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Why We Need PageRank for the Social Web

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It is truly remarkable how the right people with the right idea at the right time can change the world. Larry Page and Sergey Brin did this in 1999 with PageRank. To a large extent, this simple fundamental insight helped Google organize the Internet in the early days just as the web was exploding. Building on this, Google (s goog) became the de facto front door to what I will call the “content web,” where most users are searching for, and finding, information created by publishers in a fairly static manner.

Fast forward a decade, and today, more and more content is created and curated by people on networks such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. The content web has lost its primacy as the main source of information that matters to most people on a daily basis. Instead, a person’s Facebook news feed or Twitter stream is increasingly becoming the place to go for people to tap into the web. Users discover interesting news articles, get recommendations for movies and browse funny videos via their social streams. On an average day, I click on more links from these places than from a Google search results page.

This “social lens” to the web is becoming more valuable and Twitter and Facebook are evolving to be the new gateways to the Internet.

Just as PageRank fundamentally revolutionized how the content web evolved, I think there’s a new metric, which will shape how these social streams evolve and become more useful. I like to call this an “engagement score.” The link juice of this world is basically the level of social engagement that a person can generate with a post on their stream.

Tied to a web identity across many platforms, this score would be a measure of how “useful” the person’s stream is to other people. Whether it’s curating good content, creating interesting social content or just being important enough to make news, a person’s engagement score is a measure of how much they contribute to the quality of the social web.

For example, Om sharing this post on Twitter will be more effective than me doing the same. His tweet will reach more people, get more impressions, clicks, re-tweets and more “@” mentions than mine, and his Facebook update will get more likes and comments than mine. Om’s social engagement is clearly higher than mine.

It’s likely that users who engage with Om’s tweet have a higher social engagement score than users who engage with mine. Just like the PageRank of a website is determined not just by the number of links to the website, but also by where the links are coming from, social engagement should be determined not just by the sheer number of followers, re-tweets, comments but by considering who the commenters and re-tweeters are.

It’s also valuable for this engagement score to be network-agnostic and tied to a web identity rather than a single network. Om’s audience is his, irrespective of whether his posts are read on Twitter, Facebook or this blog. A robust model for measuring social engagement will help shape and organize the social web and will become integral to effective information organization and discovery on the Internet.

Bindu Reddy, is CEO of MyLikes, a word of mouth advertising platform. Previously, Reddy was a product manager at Google. During her career there, she worked on multiple Google products, including Google Search.

Image courtsey flickr user crsan:

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17 Responses to “Why We Need PageRank for the Social Web”

  1. I believe Page Rank was valuable before Google deiced to publish their data publicly, you are just asking for people to manipulate the data. Google, Facebook and Twitter must already have a ranking system for social interactions they are just learning from their mistakes and not going to make it widely known. There are some research papers I have read recently that hint on this.

  2. Well, we did it a few months ago with our service It uses an algorithm to assign a rank to a user, taking into account most of the parameters you mention in your post.

    Based on tweerank, there is the Twitter search engine, that shows results ordered by users’ tweerank.

  3. Bindu
    Several companies are approaching the issue of identifying influence and authority and trust on the social Web. Some use Pagerank and it’s ilk, some dont.

    We (at PeerIndex, do use a series of network calculations (which includes Pagerank) as well as some other stuff to identify various attributes like trust and authority.

    There is a limited discussion on Quora here:

    What is becoming rapidly apparent is that Pagerank isn’t enough for the social web, just as on its own it isn’t enough for searching Web pages.

  4. rohitsift

    great insights here – mathematically speaking, measuring SocialRank algorithmically is no less difficult than PageRank. at some point, fb’s opengraph could be very helpful if enough content links via this new protocol. clearly opengraph isn’t enough – twitter and other social sharing/curation needs to be measured as well.

  5. Bindu,

    Thanks for sharing your insights . I love the clarity with which you defined the “engagement score” to mean “the level of social engagement that a person can generate with a post on their stream.” It makes sense.

    I agree that the engagement score is the function of the social networking status of the person. The one element that’s important to include in the calculation, though, is the reputation of the person’s on-line persona. For example, a newly created account that quickly gained many followers might be a spammer’s avatar, and would be less trustworthy than an account of a person active on-line for a longer time.

    I propose defining the notion of “social identity reputation score” to capture this aspect of the social web. This score would measure the extent to which the person is influential on-line, as well as the reliability of the person’s social identity data. Together with aspects of the “engagement score” you outlined, it might create a version of PageRank relevant to social streams.

    More on the social identity reputation score here:

    — Lenny Zeltser

  6. Bindu, I’m of the opinion that this is already happening. Take a look at Google Social Search and the Social Circles that Google measures for each person with a Google Buzz Profile. Seeing these is definite proof that Google is measuring the influence of the people it profiles and well as their followers and the followers of those followers.

    The Link Graph that Google has always used to determine PageRank has been replaced by the Twitter Shared Links Link Graph. Google is now using the Title Tags of pages shared with shortened links as Anchor Text Links in it’s Real Time Search Product.

    The combination of the Title Tag as anchor text and the “Influence” of the person sharing the link is the formula for the new PageRank you are talking about.

    I am of the opinion that this is already happening to a minor extent, but I would look to that expanding in the next year in its use. See:

  7. Google did a great job in organizing the world’s information in the first decade of 21st century. However, the information explosion that we are witnessing will need not just organization but more importantly automatic cognition of the information streams.

    That is what Stowe Boyd said in social cognition talk at #defrag and that is what Yuri Milner alluded to at Web 2.0 summit #w2s when he said there is an opportunity for mathematicians as huge amount of computing and information flow becomes available.

    • Bindu

      Check out or one of the millions of other people indexed by Klout for influence on the web. Note that you have a score of 40 with growing influence, but if you compare your score to Om Malik ( Om has a score of 75, which has been flat over the period that your influence has been growing.

      Choose any random article on HuffPo (e.g. and the influencers on that topic are shown at the bottom of the article with their Klout score highlighted. Likewise Seesmic Desktop and 750+ other companies have embedded Klout score in their product to solve the problem you highlight. There is PageRank for the Social Web and Klout is delivering it. Is there competition in the space? Yes, there always is, but my money is on klout (see last paragraph!).

      I think that Klout is the influence measure you are looking for, that covers influence for the millions of people that use Facebook and Twitter, with other networks to be added soon.

      Full disclosure: My fund is an investor in Klout and I sit on the Board.