Ensuring Opportunity in Our Networks

Ensuring Opportunity in Our Networks

Yesterday, Google rolled out the new “views” metric that allows us to see the total number of views of people’s (and page’s) posts, images and video’s here on Google+. And yesterday, I wrote a post that explored what I’m calling the V2F ratio, which is total views of our content divided by the total number of people/pages following us.

Today, I want to talk about why I think a number like this matters. 

The V2F ratio has some problems (see below), but the one thing I like about this metric is that it could help a new person just starting out on Google+ to gain a little more visibility.

Social Proof and the Rich Get Richer

We humans are funny. We use this thing called “social proof” as one of the ways we decide whether or not to pay attention to something. If a lot of other people are paying attention to it, it must be important. From an evolutionary perspective, there were no doubt some advantages to this strategy, but in our modern world of digital networks, it can lead to something called the “rich get richer” phenomenon. In simple terms what this means is that when someone already has a lot of links, it’s way easier for them to get more links than someone who doesn’t already have a lot of links. 

The rich get richer phenomenon is a well-established fact in network science. Some people call it a power law. There are lots of ways that this phenomenon feeds on itself, but the one I want to concentrate on today is “social proof.”  

Social proof is some signal that quickly conveys information about an individual’s status in a community or network. 

Social Proof on Google+

Up until yesterday, here on Google+ that primary indicator, or signal, of social proof was people’s follower count. Yesterday, we added a new signal: the view count. 

The view count might well be an improvement on the follower count because, in theory, it depends more on the quality of someone’s content. One of the problems that people have complained about here on Google+ (and on Twitter) are official recommendations, like the Suggested User List, that steer people to follow certain people and pages. Get recommended, and you have the opportunity to build a lot of engagement with people, and well, frankly, get a lot of what many people seek in the “attention economy.” That’s right: attention

The new view metric might change this a bit. Notice that I said that if you’re featured and have a lot of followers, you have “the opportunity” to build engagement and attention. If you have a lot of followers and don’t do a good job of engaging them or delivering good content, you’re going to get less attention than you could. 

Leveling the Playing Field

But the truth is, if you have a big following, you’re still going to get a fair amount of attention, as measured in view count, simply because there are so many people following you. 

By dividing the total number of these views by the total number of people and pages following you, the V2F ratio levels the playing field a bit for people who don’t have large followings. Someone with with 20 million views and 200,000 followers would have the same 100 V2F ratio as someone with 50,000 views and 500 followers. 

If Google made it easier to find people with high V2F ratios, I think it could well help new people have an easier time getting initial traction here on Google+. Tools like CircleCount, Circloscope and NOD3x can help with this process too (in fact, NOD3x is currently testing the V2F ratio in its reports). 

The Problems with V2F

There are a number of problems with the V2F ratio that you can learn more about in my post from yesterday and the numerous comments it generated:  http://goo.gl/m3WGYv

One of the key problems I’ll call out here is that not everyone here on Google+ is here for the same reasons. Many of us are here for attention (as hard as that is to admit), some because our work requires it and some just because it feels good. Others of us are here for different reasons, such as, for example, for learning. I know some wonderful Google+ denizens who are here for that particular reason and spend most of their time commenting on other people’s posts. The V2F ratio fails to account for their contributions here because comments aren’t counted and because these folks are spending proportionately more energy on other people’s posts, or on going into very deep conversations with a smaller set of people on their own. I believe Google needs to address that if we want to encourage depth of engagement here in addition to breadth. 

Another problem with the V2F ratio, and the views metric in general, is that it will be subject to cheap tricks. There are lots of ways to generate views. I don’t happen to be a huge cat fan (sorry), but I know I can generate a lot of activity by sending out cute pics of kittens. In other words, just because content generates a lot of views doesn’t qualify it for a Pulitzer. 

The Bottom Line

The bottom line though is that in a world where things like Klout exist, and where online attention is increasingly translating into real economic opportunity, this issue of opportunity in our online social networks really does matter. Call it network opportunity. 

I happen to be a U.S. citizen, and one of the United States’ greatest assets is its “American Dream,” which in essence is a dream based on opportunity. This dream is running into problems now days on many fronts, and one of the things that concerns me is that our online networks don’t contribute to an overall decline in real-world opportunity. 

That’s why I think stuff like this matters. 

#views   #V2F   #networks  

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