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Summary:

As the race to build the social version of Google’s PageRank heats up, PeerIndex has added a new data source to its rankings: users can now connect their Quora profiles to the service, which will use their activity at the site as a measure of authority.

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As the race to build the social version of Google’s PageRank heats up, PeerIndex has added a new source of data for its rankings: the company said today that users can now connect their Quora profiles to the service, which will use their activity at the popular question-and-answer site — including any votes that their answers get from other Quora users — as another tool to measure their authority on various topics. As we’ve discussed before at GigaOM, companies like PeerIndex and Klout are trying to become the default measure of online influence, something that advertisers and marketers in particular are extremely interested in as they try to identify “influencers” who can spread their messages.

Both PeerIndex and Klout rank users based on data that comes from their Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts, although the two sites describe their rankings somewhat differently. Klout talks about overall “reach” and “amplification,” both of which are determined by looking at a user’s activity and how much impact it has on their social graph — whether their tweets are re-tweeted by others with influence, for example. PeerIndex says that it looks at a user’s activity in Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and then comes up with an authority rank for their expertise in eight topic areas, which it uses to create an influence “footprint” for each user.

Unlike Klout, PeerIndex also ranks what it calls “realness,” which is a measure of the likelihood that a user is an actual person rather than an automated feed or “spambot” (luckily, PeerIndex seems pretty convinced that I am a real person). And if a user has a huge number of followers but many of those are bots, the company says that actually decreases their overall ranking.

The focus on authority within specific topic areas makes Quora a particularly good fit for PeerIndex, since the Q&A site is building a crowdsourced ranking system of its own that measures the authority of different users, something Quora co-founder Charlie Cheever talked about recently. Although he didn’t give any details, that authority ranking presumably looks at the quality of a user’s answers and any votes or comments that they have gotten from other users. That kind of influence makes Quora results a perfect addition to a service like PeerIndex — in the same way that StackOverflow is now using content from its Q&A site as a way of ranking users as part of its new careers service.

We’re also starting to see some interesting applications of the data that comes from Klout and PeerIndex. For one thing, companies are starting to offer perks to Klout users who have high scores — including discounts at retail outlets and advance screenings of movies, presumably because marketers are hoping these “influencers” will spread the news to their followers and social graphs. And Peersquare is a recently-launched blend of PeerIndex and the Foursquare location-based service that shows the rankings of people who are in the same location as you, something that could be useful during a conference or other event. Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com has even talked about compensating employees based on their influence within social networks.

As Klout and PeerIndex add more sources of reputation or influence data such as Quora to their rankings, the web moves closer to having a kind of Google PageRank for social activity, with all that implies. The big problem, as with Google search, is how to exclude the social equivalent of black-hat SEO and link spam, and how to determine what it is real influence and what is simply Justin Bieber-style popularity.

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  1. Chris Dowsett Wednesday, March 2, 2011

    Hi Mathew – great article. I like Klout’s idea but the algorithm is so broad that I can’t see it being useful to anyone who isn’t Justin Bieber or Ashton Kutcher. Maybe social measures should follow Google and use data on ‘inbound comments’ or ‘inbound engagement’ as a proportion of their outbound comments as a measure of social presence. The other point is that a company PageRank had a direct correlation with their referrals from Google search and those with a rubbish PageRank may have suffered in sales. I can’t see a social ‘PageRank’ having that level of impact aside from a few discounts and freebies.

    1. Good points, Chris — thanks for the comment.

  2. Good article, Mathew. Do you think the seven guys on PeerIndex’ team have thought through the gender implications of including Quora information?

    I decided to check myself out on PeerIndex. I signed in with Twitter. Then they wanted by email because … um, I don’t know why. Then I went to connect my Facebook account and they asked for the following permissions http://flic.kr/p/9nnPKn

    Yeah, right.

    So PeerIndex has built in a bias against people who care about their privacy. Disappointing. I wonder if they’ve thought about the gender implications of that?

    1. Hey

      There are couple of privacy levels you can set :
      a. default – public
      b. private – hide your profile

      If you want further privacy, you can set your Twitter stream to private, and not authorise Facebook or LinkedIn or, indeed, anything else.

    2. Really interesting point about the gender implications. Do you happen to know what the split is on Quora?

  3. Great article on the relationship between social capital, authority, and the future of Q&A sites like Quora. As questions become increasingly answered by real authorities on a subject rather than the Justin Biebers of the Internet, the information is more worth reading. One way to build your own social capital and authority is to track your favorite topics on Quora by using YourVersion’s free iPad app. It is the easiest way to quickly see the latest questions and answers by only the topics you care about. Give the YourVersion app a try at http://bit.ly/yv-hd

  4. I discovered this tool which seems to do PageRank for content instead of users. Powerful combo with the services you mention.

  5. Nice article, Mathew. Building PageRank for the social web will be subjective at best. As you have mentioned in the article, each company seems to rate different aspects of a social media user.

    Much like PageRank with Google today, if one is assigned to the social web, people will try different methods of creating a better rank for their online persona. This may lead to abuse of the system, which won’t help any of the social networks.

    It will also be interesting to see if Google uses, or creates, a similar system to help in it’s rankings.

  6. Tom Eldridge Friday, March 4, 2011

    I do like the concept of social PR and this is going to be an interesting area to watch. Klout currently has the most visibility, but I express doubts as to the relevancy of it’s algorithm. Test’s have been conducted by RAAK which add fuel to the fire that if you tweet a lot then Klout will reward you http://www.wewillraakyou.com/2010/12/klout-is-broken/

    Rather going forward its relevancy and quality of our online transactions which will be of value. In that respect I like the approach of Peerindex which is not isolated to any particular social channel, and takes a broad spectrum to build it’s interest graph.

  7. The problem with Klout and not sure about Peer Index is they only look at positive measures, but not outliers. IE they do not know how to differentiate scammers. If you Google “Twitter Twerps” these guys are known scammers when it comes to their Klout scores, they bot, they create accounts to rt themselves, they rt each other constantly. The created hash tags to hide the bots and they even talk to the bots that mention them (on one day you could see two bots say the exact same thing inc ~ and ^^ in the tweet and yet they have a Klout score of over 60.

    People have reported them to Klout, Klout has done nothing. Why does this matter? Because they get free stuff. Lots of free stuff because of this. Free rooms at 5 star hotel chains. Free food, free cruises, free shows, free this and free that because of this score.

    So, I think unfortunately until these companies can start accounting for the scammers (ie profiles that seem to good to be true and this one has definite indicators such as gaining 20k followers in a month with no public reason for that to be so) They have limited capability.

    Also they are too sensitive. If I get sick, or in one case went to China with no access, or Twitter does no feed data (my RTs and Mentions for 2 weeks) my score has know seeming knowledge of the last year and it drops dramatically. There should be a score this X timeframe and an average over X time frame.

    So until these companies get better at IDing the spam, the scam and offer some method of dealing w short periods of time where info is not typical I fear they are limited in their capability.

  8. Enrico Montana Friday, March 4, 2011

    Mathew—

    Thanks for the great article. I’ll be interested to watch where these approaches evolve. Media channels have different purposes, and cater to audiences in very different ways. Influence in any one channel may not equate or support influence in another. For example, having well informed answers on a Q&A site doesn’t automatically give that user recommendation power on where to go or what to buy. Behaviorally, having an advocacy Influence is not the same as being a message Propagator or information Sharer. Should we be building complexity into what we all have been calling Influence, or is it time we start tailoring different measures to the outcomes we need, as well as separating these active behaviors from the segmentation aspects of finding people in the right context?

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