Points of Authority

Right from the time online communities begun on the internet, there has always been a way to identify the influencers in the community. Forums used the Karma System where users were thanked for putting informational posts, blogs were rated as per their PageRank and PageViews and social media networks like Orkut and FaceBook had testimonials to verify one’s influence status.

All this science seems to have gone out of the window with the advent of Twitter and FriendFeed because the very nature of these networks allows you to have as many conversations with as many people as possible. It is not uncommon to find users with more than 250 followers on Twitter.

This scenario has made it difficult to identify the influencers in the community. Even when Twitter launched its Name Search feature, a simple search for the name ‘Robert’ would not bring up Robert Scoble‘s name first (changes were made later). This prompted Loic Lemur, founder of Seesmic.com to comment that Twitter should develop the system in a way which ranks a user higher in the Name Search on the basis of the number of followers they have. While this idea was supported by Michael Arrington, Editor at TechCrunch.com, Robert Scoble, Managing Director of Fast Company vermently disagreed with the two.

According to him, the whole notion of judging a person’s authority by way of follower count does not make any sense as the person may have gotten those followers for a variety of reasons. He cited the case of Obama’s profile on Twitter, which was not managed by Obama himself. Scoble went on to say that what matters is who you are following and not who is following you.

I tend to agree with both points of view. On one hand, it is important to define authority on the basis of the content that is being provided. Maybe one way to do this is to rate the content and not the user. On the other hand, it is absolutely naiveté to think that authority can be determined on the basis of the number of followers one has.

All in all, there is a serious opportunity to develop AI and algorithms that can define authority on these new network platforms. Will 2009 be the year where content will be rated anonymously on a global level? Only time will tell.

Picture courtesy Elanso.


  1. Would be much simpler to sort by the “digg” system where pure user feedback decides ‘popularity’

    or maybe the person wit the most tweets rather than actual following, though that’d set off a ‘top the list with useless junk’ spam marathon…

  2. Thanks Asfaq for putting your thoughts down.

    Imho, I think the solution is simple. The way to track twitter authority is not based on the number of followers one has. Because that can be gamed. But instead, twitter authority should be calculated by:


    Its simple. Yet gives a very accurate picture of who people follow on their own merit. (Obviously its not 100% accurate. But its pretty dang close.)

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