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.

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?

Is Bing beating Google to the Author Rank punch?Comments

Author Rank coming, YodaIs Google in danger of losing out to Bing in the race to implement a robust relevance engine for content authors?

For over a year, talk of Google Author Rank (based on the search giant's Agent Rank patent) has been fueling speculation of how it might operate and affect search rankings for content authors.

As quoted by AJ Kohn in the seminal article "Author Rank", the patent sets out that:

"The identity of individual agents responsible for content can be used to influence search ratings."

Identifying authors and then associating them with their content (Authorship) is just half the story, however, but many continue to think that Author Rank and Authorship are interchangeable, assuming that setting up Authorship will improve their ranking in search results.

Expertise

The key concept behind Author Rank is that people will be associated with, and ranked on, given topics based on their knowledge or expertise. Ranking involves building reputation and trust using, amongst other things, a combination of peer review, links and citations. Again, from the patent we have:

"an agent should have a higher reputational score ... if the content signed by the agent is frequently referenced by other agents or content"

Not all links are equal as the patent goes on to say that links from those with a higher reputational score will carry greater significance - it is, therefore in the interests of authors to gain the attention of recognised experts in any given field whilst those experts will, obviously, get a high ranking themselves.

Rather than relying on Page Rank content will be linked to the author, anywhere on the web, using a "digital passport" - using an online identity such as a Google+ profile is such a passport: a way of reliably connecting people to their material.

But do we need Authorship?

Bing news authorsGoogle and Bing have different strategies when it comes to providing social data within search results; the former feels that consumers benefit from having their results tailored using social signals whereas the latter presents social data separately from the normal blue links results enabling users to more easily distinguish (and ignore) those social signals.

By creating this distinction between search and social is Bing able to bypass the Authorship stage and dive straight in to Author Rank?

As social results are not included within the main search results there is less of a need to establish an explicit authorship structure to identify authors in a sea of links. Instead, relevant news authors are listed as "People Who Know" in the social sidebar (in a manner not too dissimilar to Google's Knowledge Graph information) implying that these authors - and, consequently, the links listed - are knowledgeable, relevant and topical.

Indeed, on Bing Blogs the addition of news authors was introduced in a post with the following:

"Behind every article is a journalist, writer or author who has worked hard to research and report on a story. These professionals are experts in their fields, sharing the latest news, developing events and information out with the greater world."

This sounds very similar to Google's plans with Bing's sources stated as including "friends you know and experts and enthusiasts you may or may not be familiar with" who frequently write articles related to the search query.

Bing is utilising its partnerships with Facebook and Twitter in conjunction with standard ranking signals to provide extra information from authors who already appear to be ranked based on relevance. The roll-out of Facebook's Graph Search, including the addition of Open Graph data, coupled with an effort from Twitter to make content more discoverable may serve to give Bing even stronger signals on which to base any ranking.

Identity not a factor

While Google is seeking to instil trust in authors by linking them back to a standard identity service (Google+) Bing is relying on a combination of authors producing consistent output and social signals to determine what we might like to see without restricting itself to any single identity scheme.

One doesn't want to accuse Google of fiddling while Rome burns but the latest Agent Rank patent was filed almost two years ago (expanding on an original application from 2005) and is one of the most eagerly anticipated developments in search for content authors.

By taking a different approach Bing is stealing a march and potentially beating Google to the Author Rank punch?

Is Bing beating Google to the Author Rank punch?