Comments have increasingly become distributed. They’ve fled into the interstices of the Web, into tweets, Facebook updates or threads in Google Reader, for those who use those platforms. That’s why Disqus or Echo or other ways to aggregate comments about content through trackbacks and “tweetbacks” have become more important. That’s also why when you stumble across a high traffic blog that receives dozens of comments on each post, you know you’ve found a community of interest.
Yesterday, I commented on a story from Universal Hub that someone in my network had shared. That, in turn, led to more than a dozen others comments. By the end of the thread, however, the focus had turned from whether religious texts could be used in high school literature classes (something the Supreme Court has ruled on) to my use of Twitter.
It’s remarkable how many different places that Twitter has come up this year in conversations, often with strong opinions about its utility, business value or reflection on human nature. In this case, the comments were forceful, caustic and directed squarely at me. Since the author may not be alone in his sentiments, I responded at length.
The commenter focused his not-so-veiled critique on users guilty of “spewing links, dropping names and writing tweets that at times border on incomprehensible serve to do nothing but inflate the ego of the user who is clearly more concerned with the number of ‘followers’ than anything else.“
I don’t, in general, follow people who just link or @reply to celebrities. I rely upon those I’ve carefully chosen to follow over the years to filter and curate the best of what’s happening. Twitter Lists have made that even easier. I do need to be careful not to use too many #hashtags. Each tweet should be legible and understandable on its own. Focusing on clarity there is among my New Year’s resolutions.
I also commented that I believed I provide more value than most, which, given the quality of most tweets, isn’t unreasonable. I look for further validation to Chris Brogan, who tweeted “endless value in his tweetstream: @digiphile” last month, or to my friend Patrick LaForge at the New York Times, who included me on his “linkers” list. Or NYU journalism prof Jay Rosen, who added me to his “mindcasters” list.
Here’s the secret sauce – and it’s isn’t a closely held one: When I tweet, I attribute author, source and provide a link to more information.
That’s the format and behavior that has been rewarded, not “spewing links” like the twitterfeeds I so dislike. I don’t care about whatever my follower count is, honestly. I care about who they are, since that provides me with a direct line to folks at the New York Times, Wired, Google, RWW, TechCrunch or dozens of other tech pubs, blogs or institutions. I’ve gotten more than enough validation from those folks to insulate me now against haters, although to be honest, I haven’t found many. Most I’ve asked for feedback say I inform and occasionally entertain, and have generally been grateful when I’ve livetweeted events. It’s the Internet. Here, you can’t please everyone all of the time.
On Social Search
Recently, Google included tweets at the top of search results. As Google CEO Eric Schmidt tweeted, “so glad we could integrate tweets into our Google search products; real-time really matters.” Here’s Google’s Matt Cutts explaining what social search means to Google:
My critic chose to dive deep into Google’s interest in real-time search, suggesting that:
“Google’s Holy Grail isn’t real time search, just a way to rake in dollars. Google is a business that wants to make money. Google makes money with its search engine by getting eyeballs on results. Real time search is compelling to Google because it will bring more eyeballs to its search engine. More eyeballs on the search engine mean more advertisers want in. That, in turn, lines Google’s pockets further. Mayer and Schmidt have identified Twitter as a hot trend that it can capitalize on, which explains the love affair. In the end, Google doesn’t really care what anyone is spewing out 140 characters at a time. It only cares that it can serve ads based on continuously updating content.”
I find that to be a shallow assessment of Google. Brin and Page founded the company with a different mission than making money: “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” The revenue model to support that only came years afterwards. As a public company, Schmidt and other corporate officers must “maximize” shareholder value, which has meant cutting some of the more wild engineering projects. Money matters, as does the business strategy, but there’s something else at work there.
Google isn’t a monolithic “it,” despite AP style. The company is made up of thousands of people. Those that are working on next-gen search under Mayer care do care about “what anyone is spewing out 140 characters at a time,” including who they are. Listen to Mayer’s talk at LeWeb or Marshall Kirkpatrick’s analysis of social search at ReadWriteWeb for the reasons why this is so: influence, validation on a specific channel and link behavior.
“What we looked at was twelve different signals,” said Mayer, including retweets, replies, and topics retweeted. Those in aggregate leads to “a notion of authoritativeness.
That notion is the crux of adaption PageRank to a more social Web. Just as the human-aided algorithm at TechMeme organizes the best, more relevant discussions in the tech blogosphere, Google (and Bing’s) search team are looking for ways to make search social. Twitter and Facebook are clearly part of the social search puzzle. The actions of the connectors share phatics that make sense of that activity, much as the links from blogs and static websites organized the early Web.
Our navigation of the real world using social search is already improving. Take my experience yesterday, when I replied to Robert Scoble that searching for sushi in Capitol Hill in DC told a visual tale. I found Bing ‘s results less useful than Google’s search results because of geolocation, map integration and the ads served up. By sharing that, however, I learned more from people than the algorithm:
First, I learned from @imusicmash Bing actually does show a map for most searches for food, like “sushi palo alto.” Second, I heard from @DonavonHill that Kabuki Sushi in DC’s Union Station equals “SUPER-YUM!”
That’s social search in action, in real-time.
As we share what we’re thinking, working on, where we’re traveling or what our experiences are of any topic on the Web, we’re contributing to the nascent “noosphere,” a philosophical concept I described to @james3neal as the skein of global consciousness containing humanity’s cultural achievements. As we update social networks with our experiences, social search will be the means by which we surf that human-curated Web. It may be that we don’t use the word “social‘ to describe the process, choosing collaborative or people instead.