A Rexblog Guessay: How Google might apply PageRank to measure the relative value of links pushed through Twitter

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[Note: A guessay is an essay comprised mainly of guesses.]

In a post on Friday (when rumors were swirling about the possibility of Google acquiring Twitter), I suggested that the acquisition of Twitter could add tremendous value to Google search results by adding real-time data from our (all Twitter users’) collective stream-of-consciouness. I suggested (as have many, many others) that Google’s PageRank algorithms could benefit greatly from all of the real-time linking that millions of Twitter users do.

In my post, I included a line that made some people think I was suggesting that the number of followers a Twitter user has is an indication of the authority Google might award links shared (or, as Dave Winer terms it, “pushed”) by that user. I got a few e-mails from people disagreeing with what they thought I was saying: “The number of followers one has is not necessarily a measurement of someones link-sharing skills,” is typical of what the e-mailers said.

First things first: Despite implying it, I didn’t actually say nor mean the number of followers indicates authority. Indeed, I whole-heartedly agree that the number of followers one has on his or her Twitter account is NOT in and of itself, a measure of authority. Lots of followers on Twitter may be an indication of authority, however it is likely rather a measurement of popularity, celebrity, strategy or an annointment from Twitter’s management.

So no, if Google owned Twitter, the PageRank of links would not be based on such an easy-to-game or manipulate (or what would be called “optimized” by people seeking fees to manipulate it) thing as having lots of followers. If that were so, a tweet-turbo’d Google would be handing over search results to @the_real_shaq and whoever ghost-tweets for @britneyspears.

No. If Google owned Twitter, there would be a great mystery surrounding exactly how Google measures linking authority on Twitter — and likely it would merely turn the whole thing over to its pigeons to figure out. And by pigeons, of course I mean Google’s secret-sauce PageRank algorithms the company describes this way:

PageRank reflects our view of the importance of web pages by considering more than 500 million variables and 2 billion terms. Pages that we believe are important pages receive a higher PageRank and are more likely to appear at the top of the search results. PageRank also considers the importance of each page that casts a vote, as votes from some pages are considered to have greater value, thus giving the linked page greater value. We have always taken a pragmatic approach to help improve search quality and create useful products, and our technology uses the collective intelligence of the web to determine a page’s importance.

I (and anyone else who writes using lots of hyperlinks) have served as one of those Google voters for a long time. So I have developed my personal theories about what goes into PageRank algorithms. (There’s a whole industry called Search Engine Optimization that, figuratively speaking, sacrifices virgins to please the Google PageRank Algorithm Gods.) Based on my vast experience (translation: guesses and theories), here are some factors I think would be be applied by Google in determining the relative value of a link pushed via Twitter — if Google owned Twitter.

1. The number of followers your followers have would be more important than the number of followers you have. And that measure would cascade out several levels. This is somewhat akin to the “strength of schedule” factor in the BCS formula.

2. Extreme ratios of followers to following and vice versa would cause authority to fall. Discounting (or ignoring) high follower/following users would lessen the influence (i.e., ability to game) of celebrity Twitterists. And kicking out high following/follower users would undermine Twitter spam efforts.

3. User accounts that crank out high numbers of tweets will be discounted unless the tweets are posted from various third-party clients. In other words, high volume tweeting would be thought to be automated unless there are markers indicating the user is an actual human named Scoble or Brogan.

4. Tweeting about a limited number of topics would probably be rewarded. I am not a fan of directories of Twitter users. I find them an easy target for gaming schemes. However, I have one thing to praise about a recent entry to the Twitter directory category, WeFollow.com. It requires a Twitter user to do something akin to declaring a major. To be listed, your must limit where you Twitter feed will appear to three categories. For example, I limited my account @r to smallbusiness, nashville and another category I’ve forgotten. Seeing WeFollow force Twitter users into defining the category of their “authority” makes me think Google would likely tweak the PageRank algorithm to anticipate the categories of links in which Twitter users might have authority, rather than giving any link they add on any topic the same weight.

