Over the festive period I’ve been engrossed in Clay Shirky’s bookÂ Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age (Amazon Affiliate link). One of the chapters has a great anecdote about McDonald’s wanting to find out how it could increase sales of it’s milkshakes. It hired researchers who diligently asked McDonald customers what characteristics they cared about from their milkshake.
However one researcher, Gerald Berstell, chose to look at things a little differently – he focused on the people buying the shakes not the shakes themselves. What Gerald uncovered was a set of morning milkshake commuters who would buy the milkshakes for the commute into work. By focusing on the actors engaged in an activity rather than the results of that activity, Gerald was able to uncover a pattern of behaviour that none of his fellow researchers picked up on.
This brings me on the topic of social graph tools such as Klout and Peerindex who use a raft of algorithms to gauge a person’s influence online. The main focus of these services is to apply a value on our online reputations. Can you really apply a value to some one’s online reputation so easily? In applying a value, does that not go against the opportunity to socially engage with one another? Â This posting on Doc Searls weblog eloquently sums it up
What I write on this blog, what I tweet, what I share through LinkedIn and Facebook, is not for an â€œaudience.â€ I haveÂ readers here. Thatâ€™s who I write for. While my services, whatever they are, have value in the marketplace, and I get paid for some of them, thatâ€™s not why I write what I writeâ€”here, in Twitter or anywhere other than in private correspondence that concerns actual business.
If we follow the logic of Peerindex and Klout it’s users should ideally engage with those with a strong online authority. Their focus is not on content but on the transmission of that message. If only human behaviour were so black and white. Instead our online and offline patterns of communications should be seen as part of a broad spectrum, not a narrow subset of social network sites.
There’s no doubt that the measurement of social graphs will be a growing market over the next few years, but to go back to the analogy of the McDonald Milkshake example, are services such as Klout and Peerindex applying a narrow insight of our social media conversations? True insight is to look to answer a question from a different perspective. To that end Klout and Peerindex can only offer a narrow perspective by focusing on transmission and reach and not the value of content being conveyed.