Ten years ago search engine Alta Vista was the biggest and most awesome ruler of the Internet.
Then something happened. Two research students at Stanford University made what today seems like a pretty small paradigm shift in search: Instead of mainly relying on page-content analysis to rank search results they created a search engine that also takes network structure (e.g. linking) into account when prioritising search results.
On the 14th of September 1997 the domain name Google.com was registered and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
But it’s not.
Google isn’t going to be forever. They are going to succumb to the same mighty force that put them in their present position: evolution.
As unimaginably as it may seem today it will happen.
And here is why:
In the last 10 years Google have not substantially improved their search algorithm. They may have made a few refinements, but they haven’t been pushing to make yet another paradigm shift in search. A shift that will be necessary to stay ahead of the game. A shift that hundreds of other companies are currently working on and getting closer to delivering.
Thinking about it initially seems strange: A company (Google) that spits out so many innovations on a monthly basis; yet they can’t seem to move their search technology further...
The problem for Google is the following: They have one cash cow: Adwords. But Adwords is reliant on searchers NOT finding what they are looking for in Google
Imagine that Google provided perfect results: They always provided you with a list of the best options for you. Then there would be little or no incentive to click on the advertisements on the search page.
So, the better the Google search results, the less clicking on ads on the right side. Less clicking because there is no need to – the generic results already lists the best options for you. But also less ad-clicking because the better Google’s search results are, the less credible the propositions in the ads are.
In that lies Google’s main problem. If they innovate to stay ahead of the search game – they lower their revenue.
It may be inconceivable but someday in the not too distant future, a site is going to come along that delivers better search results by one or more order of magnitudes. The search results will be so good, that each of us will instantly loose our competitive edge if we don’t use it. It will be a repetition of the Alta Vista-to-Google transition over again. The only difference will be that, due to the extreme connectedness of people today, the switch will be completed in a much shorter period of time.
So what will the next generation search look like? Good question. I have some ideas but honestly – I’m not sure. But I’m sure it will happen. Evolution always catches up.
At Onalytica we recently concluded an analysis of who are influential in the public debate on “innovation” in the UK.
A few results are listed below.
Please contact us if you have an interest in the full report.
Table 1 (below) shows the 25 most influential stakeholders of the topic of “innovation in the UK”
Table 1 (above) also shows the popularity, influence and “relative influence” of each stakeholder.
The DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) is both the most popular and the most influential stakeholder of the issue and both popularity and influence have been indexed to DTI=100.
In general those who have funds to spend on supporting innovation as well as those who are attached to the topic for legal reasons (like UK Patent Office) top the list of influencers.
In short terms, popularity is how many thinks a stakeholder is relevant. Influence is who thinks you are relevant. When measuring popularity each “vote” counts equal, but when measuring influence a stakeholder “votes” with the weight given to her by votes from other stakeholders.
By estimating the typical relationship between influence and popularity on this issue, we have calculated the influence a stakeholder should be expected to have, given their popularity. We then compared this with their actual influence. The result is shown in the column “Rel. Influence”.
So when BBC has Rel. Influence of 88% it means that the BBC has 88% of the actual influence on this issue that their popularity could lead us to believe. In other words they are not quite as influential as they are popular.
CORDIS, MIT and IBM are not UK entities but they are still highly influential in the debate as they are often cited in the context of “Innovation in the UK”.
Notice how Blackwell, a publisher of scientific journals, has substantially more influence than their popularity should warrant. Not entirely counter-intuitive when thinking about how influence is measured. Perhaps those who cite one of Blackwell’s journals in this context, on average, have more influence than those who cite the BBC?
Table 2 (below) shows the 25 most popular stakeholders of the issue with several stakeholders from Table 1 reappearing but in new positions.
Table 3 (below) shows the top 25 “over-influencers”.
These are the stakeholders who have substantially more influence than their popularity should warrant.
Notice that most of them have pretty low popularity. They don’t receive many citations in the analysed context but when they do get cited, they often get cited by very influential stakeholders or by influential stakeholders who cite very few other stakeholders.
Notice the absence of popular media brands.
Table 4 (below) shows the 25 most “under-influential” stakeholders.
These are stakeholders who are very popular on the issue but at the same time have less influence than their popularity should warrant.
Notice that the combined influence of the stakeholders in Table 4 is still substantially bigger than that of the stakeholders in Table 3.