5. While “re-tweeting” and “replies” may appear to be indicators of authority, I think they would be discounted due to factors related to “celebrity” or automation.

6. The real golden goose (or golden pigeon) that Google would use to juice up its algorithms would be actual clicks. Google knows more about measuring, analyzing and making money from click throughs than any other company will ever know. If, in a scenario that was merely rumor on Friday, Twitter was bought by Google, it would throw lots of a resources into understanding which Twitter users generate the most clicks-throughs on links they “push” out via Twitter.

Sidenote 1: Dave Winer demonstrates and explaines a means of measuring the relative clickiness o links he pushes out via Twitter.

Sidenote 2: Here’s a Greasemonkey script (and a demo from Doc Searls) that shows related “tweets” on a Google search results page. This is not exactly what I’m talking about in this post, but is cool, nevertheless.

*A guessay is an essay comprised of guesses.

A RexBlog Guessay: Why I believe Apple will announce an 8 1/2 x 11 inch iPod Touch within the next 45 days

Please note, I gave this post the title “Guessay,” which is a portmanteau of the words “guess” and “essay.” What you’ll read in this post is my conjecture based on several years of tracking one topic, first as a joke about Apple “fan-boys,” then out of geekish curiosity and now, with legitimate, business-related interest.

For three years, I’ve regularly posted items about something I call “Rumor #3, a device that is an oversized iPod Touch. As I’ve explained before in detail, I started describing this device before there were such things as an iPod Touch or iPhone. In some ways, these posts have been a running gag for me. However, as the owner of a media company that develops and manages magazines, video and an array of online media for corporate and association clients, I have a professional passion that causes me to always look for new ways in which old and new media can help develop closer relationships and conversations between people who work at organizations and the individuals they serve.

And so, with this background and a little bit of piecing together some fragments of a puzzle, I’ve decided it is time to post this guessay that attempts to put forth some predictions that will soon prove I’m an insightful technology forecaster, or (and this is what makes blogging fun) that it’s time you pulled my RSS feed off your newsreader.

Let me acknowledge also that all of the pieces of this story are not “new,” it’s just my piecing together of several parts of the puzzle and stepping out on a limb that is.

The 2009 introduction of a Rumor #3 device has been swirling for months: Starting back in December, TechCrunch said an oversized iPod Touch would launch this fall. A couple of weeks ago, there were rumors about Apple placing orders for 8×10 inch touch screens. Yesterday, there were rumors about some mystery code in the next generation iPhone/iPod Touch beta. But to me, more telling than any of these rumors, however, was the recent release of the Kindle iPhone App. This was a piece of the puzzle that I wasn’t expecting. However, after using it a few weeks, I’ve come to understand how (as I’ve said for three years) the new Apple device is not an eBook reader in the way the Kindle is an eBook reader, and so therefore, Apple is going to work with Amazon, rather than compete.

Also, I forgot to fill out an NCAA tournament bracket, so I was feeling that I should make some complex prediction that requires some far-fetched theory, so here goes:

Within the next 45 days, not later than May 1, Apple will unveil the “Rumor #3 device” — an oversized iPod Touch.

Along with that prediction, I’ll make the following educated guesses based on my experience of trying to fan the fires of this rumor for the past three years:

ipodcompare.jpg

The comparative size
of an iPhone, a Kindle I
and an 8 x 10″ display.

The device will be an iPod Touch, not a netbook or a tablet computer: I can’t emphasize this enough: It’s not going to be “an eBook reader” (or a “Kindle Killer,” see below) or “a netbook.” I don’t believe the device will have a physical keyboard and Apple will be explicit in its marketing that this is NOT merely an “eBook reader” or in any way, a computer replacement. It will be marketed as a complimentary device that fits between your iPhone and desktop or laptop computer. It will operate just like an iPod Touch but the display will replicate the foot-print and weight of a spiral-bound notebook popular on college campuses. The rumored 8×10″ screen means the full device will have dimensions extremely close to the size of a standard 8 1/2 x 11 inch sheet of paper.

