The well known podcast
“For Immediate Release
” (#113) by Neville Hobson and Shel Holz uses the Onalytica report about Business Blogging
as a starting point for a discussion on authority vs. popularity.
They have several interesting perspectives on the issue and I urge anyone with an interest in the topic to listen to their show.
Aside from the above discussion the podcast as a whole is a comprehensive update on what is happening in the world of blogging, PR and new media. It’s easy to understand why their show has such a huge following.
The fear of a possible bird flu pandemic is causing concern to governments and health organisations around the world.
We decided to measure who the world relies on when it comes to information about bird flu.
To measure influence we use a scientifically recognised methodology called citation analysis. (See a more detailed description after the results section)
Measuring influence this way assumes that when a person mentions another person in a particular context then it is because the former person thinks the latter is relevant to the context.
And, since the former thinks the latter is relevant to the context the latter has some influence on the former.
The actual amount of influence is initially irrelevant. It’s whether or not there is influence that matters.
The practicalities of measuring influence this way are to first find everything that has been written about an issue. We achieved this by automatically downloading everything we could find that was freely available on the internet that contained any of the following words or phrases:
We then identified who was referencing whom in this context. (A reference can be a textual reference or a hyperlink).
These references were then used as equations in a massive simultaneous equation system that produces the influence of each stakeholder as a result.
Table 1 (above) shows the top 50 influencers on the topic of “Bird Flu”. The Issue Influence Index™ is a linear influence scale ranging from 1 and upwards. An index value of 10 thus means “twice the influence” as index value of 5.
Notice the substantial influence of the top three organisations, WHO, OIE and FAO.
The United Nations in Vietnam most likely gets its influence because several early cases of bird flu and fatalities amongst the human population in Vietnam.
Roche is most likely on the list because they are the principal supplier of the Tamiflu, an anti-influenza drug believed to have some effect on the current virus, H5N1.
(It is clear that the results favours English language media as search parameters, with the exception of “H5N1” are in English.)
Figure 1 (above) shows how the top 50 influencers reference each other. Please bear in mind that all identified stakeholders outside the top 50 have been removed from the network picture. You can download a more comprehensive version of the results and the methodology here
(0.7 MB pdf)
While many corporations initially saw blogging as a potential treat to their reputation an increasing number have now started to use blogging as a new way of engaging with their stakeholders.
The rush for corporations to create and execute effective blog strategies have become a healthy business for a large number of bloggers who have demonstrated their ability to gain attention via their own blogs.
To understand who is influential when it comes to “business blogging” we decided to measure it.
You can download the entire report here (pdf 0.1 MB)
What is influence and how is it measured?
In the internet community in general and in the blogsphere in particular there has been a growing understanding that search engines such as Technorati measure influence. They don’t. They measure popularity which is something totally different.
When Technorati ranks blogs they count the number of link sources pointing to a blog. So a blog that has 10 inbound links has higher rank than one that has 5 inbound links. So far so good. The blog with inbound links from 10 different sources is clearly more popular than the one with 5 link sources.
However, when they use this measure of popularity as “authority” they are stretching it too far.
David Letterman may be popular when it comes to the topic of US national politics, but few would call him an authority on the topic.
(In Onalytica we don’t use the word “authority”, but are more focused on “influence”, but in this context, “influence”, “authority” and “relevance” are closely related.)
Before moving on to explaining how influence is really measured I want to give a few examples why popularity is not a measure of influence, authority or relevance.
Imagine two websites A and B. They both write about the same topic – say US politics. Website A has inbound links from 2 sources and B from 10 sources.
B is clearly more popular than A, but is B also more influential?
We can’t know from the data above.
Now imagine that website B is a blog written by a random 11-year old child as an assignment and those 10 who link to B are his or her class mates and the teacher of the assignment.
Imagine further that those who link to A are The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Intuitively website A is now the more influential. Why? Because it is deemed relevant by websites who are themselves influential on US Politics.
