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Google +1 Analysis

March 31 2011 // SEO + Social Media // 12 Comments

Yesterday Google launched Google +1. After firing up Haircut 100 and reading Danny Sullivan’s review I sat down and gave Google +1 a try myself. Here’s what I learned and why I think Google +1 is the start of a war for social data and your attention.

Google +1

What is Google +1?

Google +1 delivers a new set of social search results based on explicit recommendations from your social graph. Right now, those recommendations are made by clicking the +1 button next to a search result – both organic and paid.

In the future, users will be able to recommend content from sites that present the +1 button. At that point, Google +1 will behave similar to a Facebook Like.

All +1s are aggregated and presented on a +1’s tab on your Google profile, which begins to look like a social networking platform.

Google +1 User Experience

Google +1 is a heavy feature on the page, with the icon appearing next to every result on a SERP. Do we really need more to look at? The +1 icon (and instant preview icon) will animate and ‘light up’ as you mouse over any part of that search result.

Google +1 User Experience

These features have nothing to do with each other yet they are presented to the user by the same action. I understand these are ‘actions’ a user can take on a search result but I’m not sure that’s intuitive.

Will the mainstream user even grok the +1 nomenclature? I do, but will the mom in suburban Omaha? Facebook was brilliant in using a term and icon that was instantly recognizable.

I also find the +1 mechanism strange in search results. Am I supposed to search, visit a site and return to the SERP to +1 that result? If search is about discovery, how would I make a judgement on a search result before visiting that site? Am I supposed to search for a whole bunch of stuff I already like so I can +1 those results?

If Google wants to put +1 in search results I think it makes more sense to model their block sites feature that only activates after I’ve visited a site and returned to search results. Alternatively, Google could use web history and only present a +1 option for those pages I have visited.

In the end, it’ll make a lot more sense when there are Google +1 buttons on websites and the search results reflect the +1 count from that page.

Google +1 Social Data

We all know that the link graph is a mess and that Google is seeking other ways to measure trust and authority. I don’t think the web of links will die out altogether but it certainly needs to be augmented with the web of people.

Google +1 Social Data

I don’t think Google wants to rely on Twitter and Facebook for such an important and emerging part of understanding web behavior. Twitter has been civil but the frog boiling of their developer platform is ominous. Facebook has been outright hostile and recently took steps to hide even more web content from Google.

Social signals matter and Google +1 gives Google their own explicit source of social data.

Google +1 allows Google to mine both your personal social graph (your friends who have +1’d items) but also the +1 graph (the popularity of an item based on all +1 activity.)

One has to believe that Google profiles will become some sort of social nexus where further meta information can be attached to +1s. Today it’s a simple list of +1 pages. Tomorrow I might be able to comment on your +1s or Yo Dawg your +1 by giving it a +1. Social proof, curation and the wisdom (or not) of crowds could rise in importance.

As Google begins to look at the +1 data, they may be able to find individuals who have more influence. Not just overall influence but influence for a specific topic.

This means that over time Google could weight a +1 from one individual on a sliding scale. A +1 from yours truly on an SEO site might carry a lot of weight, while a +1 from me on a knitting site might carry little weight.

By mapping topical influence, Google may be able to avoid +1 gaming.

Google +1 Personalization

What does this mean for search and SEO specifically? Google +1 may change the nature of search personalization. The difference between a standard result and a personalized result could get bigger and that would be an interesting SEO development.

Right now, Google’s personalization doesn’t disrupt traditional SEO. Google (and a many SEOs) talk about it a lot and they have increased the number of queries they personalize, but the personalization is still rather subtle in nature. A result might move up and down a place or two, but not from the top of page 1 to the middle of page 2.

Google +1 might change that. Search results could behave more like Facebook’s EdgeRank, which radically changes what each individual sees and experiences.

Google +1 Attention

Google +1 makes Google less reliant on competitors for social data and should help them improve search results. But is that really Google’s only goal?

In order to +1 things, you first need a public Google profile. This helps people see who recommended that tasty recipe or great campsite. When you create a profile, it’s visible to anyone and connections with your email address can easily find it.

Your +1’s are stored in a new tab on your Google profile. You can show your +1’s tab to the world, or keep it private and just use it to personally manage the ever-expanding record of things you love around the web.

Google profiles could enter the war for user attention, currently being won (handily) by Facebook. People spend enormous amounts of time on Facebook, and that’s dangerous since it’s only a matter of time before Facebook becomes a real search competitor.