Stakeholders who are generally well-known and very popular on a particular issue tend to become more “under-influential” the bigger they get. It doesn’t mean they get less influential. It simply means they may not be quite as influential as their fantastic popularity on the issue could suggest.
One can also view it as a result of successful brand building. Those stakeholders who have become household brands are more at the forefront of people’s mind, and may therefore more often get cited to substantiate an argument.
One interesting observation we made during this analysis was that the correlation between popularity and influence as stronger and more linear than usual. In our experience this is observed more often with ambiguous topic. (“Innovation” is not a super precise topic. Depending on the context, it can mean different things to different people).
How we did (short version).
We downloaded all documents (that we could identify; including web pages and other documents) freely available online mentioning “innovation” in a UK context. From these documents we extracted all contextual citations (where the author cities someone else). These citations were then counted (to find popularity) and turned to a system of equations to find the influence-equilibrium; fully taking both indirect influence and attention span into account.
© Onalytica, 2007
The time around Christmas and New Year is the filled with traditions; and few as solid as the tradition of over-eating followed by a (short lived) commitment to leading a healthier life.
In that spirit I have conducted a short analysis of who in the UK are considered the most influential authorities on “healthy eating”.
The table below lists the top 20 influencers on “healthy eating” in the UK.
We can see that the Food Standard Agency and the Department for Education and Skills are equally influential. They are fairly closely followed by the BBC who is the most popular stakeholder of the issue.(Popularity is measured on a scale from 0 to 100. Influence on a linear scale from 1 and upwards. The “Rel. Influence” measure is how the actual influence of the stakeholder compares to the influence we should expect given the stakeholder’s popularity.)
I have always been a fan of Amazon.com. Great inventory and (formerly) great (no, fantastic) customer service: easy to reach, fast problem solving and resolving issues over and above my expectations.
I have been an evangelist for them. I cannot even count the number of times I have told the story about how their great customer service solved an issue for me in the most elegant way.
Not so anymore. I get about 8-10 deliveries per year from them and it used to work as a clockwork. However, for my last 2 orders I have noticed some changes.
They can’t find my address anymore (even that I have received 15 deliveries where I live) and you can’t call them and talk to a person.
From what I can see their problems have coincided with outsourcing their UK deliveries to a company called “Home Delivery Network”. A new company specialising in (as it says) home deliveries.
They have a tracking capability so I can follow the progress of the parcels. The tracking states: “Unable to deliver, address not found”, so naturally I try calling “Home Delivery Network” to guide them to my address. (Those who delivered for Amazon before them never had any problems finding it). However – they don’t have a phone service so you can’t call them.
Trying to call Amazon is not easier. You can’t call them anymore. They have a call-back service, but all that happens is that you get connected to a voice operated tracking system where you can input your order number to get the status (which is wrong incidentally).
I also mailed Amazon last week about the issue. Logged in and used the appropriate form to do so. No response yet.
Here at Onalytica we have written extensively about Dell Hell
and their customer service problems. Some of the Dell Hell problems started when they outsourced their customer service and didn’t do it right.
I wonder if Amazon has taken their eye off so much of their core business that they are the next Dell (Hell)?
Anyone else had problems with Amazon or Home Delivery Network lately?
Next Wednesday (22nd November) I am attending the Maximising Impact
conference here in London.
The conference focuses on measuring the impact of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives in general and educational CSR initiatives in particular.
I have been invited because Onalytica is supplying some of the analysis work and cases used at the conference.
Measuring the reputational impact of CSR initiatives is an issue of increasing interest for several of our clients.
Traditional measurements of CSR initiatives have focused on benchmarking issues like the scale of reductions in CO2 emission, waste and general environmental impact.
However, many (if not most) organisations engaged in CSR initiatives are increasingly focused on the value CSR can generate their corporate reputation and/or authority on particular issues.
Because of this, an increasing number of organisations ask us to measure the influence of stakeholders of specific issues that are closely related to their CSR activities.
This way, organisations can not only benchmark how their own influence and authority on a particular issue develops. They are also better positioned to identify organisations they can team up with who already have influence on the issue.
By understanding how their own influence and authority on CSR issues develops organisations can better ensure they get value for money from their CSR investments.
This insight also enables organisations to better value and compare different partnership opportunities.
Please drop me a mail if you are attending the conference and would like to meet up. (flemmingm [-at-] Onalytica.com)
Previous related postsWho are influential authorities on child obesity? (also measures the influence of Jamie Oliver)Who are influential authorities on CSR in the United Kingdom?