The above example touches on the first major reason why popularity and influence is not the same: All websites are not equal.
As in real life, your parents and family members may think you’re the greatest authority on something, but unless they themselves have authority on the issue, it doesn’t really make you an authority.
If popularity was a measure of authority (or influence or relevance) then two websites, where the first has inbound links from the 500 most trafficked websites would have the same authority as one who only had inbound links from the 500 least trafficked websites. This is clearly not the case.
The last major complaint about using the number of inbound links as a measure of anything but raw popularity is that the number is not related to the context.
If you search Technorati for “bird flu” and only want to see posts with high authority you get a page full of links to large news media. Google News came up on top when I did it.
Nobody believes that Google News is an authority on “bird flu”. They are a news aggregator.
The reason why they appear as the number 1 result is because they have an enormous number of inbound link sources.
But are those who link to Google News linking to it in the context of “bird flu”? Some may be, but I think it’s safe to assume that people link to Google News from all sorts of contexts.
As a consequence of mixing up non-contextual popularity with authority on issues, the major news media appear to be the biggest authorities on anything.
In fact, because Engadget, a hugely popular blog about “gadgets” has so many inbound link sources it appeared twice on the first page of the search results for “bird flu” in Technorati (filtered for maximum authority). I’m sure it will come as a surprise to even the writers of Engadget that they are one of the world’s foremost authorities on bird flu.
So how is influence/authority/relevance then measured?
The answer is that you have to take the indirect influence/authority/relevance into account.
In the academic community there is no real debate about how to measure influence.
For more than 3 decades academics have used something called “citation analysis” to measure the influence of academic journals, researchers and universities.
In academic articles, writers cite the works of other academics. They do that for several reasons, but mainly because they believe that those they cite are relevant to the context. They point to other publications that are relevant to their arguments and to the context. In doing so they reveal which other publications have influenced them.
In citation analysis these citations from one journal to another are regarded as links.
These links are extracted and transformed into a huge system of equations. When solved the result is a relative measure of influence.
This way of measuring influence was developed by Russian born American Wassily Leontief. He developed something called Input/output analysis to measure how sectors of the economy influence each other.
If you’re one of those who find joy in understanding how complex matrix-mathematics can give simple answers to complicated questions, then you will love his work.
The Nobel Committee did. They awarded him the 1973 Nobel price in Economics for developing input/output-analysis and thereby solving the illusive problems of “circular influence”.
How to measure the influence on an issue
To make influence measurements operational (and relevant) they have to be tied to a context (or brand, company, etc.).
This is achieved by extracting only those references that are made in the relevant context of focus.
When calculating influence we make the basic assumption that a person references another person if the former thinks the latter is relevant to the context.
We assume this logic is systematic, meaning that this is a general reason for referencing others in a particular context.
It doesn’t matter that people get referenced for other reasons (perfunctory reasons, reasons from limited knowledge, etc) as long as the same people (or websites, stakeholders, entities, etc) do not get systematically referenced when they are not believed be relevant.
The practical steps to gathering the data and measuring influence on an issue are:
First we define a search criterion. This can be simple or a set of rules. Simple ones typical give best results.
In this case our search criterion was to look for documents (web pages, blogs, pdf files, documents) that either contained the phrase “business blogging” or “business blog”.
Using our own issue focused internet crawlers any document matching the issue was downloaded and analysed for references. (A reference can be a hyperlink or a textual citation. A textual reference to “The White House” would be treated equal to a link to www.whitehouse.gov)
The references are extracted from the documents and after some semi-manual consolidation and statistical filtering they are transformed into a massive system of simultaneous equations, consistent with Leontief’s directions.
Once the equations are solved we have, viola, the relative influence of each stakeholder of the issue. We term this metric Issue Influence Index™.
The Issue Influence Index™ is a relative and linear measure of influence. It ranges from 1, which can be interpreted as “very little influence, but still more than no influence” and upwards.
