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Cloudmakers R Us

<![CDATA[In response to Mary’s excellent series of postings that wrap up a lot of fine thinking about illustrating blog relationships, Adina writes at BookBlog: The cloud would be a picture of a conversation surrounding a person or a topic. The picture would show the relationships between the participants in a conversation. The densest areas would […]

<![CDATA[In response to Mary’s excellent series of postings that wrap up a lot of fine thinking about illustrating blog relationships, Adina writes at BookBlog:

The cloud would be a picture of a conversation surrounding a person or a topic. The picture would show the relationships between the participants in a conversation. The densest areas would represent people who frequently cross-reference each other over time.

You can start with a participant (the url of a person’s weblog), or a search term (a word or tag) Nodes are clustered based on closeness, measured by number of links and reverse links over a period of time (comments, too, if you can measure them).

I’ve been following this discussion, mostly holding my tongue because it may look self-serving to respond with “here are the pictures you want of blog relationships” by pointing at the MyDensity site we’ve put together to show off the social analysis tools built by Persuadio. I also realize it would be incorrect, as we’ve focused on the big picture to the detriment of a small world.
Simply put, like many of the indexers, we’ve tried to capture the role of any blog or Web site in any conversation (being about more than blogs has been important to us from the very beginning). Meanwhile, it would have been simple all along to provide what Adina calls a “conversational cloud” that shows the relationships around a single posting or Web page. And, frankly, it took someone asking for that simple solution to realize it was the first thing we should have offered instead of trying to solve the really huge problems we’re wrestling.
Influence Backbone

The current MyDensity maps show all the relationships around a blog, rather than the links to a single page (which we can do, but just hadn’t).
Unfortunately, we hear often from customers that they want a “top” this or “top” that list and had decided to focus on that. With limited resources and real money coming from these people, we paid attention. It is what they are ready for.
The desire to see the big picture is endemic in a changing market. Top 10, Top 20 or Top 500 lists make a certain amount of sense if you are trying to aim for plain old low cost-per-thousand (CPM) or cost-per-impression advertising deals. Most advertising and marketing people aren’t prepared to think outside the CPM box, and if they do, they think about relatively ineffective cost-per-click (CPC) ads.
The contours of this market are very poorly understood. ComScore, the Reston, Va.-based research firm, in an August 2005 report describes visitor traffic to the top blog hosting sites in aggregate even though the blogs hosted by those services, their authors and readers share few demographic or behavioral characteristics. For marketing and advertising purposes they are separate publications, not a monolith that can be compared to the traffic of the New York Times—however, ComScore does make that spurious comparison. Yes, more readers (ComScore does not distinguish between readers and bloggers visiting BlogSpot to author their own sites, confounding any attempt to characterize audience size) may visit BlogSpot in a month, but the information they are consuming and commenting on there is disorganized; by contrast, the editorially coherent sections of the New York Times create viable venues for addressing audiences with specific interests.
Marketers are stuck between that familiar composed environment of the Times, with all its shortcomings, and the apparent anarchy—from their perspective—of the blogosphere with all the opportunities it represents. Every discussion of a “top” list is predicated on mapping the reach of a site to the community around a blog or group of blogs. There’s a hunger for something recognizable to grab hold of, which is why I keep harping on the question of how to get today’s content owners to start across a bridge to content sharing.
If we can solve all these problems by laying out the flow of influence, the role of trust and conflict in discussions, magical things will happen to the marketplace of ideas.
When it comes to conversations about specific topics or just conversations between people, though, there are multiple dimensions of value, some personal—the kind of information in the clouds around a single posting—and some profoundly economic: If you can target advertising based on behavioral characteristics, the value of an ad can soar. If you know what people are talking about, you can guess why and position a contextually relevant and high-value CPC ad alongside the content of the page.
If the marketer were really radical, the ads would go away and the message, with all necessary disclaimers so that it would not pollute the content, would come through as part of the conversation.
When it comes to blogs, the content is so personal and bloggers so interested in understanding the intellectual currents around their writing, audio or video, that the first responsibility of a company that wants to be of service to the market is to be of service to the bloggers. So far, Persuadio has been of service to a couple customers, but if we cannot get more information to bloggers we’ll forever be outside the market we most want to serve. For most of us bloggers, it really is about the neighborhood (Ross Mayfield’s discussion of the Rule of 150 play well, even years later) we’re talking with than our rank in the whole blogosphere (though such ranking is a guilty pleasure the honest blogger will cop to).
That said, as we map blogs we also map the rest of the Web and the relationships between all information, individuals and organizations we are often confused as primarily a mapping service rather than an analytics service. We want to offer information about who is talking, their relationships (even the hidden ones) so that everyone can judge ideas and movements based on the fullest information. We’ve been aiming at that, but thinking like an old-style analytics company, so we’re going to change, but I hope you’ll remember that there is a lot of social measurement going on in the background that have both social and economic value.
We’ll have link clouds for you very shortly. Allow us a bit more time and we’ll let you configure the variables of the map, so that you choose to include current or archival links in the calculation of influence, as well. We’re awake to this, now.

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2 replies on “Cloudmakers R Us”

I I <3 the LazyWeb.
Let me know when you've got something tunable, there are a number of experiments that I'd like to run.
I agree that this has marketing and other economic value. Also, I strongly suspect that the way to tune the presentation is to experiment on public data sets in a way that benefits public users.

As you might suspect, Mitch, I’m following this quite closely too … taking a different approach than Persuadio / MyDensity (simpler, perhaps) but same basic idea … with a functioning prototype in hand.