Algorithmic Authority versus Digital Curation: The spectrum’s edge


Clay Shirky has coalesced some thoughts around the notion of algorithmic authority. In it he talks about the nature of authority within the context of news, and notes that more people are trusting classes of aggregators and filters  such as Google, Twitter and Wikipedia.

He explores the social characteristic of trust – a person’s willingness to accept another as an authority on a topic has a direct colloration to the depth to which “some other group has vouched, formally or informally, for (their) trustworthiness”.

Clay continues:

Authority thus performs a dual function; looking to authorities is a way of increasing the likelihood of being right, and of reducing the penalty for being wrong. An authoritative source isn’t just a source you trust; it’s a source you and other members of your reference group trust together. This is the non-lawyer’s version of “due diligence”; it’s impossible to be right all the time, but it’s much better to be wrong on good authority than otherwise, because if you’re wrong on good authority, it’s not your fault.

Algorithmic authority is the decision to regard as authoritative an unmanaged process of extracting value from diverse, untrustworthy sources, without any human standing beside the result saying “Trust this because you trust me.” This model of authority differs from personal or institutional authority.

Clay notes that there is a spectrum of authority – for example, from basic conversational facts to legally admissible evidence. He further points out that:

Authority is a social agreement, not a culturally independent fact. Authority is as authority does.

By this he means that your acceptance of Wikipedia for providing facts you’d be prepared to front in dinner conversation is based on your experience of fact-veracity previously, but even more importantly of the experiences of others who influence you in this area.

This is a fascinating discussion, especially in light of the growing trend towards digital curation – understanding curators to be expert authorities on narrowly defined topics.

Algorithmic authority seems to be at one end of the authority-influence spectrum, with the personal authority of category overseers/guides or sherpas at the other.

My initial thoughts are that the authority index is far higher for digital curators than for algorithmic authorities. However, I believe that it would be wrong to simplify this too much – authority is also filtered by purpose. It depends on what you intend doing with the information you are receiving as to how much authority you will give to the source.

[Picture courtesy of quiquenamib – flickr]

Social Business Design: Birth of a New Industry

La Défense

New industry sectors coalesce and crystallize as a result of a number of factors converging.

In the case of Social Business Design this is an area that has been bubbling under for about 18 months with a range of different tags, such as Enterprise 2.0, but it never really gelled together. There were differences of opinion on who the market was, how to approach it and what exactly did it constitute. Was it simply setting up a corporate blog, an internal wiki and a customer forum or was there more to this area?

Charlene Li’s book Groundswell went a long way towards gathering impetus behind this new industry sector, but still the gel wasn’t quite there. When she left Forrester and set up the Altimeter Group people took notice, but their attention wasn’t galvanized.

And then Jeremiah Oywang left Forrester as well and joined Charlene. People started to sit up and really take notice – they were primed for something to happen. Around about the same time David Armano, an exec with the Dachis Group gave a presentation at the Social Fresh conference titled Social Business by Design. The industry now had a moniker to focus around.

The key inflection point though came last week when Dachis acquired Headshift. Much has already been written about this and most industry commentators will agree with the following tweet from @amayfield:

Headshift/Dachis is massively significant. Not marketing…this is a new sector shaping up: social business.

The Social Business Design meme is now starting to spread rapidly courtesy of one of the classic tenets of this industry: sharing. David Armano had placed his deck of slides on Slideshare two weeks ago. It has since been featured on Slideshare’s new “hot on Twitter” section and is gaining a lot more viewers.

This depth of attention around the topic is rapidly turning to more widespread adoption of the term, both by potential industry practitioners and by their potential clients. An industry is born.

What is Social Business Design?

Anne McCrossan has delivered a cogent summary of this arena:

Social business design sits at the intersection of organizational development and marketing, and can loosely be described as the practice of developing communities of engagement to develop ideas, activities and outputs for commercial and social benefit.

As organizations adopt the principles of social business design, intangible, soft assets like brand value, purpose, human resources, processes and capabilities come to the fore. Social business design is about engendering involvement and it’s inbound.

Slightly differently, marketing services and ‘broadcast’ media operate on the basis the message and transaction are the means to the end. Marketing services communicate primarily outbound.

Her entire post is pure gold and I highly recommend anyone who has read this far to jump over to her site and continue reading.