An organisation with an index of 4 has twice the influence of someone with an index of 2.
Table 1 shows the top 25 influencers on the topic of “business blogging”.
Many of the names will be familiar to people with an interest in the topic.
Comments on some of the findings:
Corante is actually a group of well known bloggers operating more or less under a common brand.
Business Week and Forbes
They have published some of the most widely cited articles on “business blogging” and their attention to the topic signals to many an acceptance of “business blogging” in the business media.
Neville Hobson is the most influential appearing under his own name. To some more known as the publisher of the popular podcast “for immediate release”.
Blogging is related to news and therefore it’s not surprising to see the world’s largest news organisation on the list.
Blog run by Steve Rubel, a famous blogger with a foucs on PR. During the week this study was made it was announced that Steve Rubel is joining Edelman, a large PR company with big customers like WalMart. It’s not difficult to understand why Edelman poached Mr. Rubel. They are buying a lot of influence on a topic of great interest to their clients.
I have yet to meet someone who works with the Internet who doesn’t know who he is. Well known author and often seen as the inventor of “permission based marketing”
Founder of the company SocialText.
The entry to General Motors’ blogsphere. Often referenced as an example of how a large and relatively conservative organisation has embraced business blogging.
Report compiled during the period February 12-17 2006 by Flemming Madsen, Onalytica.
You may quote from this report when clearly referencing Onalytica as the source.
© Onalytica Ltd 2006, all rights reserved.
We recently published a report on who publish the debate on Stem Cells in the Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway and Sweden).
Table 1 shows the top influencers on the topic of “Stem Cells” in the Scandinavia.
The organisations in table 1 all have an Issue Influence Index™ on this topic of 1.8 or more.
Issue Influence Index™ is a generic measure of influence.
It measures both direct and indirect influence and is calculated like a citation index used to calculate influence of academic journals.
The scale is linear, ranging from 1 (one ) and upwards. An index of 1 can be interpreted as “no particular influence”. A stakeholder with an index of 4 can be interpreted as having twice the influence as someone who has an index of 2.
The table shows that the most influential organisation is the US Department of Health and Human Services’ National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH is an index of health resources and may not provide any data of their own.
NIH is cited by many of the other stakeholders in the relevant context (stem cells) and from a strictly mathematical point of view they are the most influential. However, one can argue that as they do not provide their own content they mainly convey the influence of others. That said the editorial process of NIH whereby they include some resources and exclude others (that they don’t deem relevant) is in fact a way of providing content of their own. So as part of their editorial process they do exercise their own influence.
The second most influential organisation is the BBC. The BBC is the world’s largest news organisation. The annual budget of the BBC is quite precisely 10 times bigger than that of University of Copenhagen. When an issue is on the public agenda – such as stem cells has been – the BBC usually plays a role in shaping the public opinion; especially in the UK, the north western part of the EU and Scandinavia.
It is interesting to observe the absence of Danish organisations among the top influencers. Apart from BioMed Community, a community representing the Bio- & Medical technology competences in Aalborg, Denmark and BioTIK a portal focusing on bio-ethical questions, the most influential Danish player is Retsinformation a state sponsored information system on legal issues. This could indicate that legal red tape is relatively more of a factor in Denmark than in the two other countries.
The most influential representatives from Sweden and Norway (University of Oslo, University of Lund, Karolinska Institutet and Uppsala University) are largely those one would expect to have a prominent position, the most influential research institutions from Denmark are University of Southern Denmark and University of Aalborg; two of the newest universities in Denmark.
Figure 1 (below) shows how organisations from Table 1 (above) reference each other.
The direction of the arrow shows the reference. The influence is consequently the other way.
The size of the dot representing each organisation is proportional to their total influence.
(Unfortunately the program generating the picture does not support Unicode characters which are used to represent Scandinavian letters.)
An extended resume of the report can be downloaded here (pdf, 2 MB)