We’ve seen Google redesign Google profiles and got a glimpse into future social connections like FourSquare and Github. Google profiles contains rich feeds of information from Buzz, PicasaWeb and +1. Google has also paid close attention to privacy, learning from their mistake with Buzz. It all adds up to making Google profiles a true destination for social information.

Google could claim some level of success if Google +1 slows the adoption or ubiquity of Facebook’s Like button. Fracturing Facebook’s hold on attention seems like the end game.

Google +1 and Circles

Take a spin over to your Google Dashboard and you’ll find the (no longer) mythical Circles feature.

Google Social Circle and Content

Click on View social circle and you get an idea of how far along Google is on their social product.

Googel Social Circle

Google has constructed their own social graph and are now building features and user facing tools on top of this expanding data structure. I’d argue that +1 is a data feed to further support a still emerging social networking product.

Will Google +1 work?

Google does not have a good track record when it comes to social, including SearchWiki, Stars, Wave and even Buzz.

The current search interface for creating and viewing +1s seems clunky and the entire visual field seems both too saturated and nebulous at the same time. But I’ll hold judgement until +1 buttons show up on websites. It’s then that mainstream users might better understand the functionality.

From a search quality perspective, I believe results could get better, but it’s not a fait accompli. The integrity of a user’s social graph will be paramount. How large is that social graph? Does it contain strong ties or weak ties? Which nodes in a social graph are more meaningful or influential? (e.g. – a +1 from your best friend might mean more than a +1 from someone you met once at a conference.)

Facebook is ahead of the game here with their EdgeRank algorithm. Google will need to further develop their own to make personalized search successful.

If Google really wants to take this to the next level, make a +1 bookmarklet (or bundle it with Toolbar or Chrome for wider use.) That way I can +1 sites and pages that don’t have the button on their site. This would expand the reach of social search beyond just those sites savvy enough to implement the buttons.

At the end of the day I think Google needs +1 to work, if for no other reason then to have an independent source of social data. The war for social data and your attention may have begun in earnest.

Google Personalized Search

March 21 2011 // SEO + Social Media + Technology // Comment

Google recently launched a new feature that allows users to personalize their search results by blocking certain domains. What impact will this have and what does it mean for the future of search?

The Smiths

Artificial Intelligence

A recent New York Post article by Peter Norvig discussed advances in artificial intelligence. Instead of creating HAL, the current philosophy is to allow both human and computer to concentrate on what they do best.

A good example is the web search engine, which uses A.I. (and other technology) to sort through billions of web pages to give you the most relevant pages for your query. It does this far better and faster than any human could manage. But the search engine still relies on the human to make the final judgment: which link to click on, and how to interpret the resulting page.

The partnership between human and machine is stronger than either one alone. As Werner von Braun said when he was asked what sort of computer should be put onboard in future space missions, “Man is the best computer we can put aboard a spacecraft, and the only one that can be mass produced with unskilled labor.” There is no need to replace humans; rather, we should think of what tools will make them more productive.

I like where this might be leading and absolutely love the idea of personalized results. Let me shape my own search results!

Human Computer Information Retrieval

I’ve been reading a lot about HCIR lately. It’s a fascinating area of research that could truly change how we search. Implemented the right way, search would become very personal and very powerful.

The challenge seems to be creating effective human computer refinement interfaces. Or, more specifically, interfaces that produce active refinement, not passive refinement.

At present, Google uses a lot of passive refinement to personalize results. They look at an individual’s search and web history, track click-through rate and pogosticking on SERPs and add a layer of geolocation.

Getting users to actively participate has been a problem for Google.

Jerry Maguire

A Brief History of Google Personalization

Google launched personalized search in June of 2005 and expanded their efforts in February of 2007. But the first major foray into soliciting active refinement was in November of 2008 with the launch of SearchWiki.

This new feature is an example of how search is becoming increasingly dynamic, giving people tools that make search even more useful to them in their daily lives.

The problem was that no one really used SearchWiki. In the end it was simply too complicated and couldn’t compete with other elements on the page, including the rising prominence of universal search results and additional Onebox presentations.

In December of 2009 Google expanded the reach of personalized search.

What we’re doing today is expanding Personalized Search so that we can provide it to signed-out users as well. This addition enables us to customize search results for you based upon 180 days of search activity linked to an anonymous cookie in your browser.

This didn’t go down so well with a number of privacy folks. However, I believe it showed that Google felt personalized search did benefit users. They also probably wanted to expand their data set.