The new Sony Bravia paint-ad was well received by the blogsphere last week.
The graph below shows the number of blog posts on Sony Bravia in the last 60 days along with the accumulated sentiment (NPI).
Not only did the buzz on one day increase twenty-fold over the previous average, but the sentiment graph jumped as well.
It’s going to be interesting to see how long the effect lasts.
Edelman, a PR company, and Technorati, a blog-search-engine, has released a list of "the most influential bloggers".
According to Edelman’s own release
the methodology has been to count the number of links each blog receives from other bloggers.
If that is a correct description of their methodology it can be deduced that their analysis rests on two central conjectures that are both wrong.
1st wrong conjecture: Influence is defined using one factor only: The number of endorsements (links) an actor receives.
2nd wrong conjecture: Influence is independent of issue.
In a social context influence (often in the literature referred to as “prestige”) is normally defined using at least two factors: The number of endorsements an actor receives and the prestige of each actor awarding the endorsement. Lately (in the last 30 or so years) a third factor is usually also included: The number of actors each actor is awarding his or her prestige to (linking to) (i.e. how thin they spread their total endorsement).
Popularity, on the other hand, is usually defined using one factor: The number of endorsements an actor receives.
The Edelman/Technorati study doesn't attribute different weights to the links/endorsements by different bloggers. One could say that they regard a link from any two bloggers as contributing equally to the influence of the blogger linked to.
This (1st wrong conjecture) is intuitively wrong as well as logically flawed.
Intuitively wrong because what they are saying is that it would give a blogger equal influence to receive the endorsement of the most credible and well respected blogger in the world as an endorsement made by someone who hasn't got a clue and that nobody has ever heard of. Intuitively it doesn't make sense.
The conjecture is also logically flawed. The very foundation for their methodology is that all bloggers are equally influential (as all links count equally). And what do they produce: A ranked list of bloggers stating that some are more influential than others. But hey - what do you actually mean guys: Should a link from the number 1 on your list count the same as a link from the last guy on the same list? It does when you start counting but it doesn't when you're done. Clearly there was a change of mind (and logic) somewhere along the way..
As for the 2nd wrong conjecture it is even more illogical than the first. (This is the one that says that influence is universal).
Are you really saying that, if say David Beckham is influential on football he is also influential on the developments in British politics and on say, wine?
Influence is issue-based because the endorsements/links are related to the issue discussed. If not, bloggers would link to the same blogs in any context and this is obviously absurd.
Reading that influence is independent of issue reminds me of the time (Feb 17th, 2006) I was researching a story on bird flu and searched Technorati to see who they regarded as the most authoritative blog on this issue. The result: Engadget – a blog on gadgets.
The whole thing leaves me with a number of questions I don't seem to be able to answer:
Why don't they just call it "popularity"? Then they would be totally right. They could have said "We have made a list of those bloggers who are most popular with other bloggers". That could have been a respectable piece of research and an interesting list. as those who are popular usually also have some influence (although you don't need to be popular to have influence).
Why do they call it "influence" when it's clearly not?
Thanks to Antony Mayfield
for pointing me to this.
The last 30 days has seen both Gordon Brown and David Cameron take centre stage at their respective party conferences.
Both have gotten fair attention in the blogsphere, but they have not fared equally well.
The figure below shows both the number of blog posts made on each day during the last 30 days that references any of the two. Notice the spike in number of posts about Gordon Brown during the Labour conference and a similar increase in posts on David Cameron during the current Tory conference.
The figure also shows the sentiment of the blog posts where they are referenced. The trend of the sentiment graph (in the legend referred as NPI) is negative if there are more negative posts than positive posts and vice versa.
Notice how Brown’s sentiment graph dives during the party conference whereas Cameron’s does not.
Jamie Oliver and child obesity
At Onalytica we recently completed an analysis of who is influential in the debate on child obesity in the United Kingdom.
One of the objectives of the analysis was to determine if those companies who have corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives relating to child obesity are getting value for money: Are they being considered relevant authorities in the debate on child obesity and do they have influence over and above what one might expect given their popularity?
One of the more intriguing results of the analysis is that it quantifies the influence and popularity of Jamie Oliver, a British celebrity-chef, on this issue.
Combining Mr. Oliver’s celebrity status with the noble cause of improving the diet of British school children has been a hit with popular media. So while there is general consensus that he has succeeded in raising the public awareness on the issue, the magnitude of his actual influence is a matter of often heated debate. Popularity vs. influence
While it is easy to establish the popularity of a person, organisation or institution (hereafter collectively referred to as “stakeholders”), it is more complex to determine the influence.