The first marketing push will be towards University students: The larger format for music/HD movies/YouTube app/Facebook app — those are all no-brainers for you to understand why this will appeal to this group. But think “interactive textbook applications” that will automatically synch with your computer via iTunes. For those familiar with the iphone, web and desktop software application Evernote, think of a textbook that way: a multimedia application that allows you to take notes (written, photographed or recorded) that synchs in real-time to the iPod, to the web and to ones computer desktop. Oh, and did I mention, it will hold lots of your music and you can watch HD movies or you can stream YouTube video. In fact, the reason I’m guessing an April unveiling of the device is related to the text-book “app” possibilities it offers. The first great opportunity for sales of this device is not the fourth-quarter holiday season, but the “back to school” window. One of the few promotions Apple runs year-after-year is one in which a person with a student ID can purchase a new Mac and receive a free iPod. While I doubt they’ll be giving the devices away, I believe the promotion will be centered on this device and will include a tremendous discount. I believe you’ll also be seeing an explosion of university-oriented and campus-specific iPod/iPhone Apps appearing during the summer, as well.

The price of the device will be no more than $500.

This is not a “Kindle Killer”: When it is unveiled, there will be lots of analysis about what this device will do to the Kindle. However, that type of analysis will miss the point of what this device is all about. I think the Kindle will find a place among those who want a single-function gadget that is as close to reading a physical book as possible. (Think book lovers, not gadget freaks.) The developers of the display technology used on the Kindle have been obsessed with replicating paper for decades and in that, they’ve been successful. Amazon has created a device and e-commerce process that makes purchasing books for that device drop-dead simple.

But Amazon, by releasing the iPhone Kindle reader App, has also demonstarted a “Second Phase” that is central to the company’s core expertise: It sells books. While I predict that within 18 months, more “Kindle-format” ebook files will be read via the iPhone App than on Kindles, there will still be plenty of Kindles around — and they will continue to be loved by those who want to use reading lights and have a battery that lasts for 20 hours. And Amazon will be making lots of money selling Kindle books to people who don’t own a Kindle.

Steve Jobs will announce the product: Again, this is a guessay. But I believe Steve Jobs will view this device as belonging to the pantheon of god-like products for which he’ll long be remembered.

Final thoughts: A couple of years ago, when I first wrote about such a device in comparison to the Kindle, one of my favorite bloggers, Michael Hyatt, the CEO of Nashville-based Thomas Nelson, the sixth largest book publisher in the U.S., made a comment on my post.

In that comment, Michael wrote:

“I would much rather have an Apple Touchbook than the Kindle (which I own). However, you’re forgetting one small detail. The device is only one-third the equation. iTunes is another third. So far so good. A seamless way to get content from the store onto the device. What Apple is missing is the RELATIONSHIPS. They don’t have any relationships with book publishers that enables them to get access to the content…Could Apple develop these relationships? Sure. My point is that they haven’t started and this is where Amazon has a leg up. For most of us, they are one of our largest customers and we trust them.”

I wonder if Apple has started developing such relationships? I’m sure Michael or others in the book publishing world may already have a good clue as to whether or not the guesses in this post have any merit.

But unlike when Michael wrote that comment, Apple may not even need a direct relationship to kick off this product.

Maybe that’s what the Kindle iPhone/iPod App is all about.

On May 1 or before, I look forward to seeing how my iPod Touch bracket predictions played out.

[See all the Rumor 3 posts from the past three years.]

[Note about the photo illustrations: At the top of the post is my attempt to photoshop (actually, I used Keynote, but I’m using “photoshop” as a generic verb) something that would compare the scale of a current iPod Touch to one that is 8 1/2 x 11 inches. The photoshop illustration on the left of this story compares the size and display of an iPhone, Kindle and 8×10 inch horizontal display.]

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