I’m not drinking the algorithmic Kool-Aid of influence measurement.
Influence is not something that can be accurately measured based on counting digital breadcrumbs on the internet.
Tracking links to blog posts through social media and counting who retweets what is about as interesting as watching dye spread on paper. Yes, iIt moves. It goes places you can follow. It’s evidence that someone did something. But it doesn’t mean much. At least, not anything that matters to me.
Basing influence on how many people follow you doesn’t mean much either. They many never read your stuff. And they could all stop following you tomorrow. But most won’t because they don’t visit very often anyway.
Keywords don’t tell you anything either. Just because someone uses a word doesn’t mean they have something to say.
When people link to a blog post on Facebook or retweet a link on Twitter, it means that something caught their attention for a moment. That’s it.There is no way to know if they read it, if they agree or disagree, if they thought it was important, funny or stupid, or even if they knew what they were posting. The idea of tracking social media activity is based on the assumption that if it causes people to do something, it is important or influential. Nonsense.
For YouTube’s 5th Birthday in 2010, Time Magazine published the Top Viral Videos. They were:
- Charlie Bit My Finger
- Evolution of Dance
- David After Dentist
- “Here It Goes Again”
- Leave Britney Alone
- Don’t Tase Me, Bro
- Keyboard Cat
- Dramatic Chipmunk
- Hitler’s Downfall
- Flea Market Montgomery
- “United Breaks Guitars”
- Kittens, Inspired by Kittens
- Potter Puppet Pals
- Jill and Kevin’s Big Day
- Sneezing Panda
- Otters Holding Hands
- Literal Music Videos
- OMG, Shoes
- Baby Laughing
For those of you wondering whether it’s improved in the last year, the Top Videos for 2011 list starts with Rebecca Black.
This stuff is funny. It’s entertaining. And sometimes it even makes a difference in the world. The United Breaks Guitars Video got a big corporation to pay attention to the damage it caused, and dropped United’s stock price by 10% in the short run.
Still, I saw the Breaks Guitars video, along with millions of other people; it didn’t change my life–not even a little. I found it interesting. I may have even tweeted it or “liked” it (I doubt it). It did not influence me.
Influence is more than just getting me to click or post. Influence is something that changes the way I see or think about things. Something influences me when it makes a difference in my life that matters– in my relationships, art, work, spirituality and values.
Often the things that influence me don’t cause me to do anything that can be directly tied to the original experience or idea.
I teach law school because I really hated law school and wanted to do it differently.
I practice employment law because I grew up in the 60’s and was fascinated by the Civil Rights Movement and the concept of equality among people.
I am terrified of falling from heights because I had to walk across a train trestle high above of a rushing river in Peru when I was 8.
These are things that had distinct and profound influences on me. But the events and the results are years apart and have complex layers of action, inaction and other facts and forces woven into them.
For example, I went to law school because I was a philosophy major and didn’t want to have to get a job yet. How do you measure that?
Psychologists, Sociologists, Historians, Cultural Geographers, Anthropologists, Economists, Marketing and PR Departments and John Sumser have been trying to figure out cause and effect in human behavior for years. Now the computer scientists and programmers are in on the search.
Sure, on some cosmic level, everything is connected. The butterfly migration in China can probably tell us something about the weather in Norway. But digging deeper into minutia, especially patterns of clicks and posts about babies farting and kittens waving their little paws seems like the wrong direction to look for insight and meaning.
Today, collecting data is easy, cheap and there is more if it than ever before. We’re just figuring out what it means, if anything. Interesting questions, pictures and stories are emerging.
Yet, counting digital droppings does not really explain what ideas and experiences matter to me or anyone else. And if it doesn’t matter, then it’s not influence.
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