In March of 2010 SearchWiki was retired with the launch of Stars.

With stars, we’ve created a lightweight and flexible way for people to mark and rediscover web content.

Stars wasn’t really about personalizing results. It presented relevant bookmarks at the top of your search results. Google clearly learned that the interaction design for SearchWiki wasn’t working. The Stars interaction design was far easier, but the feature benefits weren’t compelling enough.

A year later, Stars is replaced with blocked sites.

We’re adding this feature because we believe giving you control over the results you find will provide an even more personalized and enjoyable experience on Google.

Actually, I’m not sure what this feature is called. Are we blocking sites or hiding sites? The lack of product marketing surrounding this feature makes me think it was rushed into production.

In addition, the interaction design of the feature is essentially the same as FriendFeed’s hide functionality. Perhaps that’s why the messaging is so confused.

Cribbing the FriendFeed hide feature isn’t a bad thing – it’s simple, elegant and powerful. In fact, I hope Google adopts the extended feature set and allows results from a blocked site to be surfaced if it is recommended by someone in my social graph.

Can Google Engage Users?

I wish Google would have launched the block feature more aggressively and before any large scale algorithmic changes. The staging of these developments points to a lack of confidence in engaging users to refine search results.

Google hasn’t solved the active engagement problem. Other Google products that rely on active engagement have also failed to dazzle, including Google Wave and Google Buzz.

I worry that this short-coming may cause Google to focus on leveraging engagement rather then working on ways to increase the breadth and depth of engagement.

In addition, while we’re not currently using the domains people block as a signal in ranking, we’ll look at the data and see whether it would be useful as we continue to evaluate and improve our search results in the future.

This may simply be a way to reserve the right to use the data in the future. And, in general, I don’t have a problem with using the data as long as it’s used in moderation.

Curated data can help augment the algorithm. Yet, it is a slippery slope. The influence of others shouldn’t have a dramatic effect on my search results and certainly should not lead to sites being removed from results altogether.

That’s not personalization, that’s censorship.

SERPs are not Snowflakes

All of Google’s search personalization has been relatively subtle and innocuous. Rank is still meaningful despite claims by chicken little SEOs. I’m not sure what reports they’re looking at, but the variation in rank on terms due to personalization is still low.

SERPs are not Snowflakes

Even when personalization is applied, it is rarely a game changer. You’ll see small movement within the rankings, but not wild changes. I can still track and trend average rank, even with personalization becoming more commonplace. Given the amount of bucket testing Google is doing I can’t even say that the observed differences can be attributed solely to personalization.

I don’t use rankings as a way to steer my SEO efforts, but to think rank is no longer useful as a measurement device is wrong. Yet, personalization still has the potential to be disruptive.

The Future of Search Personalization

Google needs to increase the level of active human interaction with search results. They need our help to take search to the next level. Yet, most of what I hear lately is about Google trying to predict search behavior. Have they given up on us? I hope not.

Gary Marchionini, a leader in the HCIR field, puts forth a number of goals for HCIR systems. Among them are a few that I think bear repeating.

Systems should increase user responsibility as well as control; that is, information systems require human intellectual effort, and good effort is rewarded.

Systems should be engaging and fun to use.

The idea that the process should be engaging, fun to use and that good effort is rewarded sounds a lot like game mechanics. Imagine if Google could get people to engage search results on the same level as they engage with World of Warcraft!

World of Google

Might a percentage complete device, popularized by LinkedIn, increase engagement? Maybe, like StackOverflow, certain search features are only available (or unlocked) once a user has invested time and effort? Game mechanics not only increases engagement but helps introduce, educate and train users on that product or system.

Gamification of search is just one way you could try to tackle the active engagement problem. There are plenty of other avenues available.

Personalization and SEO

I used the cover artwork from the Smith’s last studio album at the beginning of this post. I thought ‘Strangeways, Here We Come’ was an apt description for the potential future of personalized search. However, a popular track from this album may be more meaningful.

Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before.

SEO is not dead, nor will it die as a result of personalization. The industry will continue to evolve and grow. Personalization will only hasten the integration of numerous other related fields (UX and CRO among others) into SEO.

The block site feature is a step in the right direction because it allows control and refinement of the search experience transparently without impacting others. It could be the start of a revolution in search. Yet … I have heard this one before.

Lets hope Google has another album left in them.

