twitter – combining search … and reputation networks!

When I read this article by Michael Arrington today I had to come out of blog hibernation! He is hitting is right on target … twitter is beginning to benefit from emergent properties of the mass of communications passing through it’s network. I am a firm believer that anytime to get massive amounts of interaction, there will be completely un-anticipated emergent properties … and twitter is reaching that inflection point. It’s no longer about twitter … but what is now beginning to appear within twitter … and what can now be gleaned from the masses of tweets.  Michael explains the real value that is beginning to emerge … ratings and rankings of people and products … via twitter … in near real-time.  All updated from your mobile device where ever you are.

At a dinner tonight with a friend the conversation turned to Twitter. He just didn’t get it, and he’s certainly not the first person to tell me that. Specifically, my friend didn’t understand the massive valuation ($250 million or more) that Twitter won in its recent funding. I told him why I thought it was more than justified: Twitter is, more than anything, a search engine.

I told him what I thought of Twitter as a micro-blogging service: it’s a collection of emotional grunts. But it’s wonderful nonetheless. And enough people are hooked on it that Twitter has reached critical mass. If something big is going on in the world, you can get information about it from Twitter.

Twitter also gathers other information, like people’s experiences with products and services as they interact with them. A couple of months ago, for example, I was stuck in the airport and received extremely poor service from Lufthansa. I twittered my displeasure, which made me feel better – at least I was doing something besides wait in an endless line. I’ve also Twittered complaints about the W Hotel (no Internet, cold room) and Comcast (the usual Internet gripes).

Last week I read a great piece from John Borthwick called “Google Next Victim of Creative Destruction? (GOOG)” and I couldn’t agree with him more. Although Google currently rules the search world, I would argue that it is only one kind of search, and that although their page-rank has got them a long ways … there are too many way to game the system. Google is holding control of the “authority” of what pages THEY feel are to appear on the home page. I spoke the other day with a friend who has a system capable of generating thousands of SEO optimized content pages … all ready to be consumed and capture the clicks of users searching on Google … all to drive them to paying clients who want the traffic and leads. The Google system is built prior to the explosion of social networks … and there lies the problem for them … and the real value in next generation search.

The social networks become a way to filter and choose to trust – or not – based on the reputation of the person who created the content!  And as Michael states … using twitter to search for that information now allows you to easily “consider the source”.  In fact, I believe that we are going to see more and more reputation networks develop within twitter … and, oh yeah, I’m working on one –!

At first thought people might think that looking at the twitter “friends” and “followers” to determine popularity, but these two counts are now almost completely useless, and merely define a network of message flow.  Any attempt to rate or rank based on these counts is really a joke … purely implicit assumptions about why the users network has that many friends and followers.  In my opinion, those two counts, and the users network merely provide the foundation for the creation of a true, explicit reputation network.

My real revelation came from Forrester Analyst Jeremiah Owyang when he commented – via a tweet – that it would be very interesting to see who were the most recommended people on #followfriday … a growing twitter ad-hoc event that occurs each Friday.  Started by Micah Baldwin, #followfriday is a hashtag that can be included in a tweet to endorse people you think are worthy of following on twitter. I immediately realized that I could leverage some twitter code that I was currently writing to quickly build a site that would track #followfriday, and then record the endorsements … allowing anyone to then explore the graph of endorsements. has now transformed #followfriday from being a stream of tweets – which can total tens of thousands of individual messages on any Friday – into a site where you can now see who really endorses who and explore the network … finding new people to follow at any time!  No need to follow the #followfriday tweet stream … just come to and browse and search.

Now … what is important to realize is that the engine that I have written behind is not about #followfriday at all … it is the creation of a reputation network.  Explicit endorsements of people, by people.  Right now these are general endorsements, and are related to twitter and #followfriday … but I am in teh midst of evolving this into a completely manageable reputation system … allowing you to not only add, but remove endorsements, and even more … stay tuned!

twitter is rapidly providing a new platform for search, and when combined with reputation networks it will allow each of us to quickly and easily voice our opinion about anything … and allow those in our social networks to search for – and find – those opinions and endorsements completely within the socials networks that we trust … our specific friends and co-workers who’s opinions we trust.

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