which will contribute to it are already in use and being used in such a way that they emulate/pre-date an actual author rank system.  I have mentioned before that Google and Bing appear to be heading towards a similar destination but via different paths - that destination is relevance and authority.  I asked if we actually needed authorship to help establish authority as other signals can be used to determine the creator of a given piece of work.  Bing seeks to identify "people who know" using these signals and display them separate from search within the social sidebar. Google always seeks to return the most relevant links but author rank is designed to highlight significant people rather than pages as its algorithm aims to determine our search intent using semantics.  As has been said before, with authorship, Google is trying to remove the faceless nature of the web so that we know who is responsible for content but could a combination of author rank and authorship actually go one step further?  A number of reports and anecdotal articles point to authorship having a quasi-SEO effect with enhanced click-through rates (CTR) from search results when, all else being equal, an authorship snippet is visible. A frequently quoted increase in CTR is around a third.  Previously, search results included the profile photos of those in our social circles who might have recommended an item but this was dropped as Google found they had little impact on item CTR. It is argued that there must be some truth to enhanced click-throughs for those items displaying authorship snippets or Google would no longer have them in our SERPs.  I have previously expressed the view that snippets are currently of benefit within search results but that benefit will be lost once all results display an authorship snippet. Consequently, it is not in the interests of content creators for authorship to fill our SERPs.  We know that setting up authorship is no guarantee that the associated snippet will show on any given set of results so, is this designed to ensure that they continue to have an impact?  Why do snippets have an effect on CTR?  An obvious answer is that they make specific results stand out from the rest but could it also be that snippets are introducing a perceived indication of authority?  Is this where authorship is heading? Could Google use author rank as a means of filtering search results so that only those items by the most relevant and influential authors display authorship snippets regardless of whether authorship is correctly established?  Would it make sense to transform this perceived notion of authority into an actual indication of it?  Brian Clark at CopyBlogger has already asked "What if Author Rank never happens?" but others argue that, in a sense, it already is but both sides meet in the middle on what is required to build reputation and authority.  At its heart, author rank is a relevance engine where decisions about reputation and authority are crowd-sourced. Any implementation of such a system will be just another signal contributing to our search results but, by connecting people to pages, Google has the option of using this authority to visually influence our SERPs by filtering which results should, or should not, be accompanied by authorship snippets.  As Google is intent on bringing us the most relevant results and it is accepted that authorship snippets drive traffic, Author Rank could be a valuable tool in ensuring that searchers are directed to the most relevant results.Google authorship and the concept of author (or agent) rank has captured the popular imagination in a way virtually nothing else search related has been able to do.

Authorship is so easy to set up that anyone can do it but a misguided belief that authorship equates to author rank means that many feel their rankings will improve just by ensuring their rich snippets show up in search.

Author Rank

Author rank, as is widely understood, doesn't exist yet  - as far as we know - but in a recent conversation David Amerland (search expert and author) advised that Google uses the term "author rank" internally to refer to a number of different values relating to authority via "relational extraction mapping" or the detection of semantic relationships between items: who, what, how, where.

So, author rank per se doesn't exist (yet) but key signals which will contribute to it are already in use and being used in such a way that they emulate/pre-date an actual author rank system.

I have mentioned before that Google and Bing appear to be heading towards a similar destination but via different paths - that destination is relevance and authority.

I asked if we actually needed authorship to help establish authority as other signals can be used to determine the creator of a given piece of work.

Bing seeks to identify "people who know" using these signals and display them separate from search within the social sidebar. Google always seeks to return the most relevant links but author rank is designed to highlight significant people rather than pages as its algorithm aims to determine our search intent using semantics.

Faceless

As has been said before, with authorship, Google is trying to remove the faceless nature of the web so that we know who is responsible for content but could a combination of author rank and authorship actually go one step further?

A number of reports and anecdotal articles point to authorship having a quasi-SEO effect with enhanced click-through rates (CTR) from search results when, all else being equal, an authorship snippet is visible. A frequently quoted increase in CTR is around a third.

Previously, search results included the profile photos of those in our social circles who might have recommended an item but this was dropped as Google found they had little impact on item CTR. It is argued that there must be some truth to enhanced click-throughs for those items displaying authorship snippets or Google would no longer have them in our SERPs.

I have previously expressed the view that snippets are currently of benefit within search results but that benefit will be lost once all results display an authorship snippet. Consequently, it is not in the interests of content creators for authorship to fill our SERPs.

We know that setting up authorship is no guarantee that the associated snippet will show on any given set of results so, is this designed to ensure that they continue to have an impact?

Why do snippets have an effect on CTR?

An obvious answer is that they make specific results stand out from the rest but could it also be that snippets are introducing a perceived indication of authority?

Remaining relevant

Is this where authorship is heading? Could Google use author rank as a means of filtering search results so that only those items by the most relevant and influential authors display authorship snippets regardless of whether authorship is correctly established?

Would it make sense to transform this perceived notion of authority into an actual indication of it?

Brian Clark at CopyBlogger has already asked "What if Author Rank never happens?" but others argue that, in a sense, it already is but both sides meet in the middle on what is required to build reputation and authority.

Relevance

At its heart, author rank is a relevance engine where decisions about reputation and authority are crowd-sourced. Any implementation of such a system will be just another signal contributing to our search results but, by connecting people to pages, Google has the option of using this authority to visually influence our SERPs by filtering which results should, or should not, be accompanied by authorship snippets.

As Google is intent on bringing us the most relevant results and it is accepted that authorship snippets drive traffic, Author Rank could be a valuable tool in ensuring that searchers are directed to the most relevant results.

Images by myself and thegloaming.

Could Author Rank influence the display of Authorship snippets?