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 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: http://www.christianholmer.com

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