Facebook Comments and SEO

March 16 2011 // SEO + Social Media + Technology // 27 Comments

Facebook Comments could be the most disruptive feature released by Facebook. Why? Comments are one of the largest sources of meta content on the web. Our conversations provide a valuable feedback mechanism, giving greater context to both users and to search engines.

The Walled Garden

Using Firebug you can quickly locate Facebook Comments and determine how they’re being rendered. Facebook Comments are served in an iframe.

Facebook Comments Delivered in iFrame

This means that the comments are not going to be attributed to that page or site nor seen by search engines. In short, Facebook Comments reside in the walled garden. All your comments are belong to Facebook.

This differs from implementations like Disqus or IntenseDebate where the comments are ‘on the page’ or ‘in-line’. One of the easier ways to understand this is to grab comment text from each platform and search for it on Google. Remember to put the entire text in quotes so you’re searching for that exact comment phrase.

Disqus Comments

Here’s a comment I made at Search Engine Roundtable via Disqus.

Comment on Disqus

Here’s a search for that comment on Google.

Disqus Comment SERP

Sure enough you can find my comment directly at Search Engine Roundtable or at FriendFeed, where I import my Disqus comments.

Facebook Comments

Here’s a comment made via Facebook Comments on TechCrunch.

Comment made via Facebook Comments

Here’s a search for this comment on Google.

Facebook Comments SERP

In this instance you can’t find this comment via search (even on Bing). The comment doesn’t exist outside of Facebook’s walled garden. It doesn’t resolve back to TechCrunch.

I thought of an edge case where Facebook Comments might show up on FriendFeed (via Facebook), but my test indicates they do not.

Comments and SEO

Search engines won’t see Facebook Comments. That is a big deal. Comments reflect the user syntax. They capture how people are really talking about a topic or product. Comments help search engines to create keyword clusters and deliver long-tail searches. Comments may signal that the content is still fresh, important and popular. All that goes by the wayside.

It’s no secret that search engines crave text. Depriving Google of this valuable source of text is an aggressive move by Facebook.

Is this on purpose? I have to believe it is. I can’t know for sure but it’s curious that my Quora question has gone unanswered by Facebook, even when I’ve asked a specific Facebook Engineer to answer.

[Update] Ray C. He did wind up answering my question and provided some examples of how Facebook comments could be made visible to search engines. (Thank you.) Essentially you grab the comments via the API and display them inline behind the comment box, similar to using a noscript tag. It’s nice that they have this capability but most will simply use the default version without question or not apply this hack due to lack of technical expertise or time.

In addition, many have since noted that Google has started indexing Facebook comments. Problem solved right? Wrong! Google has always reserved the right to associate iframe content with a URL when it felt it was important. It just rarely did so. The truth of the matter is Google is still only indexing a small fraction of Facebook comments overall. So don’t count on Google indexing your Facebook comments.

Comment Spam

Comment Spam

Comment spam is a huge problem. You know this if you’ve managed a blog for any amount of time. Google’s implementation of nofollow didn’t do much to stop this practice. So Facebook Comments is appealing to many since the forced identity will curtail most, if not all, of the comment spam.

This also means that the meta content for sites using Facebook Comments may be more pristine. This should be an advantage when Facebook does any type of Natural Language Processing on this data. A cleaner data set can’t hurt.

Article Sentiment

Extending this idea, you begin to realize that Facebook could have a real leg up on determining the sentiment of an article or blog post. Others might be able to parse Tweets or other indicators, but Facebook would have access to a large amount of proprietary content to mine page level and domain level sentiment.

Comment Reputation

Facebook can improve on sentiment by looking at comment reputation. Here’s where it gets exciting and scary all at the same time. Facebook can map people and their comments to Open Graph objects. It sounds a bit mundane but I think it’s a huge playground.

Suddenly, Facebook could know who carries a high reputation on certain types of content. Where did you comment? How many replies did you receive? What was the sentiment of those replies? What was the reputation for those who replied to you? How many Likes did you receive? How many times have you commented on the same Open Graph object as someone else?

You might be highly influential when commenting on technology but not at all when commenting on sports.

The amount of analysis that could be performed at the intersection of people, comments and objects is … amazing. Facebook knows who is saying what as well as when and where they’re saying it.



Facebook Comments could go a long way in helping Facebook create a PeopleRank algorithm that would help them better rank pages for their users. If I haven’t said it recently, Facebook’s Open Graph is just another version of Google’s Search Index.

