Friday, May 06, 2011

social activity signals what is authoritative and good?

Technology Review | This ambitious project gets much of its information from the simple "Like" button, a thumbs-up logo that adorns many Web pages and invites visitors to signal their appreciation for something—a news story, a recipe, a photo—with a click. Taylor created the concept in 2007 at FriendFeed, a social network that he cofounded, which was acquired by Facebook in 2009. Back then, the button was just a way to encourage people to express their interests, but in combination with Facebook's user base of nearly 600 million people, it is becoming a potent data-collecting tool. The code behind the Like button is available to any site that wants to add it to its pages. If a user is logged in to Facebook and clicks the Like button anywhere on the Web, the link is shared with that person's Facebook friends. Simultaneously, that thumbs-up vote is fed into Taylor's Web-wide index.

That's how the Wall Street Journal highlights articles that a person's friends enjoyed on its site. This is what lets Microsoft's Bing search engine promote pages liked by a person's friends. And it's how Pandora creates playlists based on songs or bands a person has appreciated on other sites.

This method of figuring out connections between pieces of content is fundamentally different from the one that has ruled for a decade. Google mathematically indexes the Web by scanning the hyperlinks between pages. Pages with many links from other sites rise to the top of search results on the assumption that such pages must be relatively useful or interesting. The social index isn't going to be a complete replacement for Google, but for many types of activity—such as finding products, entertainment, or things to read—the new system's personal touch could make it more useful.

Google itself acknowledges this: it recently rolled out a near-clone of the Like button, which it calls "+1." It lets people signify for their friends which search results or Web pages they've found useful. Google is also using Twitter activity to augment its index. If you have connected your Twitter and Google accounts, Web links that your friends have shared on Twitter may come up higher in Google search results.

Another advantage of a social index is that it could be less vulnerable to manipulation: inflating Google rankings by creating extra links to a site is big business, but buying enough Facebook likes to make a difference is nearly impossible, says Chris Dixon, cofounder of Hunch, a Web startup that combines its own recommendation technology with tools from Facebook and Twitter. "Social activity provides a really authentic signal of what is authoritative and good," says Dixon. That's why Hunch and other services, including an entertainment recommendation site called GetGlue, are building their own social indexes, asking people to record their positive feelings about content from all over the Web. If you're browsing for something on Amazon, a box from GetGlue can pop up to tell you which of your friends have liked that item.

A social index will be of less use to people who don't have many online connections. And even Facebook's map covers just a small fraction of the Web for now. But about 10,000 additional websites connect themselves to Facebook every day.


Tom said...

YMMV but it p-o'ed me just to see a guy who 'invented' a 'like button' profiled in Tech Review at all. My copy is sitting under a potted plant this month while I cool off.

CNu said...

jealous, hater...., (^;

CNu said...

The conversation you, migrant, imhotep, et al rocked over at Big Man's this week;

was superb...., thanks for that.

Tom said...

Oh, thanks ... I felt like I did nothing but rake over the same ground; the regulars had really gotten both sides of the thing clear already.

Except for my little outburst, "of course we think we're better than everybody else!" You know how in a corporate meeting, sometimes it becomes almost impossible not to just serve the turd out onto the table? Thinking about turds is all icky and shameful, but a turd on the conference table is just a sanitation problem. Maybe.

ProfGeo said...

Thanks for highlighting this Big Man thread, especially as I am not making my "full rounds" of the blogosphere for another couple of weeks. (And that IS with TAs earning their keep.) It's a nice microcosmic example of how a face-to-face conversation on race could progress, even in corporate "diversity" sessions, if people didn't get their knickers all twisted up. Got it marked to pass on as "required reading" for anyone who wants to talk to me in a mixed face-to-face environment about this stuff.

Meanwhile, speaking of food: