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?