In this instance, Facebook seems to be doing everything it can to develop an alternate way of ranking the web’s content while preventing Google from doing so. (Or am I projecting my own paranoia on the situation?)

PeopleRank could replace PageRank as the dominant way to organize content.

Traffic Channel Disruption

The traffic implications of Facebook Comments are substantial. By removing this content from the web, Facebook could reduce the ability of Google and Bing to send traffic to these sites. The long tail would get a lot shorter if Facebook Comments were widely adopted as is.

We’ve seen some anecdotal evidence that referring traffic from Facebook has increased after implementing Facebook Comments. That makes sense, particularly in the short-term.

The question is whether this is additive or a zero-sum game. In the long-run, would implementing Facebook Comments provide more traffic despite the potential loss in search engine traffic via fewer long-tail visits?

For publishers, the answer might be yes. For retailers, the answer might be no. That has a lot to do with the difference between informational and transactional search.

Even posing the question shows how disruptive Facebook Comments could be if it is widely adopted. It could be the true start of a major shift in website traffic channel mix.

Retailers Slow To Adopt Like Button

February 09 2011 // eCommerce + SEO + Social Media // 4 Comments

In April 2010 Facebook launched the Open Graph and Like button, allowing sites to better control how their pages are displayed in Facebook News Feeds and search results.

Retailers Slow To Adopt Like Button

Yesterday I visited all of Internet Retailer’s Top 100 retailers to see if they were using the Like button. I did not include those who were using the Like button for their Facebook Page but instead was looking for Like button usage on product pages.

Adoption Rate of Facebook Like Button by Retailers

The adoption rate of the Like button for eCommerce seems low, with only 27% of the Top 100 online retailers using the Facebook Like button.

Like vs Share

Facebook Share was not included in the above numbers, but is more widely used by retailers. Yet, the share functionality is no longer promoted or recommended by Facebook. Searching for it on their developers platform results in very little and what does usually points to the Like button and Open Graph documentation.

While not specifically measured, I’m unsure if any of these retailers (even those with the Like button installed) were using the related social plugins. In particular, the Recommendations plugin could be an interesting cross sell feature for retailers.

Facebook Insights

Of those using the Like button, only 35% were tracking usage via Facebook Insights. My methodology for validating this was to use the Facebook Linter tool on a retailer’s domain. I counted those who had the appropriate Facebook Insights for Domains verification (fb:admins, fb:app_id or fb:page_id) enabled.

This is somewhat less surprising given the difficulty in verification, lack of robust data in Facebook Insights and ability of retailers to track downstream traffic from Facebook as a benchmark for success. However, this metric should be of concern to Facebook.

eCommerce Opportunity

Facebook Money

The Like button and Open Graph present a huge opportunity for retailers and eCommerce. Using Facebook SEO, retailers can optimize the way their products are presented on Facebook.

Each Like is a type of micro-review and an opportunity for retailers to leverage brand affinity. In addition, sites can publish stream updates to users who have Liked pages via the Open Graph API.

There are 500 million active users who spend 700 billion minutes a month on Facebook. When will retailers decide to dedicate more effort to reach this captive audience?

You Don’t Count Friends

January 18 2011 // Rant + Social Media // 3 Comments

When was the last time you counted your friends … in real life.

You Don’t Count Friends

My guess is that you have never actually sat down and counted your friends. Maybe when you were 6 you counted your best friends on one hand but you didn’t wake up every morning and recount. Yet online we’re constantly reminded of and trained to tally our friends.

The Prisoner

We’ve become prisoners to social numbers. The numbers on Facebook and Twitter; on Feedburner and Quora. Not only are we held hostage by those numbers, we become them too. We’re number 212 on someone’s list, number 83 on another.

I am not a number! I am a free man!

I love numbers and could literally lose myself in an Excel spreadsheet for a day. But the numbers attached to friends and followers simply seem unnatural and don’t map to any offline behavior.

People are generally not alerted when someone ‘unfriends’ them in real life. What does that even mean? It probably means you grew apart and just don’t talk anymore. No biggie.

But online the drop in friend count is right there in your face. Suddenly you have to explain and account for it. WTF!

Lose The Social Numbers

Lose The Numbers

What it we lost the numbers. Maybe you still need some sort of tally? But could we come up with a word to describe a range of numbers? Something that would be more real?

  • A Handful
  • Several
  • Some
  • Many
  • A Lot
  • Tons

I know, I know, people will probably still want to get from Several to Some or from A Lot to Tons. But maybe it helps a little? Or maybe we just remove the numbers all together. Poof.

