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.

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?

Of trust and relevance.Comments

Trust!Relevance comes first enabling us to filter for content that matters to us.

Trust comes after as we establish who to listen to within our fields of interest.

Discovery is vital and relevance will be a key "people" metric for search.

Relevance is like SEO - getting eyes on, getting traffic and ensuring people are exposed to your message; trust is the good copy which makes people stick around to hear what you've got to say, converting that traffic to a sale.

Trust, like reputation, must be earned but trust is truly personal. Reputations are public and can be gamed. (Tweetable)

Besides time, our trust is our most valuable commodity but we outsource it with curated lists, groups and shared circles.

Instead, we must decide how best to distribute our trust so that it is not wasted on the undeserving.

Image by thorinside

Of trust and relevance.