To measure a stakeholder’s popularity on a particular issue all one has to do is to count the number of other stakeholders who references said stakeholder in the appropriate context. In doing so we regard all stakeholders as equally important; a “vote” carries the same weight no matter who gives it.
Not so when it comes to influence. Here the weight of a stakeholder’s “vote” on how influential another stakeholder is, is determined by the “voting” stakeholder’s own influence, whose influence again is determined by the influence of those who vote for him or her and so on, and so on..
So to put it short; popularity is about how many
listens to you whereas influence is more about who
listens to you. The results
Table 1 shows the 50 most influential stakeholders of the debate on child obesity in the United Kingdom.
The NHS is in a league of their own followed by The World Health Organisation (WHO), Department of Health, The European Union and the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
Mr. Oliver’s relative influence is 4.74, roughly equivalent to the influence Sport England and British Nutrition Foundation. His influence on this issue is not only greater than of the Guardian, Department for Culture, Media and Sports, 10 Downing Street but also somewhat greater than the influence of Tesco and Coca-Cola Company.
Because the scale in Table 1 is linear we can see that Mr. Oliver’s influence is roughly half of the BBC’s influence on this issue.
Table 2 (below), on the other hand, shows the 50 most popular stakeholders of this issue. (The popularity scale is relative and has been normalised to match the influence scale, but beware, it’s not possible to compare the numbers directly between the Tables 1 and 2).
Table 2 shows that NHS is also the most popular stakeholder of the issue. In fact many of those who are at the top of Table 1 have good positions in Table 2. However, if we compare Tables 1 and 2 closely we will see that the order and position of many of the stakeholders who are listed in both tables are somewhat different.
The relationship between popularity and influence is not linear and can differ quite a bit depending on the issue analysed. But it is possible to approximate a formula that quite elegantly transforms popularity (of a particular issue) into influence.
This enables us to calculate what kind of influence we should expect a stakeholder to have given their popularity. This further enables us to calculate who is more influential than their popularity should warrant and vice versa.
Table 3 (below) shows the details.
In Table 3 “Popularity” refers to the relative popularity of the stakeholder as listed in Table 2. “Expected Influence” refers to the influence that we should “expect” from the given popularity. “Actual influence” refers to the correctly measured influence as listed in Table 1. Finally “Under- Influence” refers to how much less influence the stakeholder has compared to what we should expect.
From Table 3 we can see that BBC’s under-influence is 28%. So the BBC is then quite a bit more popular than they are influential when it comes to child obesity. This is not surprising when we examine the reasons behind why someone may be under-influential.
A stakeholder is typically under-influential for at least one of the following two reasons: Either those who are influenced by the stakeholder with under-influence have less than average influence, and/or those who are influenced by the stakeholder with under-influence are influenced by many other stakeholders.
Another way to look at under-influence is as a measure of “over-popularity”. It is equally fair to say that the BBC is 28% more popular on this issue than they are influential. It is hardly surprising that BBC is more popular than influential as they have a huge public service obligation that requires them to be popular.
Table 3 basically shows who has been successful in establishing themselves as popular stakeholders on the issue of child obesity. The keyword here is “successful” because appearing in Table 3 means that you get more coverage than your influence should warrant.
We can see that Mr. Oliver’s under-influence/over-popularity is 9%. This may come as a surprise to those who thought he was only being listened to by the celebrity media and that he had little or no real impact. If that was the case his under-influence would have been far greater.
So to summarise, Mr. Oliver has real influence and much more so than many other high profile stakeholders. Also, Mr. Oliver is being listened to by stakeholders with real influence on this issue, not just the celebrity magazines – who may have a lot of influence on fashion and glamour but limited influence on the issue of child obesity.
Last week I mentioned this upcoming analysis to a leader of some of NHS’s mental health initiatives. When I mentioned that Mr. Oliver does have real influence and impact on this issue she replied “it’s what I have always said – we need a Jamie Oliver to focus on mental health”. It looks like she was right.
Table 4 (below): List of abbreviations
(C) Onalytica 2006
The well-known podcast “For Immediate Release” by Neville Hobson and Shel Holz has a special edition about the recent Onalytica study
on popularity vs. influence in relation to Blog Marketing. Listen to it directly or download it here