Is there an app for that? Like an ad blocker but for social media numbers? Contact me if you want to help build one.

Quora’s Not A Competition (But I’m Winning)

January 03 2011 // Life + Social Media // 2 Comments

It’s a new year and like millions of others I’ve taken stock and made some resolutions.

The Dark Passenger

Perhaps it was in this state of mind that I caught myself turning Quora into a competition. It’s not (or shouldn’t be) and my initial motivations for answering were more altruistic than self-serving. But like some dark passenger (hat tip to Dexter), my competitive nature has emerged. Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with being competitive.

I’ve been criticized for being too self-assured, cocky or condescending. “You seem to think your opinion is always right.” I’ve heard that a number of times. My response is another question. Why would I give an opinion that I didn’t believe in?

While true, I doubt that response helps my case. That’s not to say that I’m never wrong or that I don’t change my mind. I can be persuaded to see another point of view. I enjoy intelligent debate.

That brings me to Adam Lasnik, who started off the new year with two great blog posts. I wholeheartedly agree with his publish first, think later criticism. His musings on why and whether we should contribute to sites like Quora got me thinking.

Why are we contributing to Quora? It’s a funny business in a way. Quora’s business is our contributions. It’s the same knock I have against article directories. They make a business on your content, leasing back a small fraction of their trust and authority in the form of backlinks. It’s not a particularly healthy relationship.

Is Quora different?

I still see value in contributing to a community like Quora and Stack Overflow. I don’t think a policy of isolation is the right course of action. Sharing your expertise is good business. But it makes me think about the motivations for contributing. On the face, you want to share your knowledge with someone. They have a question. You have an answer.

But it’s not like someone asking you in person, or via email or any other number of mediums. They’re not just asking you. Instead of getting one answer, they’ll get a number of answers. That can often be good, but it’s then up to the person or community to determine which of those answers is … best. Dress it up as most useful or interesting – people assign judgment to your content.

Keeping Score

Should we be surprised when we get caught up in wanting to have that best answer? It reminded me of a lyric from Love’s Not A Competition (But I’m Winning) by the Kaiser Chiefs.

I’m not sure what’s truly altruistic anymore,
When every good thing that I do is listed and you’re keeping score,


So I’m guarding against this ego based, game mentality. I don’t want to want to be first to answer a question, nor do I want that dark passenger to push me to contribute more. I’d like to be far more collegiate in nature, because this isn’t a zero sum game.

2011 Predictions

December 31 2010 // Analytics + Marketing + SEO + Social Media + Technology + Web Design // 3 Comments

Okay, I actually don’t have any precognitive ability but I might as well have some fun while predicting events in 2011. Lets look into the crystal ball.

2011 Search Internet Technology Predictions

Facebook becomes a search engine

The Open Graph is just another type of index. Instead of crawling the web like Google, Facebook lets users do it for them. Facebook is creating a massive graph of data and at some point they’ll go all Klingon on Google and uncloak with several bird of prey surrounding search. Game on.

Google buys Foursquare

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last 6 months it’s clear that Google wants to own local. They’re dedicating a ton of resources to Places and decided that getting citations from others was nice but generating your own reviews would be better. With location based services just catching on with the mainstream, Google will overpay for Foursquare and bring check-ins to the masses.

UX becomes more experiential

Technology (CSS3, Compass, HTML5, jQuery, Flash, AJAX and various noSQL databases to name a few) transforms how users experience the web. Sites that allow users to seamlessly understand applications through interactions will be enormously successful.

Google introduces more SEO tools

Google Webmaster Tools continues to launch tools that will help people understand their search engine optimization efforts. Just like they did with Analytics, Google will work hard in 2011 to commoditize SEO tools.

Identity becomes important

As the traditional link graph becomes increasingly obsolete, Google seeks to leverage social mentions and links. But to do so (in any major way) without opening a whole new front of spam, they’ll work on defining reputation. This will inevitably lead them to identity and the possible acquisition of Rapleaf.

Internet congestion increases

Internet congestion will increase as more and more data is pushed through the pipe. Apps and browser add-ons that attempt to determine the current congestion will become popular and the Internati will embrace this as their version of Greening the web. (Look for a Robert Scoble PSA soon.)

