Tech Life You trust these people

Simple Credibility Networks

I’ve been apt to rip on bookmarks because, well, they suck. Browser makers, for some odd reason, have decided to mostly ignore bookmarks as a means of organizing information. Thankfully, bookmarks are quickly becoming irrelevant because bookmarks are being replaced… by people.

(Note: If you’ve no idea what NetNewsWire or RSS Readers are, please read this article first… you’ll get a lot more out of this column).

I have the following groups configured in NetNewsWire: news, people, apple, metalogs, writing, and tech. It should come as no surprise to those familiar with weblogs that the most interesting group in that list is people. I often entirely skip over the other groups in favor of perusing the new links in the people category.

Why?

Simple. I hand selected these people/weblogs because I consistently value their opinion. These weblogs constantly sift through this big, noisy would of data/news/horror, add their own twist, and more often than not, that twist appeals to me. This group of people are my credibility network.

You’re already familiar with credibility networks in your daily life. This is the group of people in your inner circle. The ones you sit down with at the bar and start in on any topic for hours on end. A good term for this type of interaction is “a high bandwidth relationship”. A good example of this relation is the following exercept from any random conversation:

YOU: “Remember that time when we…”

THEM: “Totally.”

YOU: “I was so drunk that…”

THEM: “That you stuffed those chicken tenders into that slot machine and then I…”

YOU: “You, you idiot…”

Etc, etc, etc.

Take a minute and think of these people in your inner circle. I guarantee there are a bunch of obvious ones and a few less obvious. There’s probably a couple people who are always at every single social event, but are NOT on the list. You’ve gone through some process of selecting a network of people that you trust. Maybe you’ve known them for years, maybe it’s family, or maybe you just met someone and, boy howdy, did you two hit it off.

You trust these people.

In the world of the weblog, we need a different term than trust because, no matter hard you try, you just don’t know who is sitting at the other end of that weblog. Yes, weblogs are net_people, but net_people are not real people… they are carefully filtered abstractions. I would argue that unless you have a face to face, personal relationship with the person running a weblog, you’re unlikely to trust them. BUT! You can read what they think and observe how they link to other information.

For whatever reason, you will place a value on the weblogs you care about… It’s almost quantifiable, this credibility you assign to these weblogs and with each new weblog you collect, you continue to build your credibility network.

Some observations about credibility networks:

– Why do I care about credibility networks? I care about them because they do something I can not — they digest the world better than I can. I’m just one guy stumbling around the Net who, occasionally, finds bits and pieces of information that need to be shared. In my credibility network, there fifty weblogs… fifty people who are stumbling along with me and because they’ve provide information I’ve cared about in the past, it’s pretty likely they’re going to do it in the future.

– Credibility networks should be well structured and machine readable, but they aren’t. Ideally, we could use the concept of Movabletype categories to create an index or directory for weblog entries , but no such standard current exists… yet. Over here, there is talk of using the DMOZ open directory as just such an index and THAT IS A REALLY GOOD IDEA. Think of a weblog search engine where you could ask, “Show me the highly credible weblogs who know something about start-ups and ice fishing.”

– But Rands, are these credibility networks insular? Aren’t your discouraging cross-pollination by surrounding yourself with a network of Rands-approved-people? Yes and no. Yes, there are similarities between my weblog and those on my credibility A list, but there are also huge differences. One day, I might be admiring a post from NSLog() regarding some topic I’m knowledgeable/care about… but who knows what he’s going to write about the next day? Or the next? The amount of information flowing through weblogs is mind-boggling, but let’s just pick a single topic, a single news idea. I promise if every weblog in my credibility network needed to comment on that topic, you’d have fifty different opinions. Yum.

There are two answers to the question, “How are people going to make money with weblogs?” Answer #1 is terribly depressing. It goes something like, “Weblogs will make millionaires out of those who provide weblog services (blogspot, typepad) and weblog software (mt, textpattern, others).” How dull. Just another fad. What a waste of material.

Answer #2 is “out there”. Answer #2 is, “We’ve discovered a new medium with which to communicate… like painting or writing or music. The difficulty we have in defining what it is, how to explain it to friends is because of it’s simplicity. The big idea which will come from weblogs is like nothing you’ve ever seen… so stop trying to make it sound like something familiar.”

