On the Need for Popularity Metrics in Social Networks

From what I’ve read so far, the conversation on the need/futility/meaning of finding out the most popular bloggers seems to be missing the point. It is not about finding interesting things to read. It is not about connecting with people across boundaries. It is certainly not about finding good company to hang out with.

Let me quote myself from a comment in an earlier post:

But who cares about rankings? Just sounds like a big circle jerk to me.
Oh wait, the advertisers.. they need to know who are the top bloggers!

That’s right baby! Show me the money! Most bloggers are (or at least pretend to be) into blogging for the fun of it. So I am not surprised if this angle hasn’t been considered worth even thinking about so far. I was guilty of not following through on that angle until now. But this is the angle that everyone will be examining in the not too distant future.

Here’s the crux: It is important to develop quantitative metrics to analyze social networks because metrics enable us to ascribe a price to content being generated in the new micro-economy.

Here’s a prediction: In the next year or two, Google or Yahoo are going to come out with micro-economy models which incorporate at least some of the ideas that follow.

AdSense: Right now, just the choice of advertisements is based on the context of the page on which the advt is going to appear. In the future, even its price will be contextual. How popular is this page? How popular is this blogger? Who else is discussing this topic? Which demographic is linking to this page? From where? Since when?

Normally, an advt on Boing Boing will way cost more than on my blog. Then one day, I will write about the True Theory of Everything. Within hours, word will spread through online social networks. There’ll be a flurry of trackbacks. An avalanche of comments. AdSense will detect all this activity and automatically, silently, pump up the advertising rates for my site to stratospheric heights. And then Boing Boing will link to me. My AdSense check for that month will buy me a nice island somewhere.

Micro Content: All kinds of content is being created by folks like you and me. The more creative amongst us are able to justify charging for it. In the near future, while I’ll be putting up a story online and just hope someone will read it (really!), the next Stephen King will be publishing his novels online and letting people buy it through Google/Yahoo. At what price? It depends. Who’s talking about the story? Are those talking about it mature, sophisticated adults or angst-ridden teenagers? Do the latter form the target audience for the book? Will someone be willing to pay even a measly five cents for my story?

You want to download a movie on pay per view? How much will you pay? How popular is the movie? We don’t have box-office sales to measure popularity because this is a not a big hollywood studio production. It was made in a basement somewhere in Varanasi or Vancouver. All we can do to gauge its popularity is to mine the social networks for information.

The same goes for music and art and photos and web templates and what not.

As Slashdot dorks would say:

  1. Create a micro payment infrastructure.
  2. Watch social networks to determine content pricing.
  3. Profit!!!

Kaps said:

These intricate social networks can’t be captured by existing quantitative measurement tools.

So we have to invent new measurement tools. But invent we must! Because there’s big money to be made!