Micropayments battle paywalls

As the appetite for news and digital content continues to swell, a start-up will pitch publications on a micropayment solution (pay per pageview perhaps) as an alternative to subscription paywalls. The start-up may be new or may be one with a large installed user base that hasn’t solved revenue. Or maybe someone like Tynt? I’m crossing my fingers that it’s whoever winds up with Delicious.

Gaming jumps the shark

This is probably more of a hope than a real prediction. I’d love to see people dedicate more time to something (anything!) other than the ‘push-button-receive-pellet’ games. I’m hopeful that people do finally burn out, that the part of the cortex that responds to this type of gratification finally becomes inured to this activity.

Curation is king

The old saw is content is king. But in 2011 curation will be king. Whether it’s something like Fever, my6sense or Blekko, the idea of transforming noise into signal (via algorithm and/or human editing) will be in high demand, as will different ways to present that signal such as Flipboard and

Retargeting wins

What people do will outweigh what people say as retargeting is both more effective for advertisers and more relevant for consumers. Privacy advocates will howl and ally themselves with the government. This action will backfire as the idea of government oversight is more distasteful than that of corporations.

Github becomes self aware

Seriously, have you looked at what is going on at Github? There’s a lot of amazing work being done. So much so that Github will assemble itself Voltron style and become a benevolently self-aware organism that will be our digital sentry protecting us from Skynet.

Quora Button

December 27 2010 // Social Media + Web Design // 8 Comments

I like Quora, so much so that I wanted to add it as another contact option on this blog. But I couldn’t find a Quora button that matched my current buttons. So, I took a crack at making one myself.

Quora Button

Quora Button

Feel free to use it or make a better one. (Just let me know when you do.) In the interim, you should follow me on Quora and explore the growing knowledge community.

Social Entropy

December 21 2010 // Social Media // 2 Comments

It’s been frustrating to see social networking take on the properties of game mechanics instead of organic social behavior. That’s why The Real Life Social Network, a presentation and research by Paul Adams, was such a breath of fresh air.

If you haven’t reviewed it already, you should. It’s one of the smartest and most thoughtful investigations into how to translate offline social relationships online.

Dunbar’s Number

Dunbar's Number

One of the concepts Adams touches on is Dunbar’s Number.

Dunbar’s number is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships.

While there are upper and lower limits, the number generally sits at 150. I’ve argued the importance of Dunbar’s Number a few times and believe that it is still relevant online. Perhaps technology could increase the number slightly, but not by much in my opinion.

All Relationships Are Not Equal

Best Friends

This seemingly mundane statement hasn’t really been reflected in most social networks. People put different values on relationships. Is someone a friend or an acquaintance? Are they a colleague or a mentor? Who’s your BFF?

In fact, relationships could have a different value based on the context. My best bicycling pal might not be the friend I talk to about my personal life. A close friend might not be the person I ping for a discussion about SEO.

This concept is translated into strong ties (real friends) and weak ties (acquaintances and contacts). Most social networks treat tie strength equally. Lists provide some way to divide your social graph and divvy strong from weak, but it’s still a rather blunt tool.


Memory Is Not Infinite

Adams also references memory in his presentation. Memory is not infinite. I think that’s an astute observation and dovetails into the conversation about information overload.

I’m fascinated by the idea that weak tie information could crowd out the strong. Could having too many weak ties mixed in with the strong prevent us from having real social relationships? Could the quest for more connections actually marginalize the ones that matter?

Are we overwhelming our memory with a tidal wave of social information?


Your social graph is made up of groups. Similar to the idea that relationships have different values, your relationships fall into groups. They may be about where or how you met that person. These are my high school friends. These are my friends from San Diego. These are the people I worked with at such-and-such job.

Often these groups also reveal interests. You may have a group of friends surrounding a topic. I have some book friends. But my book friends might not be Philadelphia Eagles fans too. (Paul does a much better job of detailing this in his presentation.)

I had an opportunity to chat with Armen Berjikly at Experience Project earlier this year. What I found amazing was how they allowed users to express all facets of their personality. You could join any number of groups without them defining your entire experience on the site.

People are not just one thing.

Social Evolution

Social Evolution

If people are not just one thing, they’re also never the same. People evolve as they gain more life experience.

So, what happens to our groups?

How many of your high school friends do you really keep up with and does that dwindle as you get farther away from that time in your life? Your interests might change. Maybe you moved from Malibu to Omaha, so you’re not into surfing anymore. Will you keep up with all of your surfing buddies? Your childhood best friend may not be a close friend today.