You will be hearing a lot more on the topic of Social Business Design and I will aim to synthesise and analyze as much of it as I can.

ADDED: Gaurav Mishra has posted a comprehensive summary of this burgeoning space and I wanted to point to his thoughts as they complement the thread in this post.

The key take out, for me, from his comments are that both Altimeter and Dachis focus on using emerging social technologies for transforming businesses, instead of merely reaching out to customers.

This is a salient point. As the social technologies shift, so can the emphasis that an agency puts in those technologies. For example, Augmented Reality is still in its early infancy as a technology and a few years out from being of use within the enterprise. However, when it does mature as a technology it will have an immense impact, until then it is on all of our watchlists, but it’s not worth confusing clients with until it matures somewhat.

[picture courtesy of JArous]

5 ways influence is rapidly changing the media and advertisting landscapes

On Tuesday I’ll be co-chairing the Future of Influence Summit together with Ross Dawson. It’s an extremely topical area as we are rapidly seeing a complete shift in the media arena as a result of innovations in influence. I personally predict that the whole concept of an advertising industry is about to be turned on its head and that this is already more well advanced than many industry players are aware of.

Ross has pointed to five key trends that are the leading edge of this transformation:

1. The democratization of influence

It used to be that influence was a direct result of a person’s placement on some form of elevated platform – the CEO of a multinational, politician or a journalist with a media empire backing them.

These folks are still heard, but more and more voices of influence are emerging from completely left of field. Tools such as Twitter have liberated the great unwashed masses. Anyone can start a movement and many are.

2. Quantifying influence

How well a brand campaign runs has always been one of the advertising industries great smoke and mirror acts. No more. Influence is becoming far more measurable. In fact, as Ross points out, there will be more metrics for individual influence as well and these will be used as for more accurate guide to who we hire and do business with.

3. Individual reputation trumps corporate influence

We are more likely to trust a company based on the reputation of the individuals running it than ever before. Steve Jobs drives Apple’s influence. Jeremiah Oywang’s move from Forrester to The Altimeter Group was more about him as a key influencer than about Forrester.

4. Influence is the new media

We listen to those who we trust, we listen to those who deliver us value. If a newspaper continuously delivers news items well after you’ve digested them from your personal newsfeed, the newspaper’s influence over you will decrease significantly. Ross sums this up well – publishing itself won’t get an audience – only influencers will create views.

5. The influence economy is born

Again, Ross has this covered: the $550 billion advertising industry may be transformed.

I’m really looking forward to the conversation next week.

Web Advertising Rates Cross The Rubicon

Ad-optimizer, The Rubicon Project has reported that CPMs dropped by 11% from Q2 to Q3 across their advertiser and publisher networks.

Nicholas Carlson, writing for the Silicon Alley Insider notes that:

Particularly hard hit: social networks (down 3% q/q), young adult (down 8% q/q), music and entertainment sites. News and reference sites actually saw a 36 percent increase.

4chan: the counterculture netmeme

If you’re not already dialled in, the Guardian has a great article about Chris Poole’s influential message board – 4chan.

David Smith describes the site, which gets 8.5 million page views a day, as an ideas laboratory, capable of unleashing a ferocious creative force. It’s key value proposition is in pointing to what constitutes the current netmeme or zeitgeist of the moment:

Though most of what appears soon vanishes and is forgotten, the stuff that survives can easily jump to the wider web community and ‘go viral’, passing from person to person across the world.

Metarand Unplugged: Ross Dawson, Future Exploration Network On Media’s Future

In this session of Metarand Unplugged we talk with Ross Dawson, Chairman of the Future Exploration Network. Ross is a bestselling author, global futurist and the convenor of the cross continental Future of Media Summit.

We talk with Ross about the future of media, the upcoming Summit and its place as a crystal ball for the media industry. We also talk about the futurist business as a whole and where the iPhone fits on his roadmap for the future.

The biggest takeout: he uses frameworks to synthesize his pattern recognition and as a communication tool for exploring trends and the potential paths we will follow in the future.

I hope to see you at the Summit.

Stream the Session in Quicktime:


Stream the Session as an mp3:


UPDATE: Ross has released two frameworks in the lead up to the Future of Media Summit:

Check them out and let me know your thoughts.