But has the internet gotten too large for any single search engine? Microsoft doesnt think so, they just launched Bing. Google has moved into other areas of content creation (email, mobile, documents, etc.).
There are new search engines launching almost daily. Real time search engines. Social search engines. Semantic search engines.
Each tries to to the same thing. Take a keyword query and return what their technology determines is the single best answer.
At the same time of the internet’s explosion, blogs have also exploded. Every day tens of thousands of blogs are started. Every day thousands of pages of content is created.
The speed of the expansion of the internet and the content created has accelerated to the point where no search engine can provide the one right answer to a single keyword query. The ability to find relevant content has become almost a losing battle.
Whats the answer? Its influence.
I have spoken on influence in the past (most recently at WordCamp Chicago):
Here is the basic concept: influence is on a one-to-one basis. Thats it. You can influence one person about one thing. Thats it.
So how does that matter in terms of search?
Imagine starting with an influencer. Think about a subject that matters to you. Who do you consider the expert on that topic. Then search through a corpus of content that person creates and curates. Your results will always be the most useful and relevant. They cant be any other way.
Marketers, Brand Managers and Advertisers believe the same thing. Walmart has put a ton of effort into finding online influencers and associating themselves with them. Same with many major brands.
Brands are learning that keyword search marketing is not as effective as it once was. Its too general, people are using more and more keywords in their queries to drive relevance. It has become all about the influencers.
IZEA knew that when they pioneered Pay-Per-Post. Regardless of your feelings around its morality, the practice has been booming, and while IZEA first iteration wasnt the best, they seem to have really figured something out, having attracted many top bloggers, and now provide a score and pricing based on the what the inherent influence of the blogger appears to be (I think they lay on traffic a bit more than true influence, but I really dont know).
The addition of influence into search is our model at Lijit. With a distributed model of search, we have to rely on the blogger to provide clue’s as to what the results should be. Add that the searcher trusts the expertise of the blogger, and you end up with a much better answer for the query. In essence, the influence of the blogger is added to the search to return the best results for the searcher, not a single answer for all searchers, but the right answer for that searcher from that blogger.
In the past, Google relied on the fact that people trusted their results as being better than all others (not being the best), and that with their scale, they could train searchers how to search (think about query + zip code).
Yet with the ability for anyone to create content, the concept of content filtration becomes even more important that simple algorithmic search or searcher education. Which creates the rise of influence online. People have become filtration points.
Which has fundamentally changed how people interact with the web. Less and less people are using iGoogle or MyYahoo or Google or a portal to start their online experience. More and more people are starting their experience online with the blog or site that influences them most.
The web has become about people, and influence is the new hotness.
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I have spent the last several weeks thinking, talking, testing and speaking on measuring influence, trust and expertise online. Its a subject that I find wildly interesting (and entertaining based on responses), and luckily dovetails nicely with my work at Lijit.
Here is my last deck from WordCamp Denver (which I did while fighting a bad back and after taking some Vicodin. I cant wait for the video…):
In it, I spend some time talking about HOW to increase influence (which I probably should put in a blog post somewhere).
Here is the presentation in three easy points:
1) Influence is a combination of expertise, brand and trust.
2) Influence is a single action by one person, which affects, positively (or negatively) a single action of another single person.
3) Influence is truly a 1:1 relationship. Reach allows that 1:1 relationship to occur rapidly and appear to be one:many (even though its a bunch of one:one interactions).
Ok, so we all agree, right? (If not, lets discuss in the comments, and pretend we all agree so the rest of my post doesnt go to hell.)
So, how does influence manifest in a community? What is its place/value within a community?
Certainly an influential member of a community can help shape the character of a community. Look at Andrew Hyde in Boulder. The events he has spearhead (StartupWeekend, StartupDrinks and IgniteBoulder) have all contributed to the startup character of Boulder; of Boulder being a place for young entrepreneurs to cut their teeth on the tech startup game. (It has also help validate us old people, and our work with startups…) Andrew’s effect on Boulder has always been something that I have respected and admired.
But what if the influence of that community member doesnt extend beyond the community itself?
Or what if there is no community to start with?
I suppose before we can continue, there has to be a definition of community.
If we ask Google (define:community), we get:
- a group of people living in a particular local area; “the team is drawn from all parts of the community”
- common ownership; “they shared a community of possessions”
- a group of nations having common interests; “they hoped to join the NATO community”
- agreement as to goals; “the preachers and the bootleggers found they had a community of interests”
- residential district: a district where people live; occupied primarily by private residences
- (ecology) a group of interdependent organisms inhabiting the same region and interacting with each other
Is all community is, a group of people that live near each other? I actually believe that community is a couple of these things. It is proximity (online that would be around a site) AND “agreement as to goals.” (which I would extend to “common goals and/or intent”).
Take my current favorite community, Threadless. 900,000 designers and art lovers all interacting around art.
(This might be the worst chart in social media.)
Here is what that image is saying. The circles are influencers. Most influencers have overlapping spheres of influence. A single influencer attempts to exert influence.
He is only successful if he influences another influencer, who must also influence another influencer and so on…
Each influencer than has some influence internally to the community, but also externally to the community, which attracts new members to the community. Thereby, increasing the community itself, and bringing in new resources (and potentially future influencers, who will–probably–always be influenced at some level by the original influencer). Whew.
For a single member of a community to truly have an influence on the community itself, she must first have the ability to influence other influencers. As she is able to apply more influence over the community, the more she is seen as an influencer and her sphere of influence grows, requiring less other influencers.
Now, if I was an advertiser, I would be interested in not just the influencers themselves, but the of influencer of the influencers, the Influencer Patient Zero of a specific community, if you will…(but I digress)
Influence’s place within a community then has three distinct functions:
1) Self-policing. Interestingly, I would imagine that the influencers in a community have influence, in part because they feel extreme passion about the shared goals and focus of the community (super users), and its in their own self-interest to ensure that those goals/focus dont change (to ensure no loss of influence).
ICanHasCheezburger is a great example where the community itself polices comments and other aspects of the content to ensure it lives up to the standards set by the community.
2) Attraction of new resources and people to the community.
With Threadless, the vast majority of their community members start by submitting a tshirt design. The influential members of the community (those that have been printed, for example) are attracting other designers to submit designs. They attract a certain “type” of community member, who is quickly taught the rules (see point #1).
3) Drive the community’s character.
Andrew, with StartupWeekend and Ignite Boulder. David Cohen with Techstars. Brad Feld through his blog. All of these members of the Boulder community really influence the character of the community. The character of the community helps to also define who can apply influence (a vicious circle!) and ultimately attract people and resources to the community, who are people who share the community’s character (ah! its an infinite loop!).
Influence and influencers, serve the primary purpose of fostering community, by both attracting people and resources (growing the community), and policing (protecting the community).