I’ve worked in Fund Raising and Advertising. But I haven’t kept up with most of the people in those industries. I have less in less in common with them over time. Or take a book group. You might enjoy that for a while, but over time it likely disintegrates. The funny thing is, that doesn’t mean I don’t like books or even book groups. I may wind up joining another book group.

It’s what I refer to as social entropy.

Social Entropy

Just A Friend

The process of social entropy is OK! It’s natural. Relationships change (Biz Markie’s unrequited love likely faded.) In fact, it might be necessary so you can grow and forge new relationships. It’s a type of creative destruction. I’m not the same person I was in high school, why would I maintain all of those relationships 20 years later?

If I did try to maintain all of those relationships, I’d quickly exceed Dunbar’s Number. In addition, my social graph would increasingly have more weak ties than strong.

How does this translate online? This year I also lucky enough to chat with Lyle Fong of Lithium Technologies. Among many other things, he noted the need for groups to splinter or evolve.

If you’re ever been in an online group you’ve probably experienced this problem. The group probably starts off wonderfully. The signal to noise ratio is excellent. But because of that more and more people join. But ultimately that reduces the signal to noise ratio. Often a core set of members will flee the group to … start a new one. Or another set of members will flee to start a group with a slightly different topic.

Conversely, limiting group membership can also lead to social entropy. A defined group may begin with a flurry of interactions from many members. But then a few begin to dominate the conversation. Others simply fade into the background as they’re pulled in different directions or lose interest. Suddenly, it’s a very small group which doesn’t provide enough stimulus even for those dominating the conversation.

Right after Paul published his research I reached out to him. Though swamped with requests, he was kind enough to get back to me, confirming social entropy and how groups change. At that time it was thought Paul would lead Google’s new social effort. Yesterday he revealed he’s moving to Facebook.

Social 3.0

Building interfaces which allow for social entropy seems incredibly valuable.

So far, the focus has been on establishing relationships, but what about the natural process of breaking them? There has been some comical editorial about services which would help you ‘break up’ with friends. There can be a lot of emotional freight when you decide to unfriend someone. Feelings hide behind those friend numbers. Should those numbers even be exposed in the first place?

Or maybe there should there be a TTL on relationships? Sure, I wanted to check in on that freshman college roommate but do I then want to know about his daily life from then on?

The 50 friend limit imposed by Path is an interesting concept, forcing people to choose only those with whom you have a strong tie.

In real life people evolve and grow apart. I believe the social network that allows people (and their relationships) to evolve will be most successful.

Facebook Friend of a Friend

November 21 2010 // Social Media // 7 Comments

I’m not the biggest fan of Facebook for personal use. Instead, I hang out at FriendFeed. The main reason is because FriendFeed revolves around content instead of people. The secret sauce is the Friend of a Friend (FoaF) feature. FoaF lets me see content that my friends commented on or liked. So instead of my world view being limited to just my friends, I let my friends bring interesting content to me from other people.

Using people as filters. Information discovery at its best.

Facebook Friend of a Friend

The other day I visited Facebook and lo and behold I saw something different … yet familiar.

Facebook Friend of a Friend

I haven’t liked Dexter. He’s not my friend. But I’m seeing Dexter’s status because Oguz and Louis (who are my friends) liked it. The beauty of this is that I enjoy Dexter (though I’m way behind and am only on season 3.) Sure enough my friends (my filters) brought me the ‘right’ content.

Facebook FoaF

Here’s another instance. I’m not connected to Jason Falls. Sure I know who he is but we’re not buds. Yet, I’m seeing his status update because Susan and Louis commented on it. Once again, it’s content that is interesting to me. I’ve been talking about follow and friend abuse for a long time so it’s great to see others pruning their connections.

And while I’ve used two status examples, I’ve seen FoaF on photos and links as well.

Facebook FoaF on a Link

I’d have to have my head in the sand not to know who Loic is, but I’m not friends with him. I see his link because Oguz commented on it.

The FriendFeedification of Facebook

Facebook’s implementation of FoaF as well as duplicate detection and aggregation all make me like Facebook a lot more. Suddenly, I can use Facebook like I use FriendFeed. In fact, it may actually work better since there are (sadly) so many more people on Facebook.

I’ll likely be spending more time on Facebook. That’s something few people – myself included – thought they’d ever hear me say. The only (big) thing remaining is lists so I can create different views of the content my friends and their friends bring me.

Oddly, I’m more confident this will happen given the continuing FriendFeedification of Facebook.