I’m staring at Answer #2 and still scratching my head. It’s been almost a year since I’ve started a weblog and we’re well passed the “new toy” phase… I’m still hooked. The recurring observation I have with weblogs is how they are evolving to mimic relationship structures I have in the real world. Credibility networks are one such structure that, I’m sure, contains some part of the big idea.

8 Responses

  1. I don’t think the question of “How are people going to make money with weblogs?” really matters. Most ‘blogs are inherently personal in nature. Your “credibility network” relies on ‘blogs written by people who lead interesting lives (not me), people who have interesting opinions, or people that you personally admire… all based on your definitions. Hence the reason for your post, right?

    I agree 100% with your “credibility network” opinion.

    Maybe the question should be, “How are people going to make money by utilizing the technology behind weblogs?” ‘Blogging technology now allows people to publish and update their “net_person” webpages without requiring knowledge of any underlying conveyance. Back in the day, we had to learn how to code HTML by hand; today, we supply userid and password, and we’re able to stake our claim on a chunk of ‘net real estate. Throw in RSS/RDF feeds, and you’ve got the basis for “enterprise-level” information sharing.

    I realize that this isn’t a new idea. But, simply because ‘blogging is so attractive to the general public nowadays, it’s actually driving the development of readily-accessible Internet (network) technology. With regard to the bottom line, why not apply this already-developed technology to solve an information distribution problem… as opposed to rolling your own, proprietary solution?

    If a company can update their own website’s support documentation (‘blog), and provide a way for their customers to update their local documentation repository at will (feed), then they’ll make money by reducing the documentation/distribution effort in time alone.

  2. You could add an HTTP header or something called Karma. Numeric value, positive or negative. There’s a rather large database of it that’s very near to me, and it makes for a nice interface for changing karma. There’s modern day bots for messenging, and adapted to this, you can at least display it in your templates with plugins (yay MovableType). I’d be willing to click a javascript: that said “+1 this url”, too! rating systems combined with standardized categorization systems is the next generation of what we call a “library”: distributed, driven by opinion, yet inclusive of all.

    A public list of categories you subscribe to is infinitely cooler than a list of individual sites, because then you have a live connection to the world, through categories that everyone understands.

    It might also be useful to map categories in DMOZ to the categories in the Dewey Decimal System. It gives the libraries free entry into the world of the Internet, in a controlled and limitable and reviewed fashion. Restrict sites by DMOZ category; suddenly banner sites fail, external images break, and surfing becomes feasible.

    I feel that people will make money simply by having a social network. It’s almost like you can’t make money until you find your social niche, and then you start making money. I dunno. Maybe I’m just optimistic, or missing the point — but it’s a lot of fun to hope, for now 🙂

    In the real world I have no way to tap the online world of reputation, and so I’m always wary of the people. I guess I’ve become too accustomed to being able to ask my friends “who’s this”. If I’m introduced by a friend, well, that I can do; but there has to be that bridge. It’s very cool that the online world has found a way to do this; I’m having so much more friend discovering friends now 🙂 This blogging things is awesome.

    In some fashion bloggers could be telling parts of their stories, in whatever form they feel best. Instead of going home and telling the kids about your day, you blog about it. People care; this is how you find friends, in normal social gatherings — it’s just that you have to expose some part of yourself, and that choice too has an effect on reputation.

    A friend told me to read your post, and I did; it’s awesome, and I’ve saved it in the reader.

  3. The Boston Globe recently talked about discovering experts with corporate blogs:

    The company’s hidden experts will cheerfully reveal themselves, and the firm’s institutional memory gets an upgrade.

    This has applications that ramify into online job searching: “you must have blogged in at least two of the following categories”, perhaps. Thought you’d like the article.

  4. John Whitlock 13 years ago

    There have been studies on how trends spread, how there are a number of key individuals in social groups that decide what’s cool and what’s not, and that some trend explosions can be traced to a few individuals.

    For instance, the movie Office Space didn’t do very well in the theaters, but it’s acquired a cult following ever since. One of the plots revolves around a red Springline stapler, and provides some of the most quotable moments. One problem – Springline didn’t sell red staplers – the prop department took a stapler and painted it red. Springline didn’t pay much attention, until it started getting requests from nowhere for their red stapler. They finally produced some and put it on their website. It became a Slashdot story, and the website was overrun.

    One way to make money from weblogs (indirectly) is to monitor them for similar trends, and sell this marketing information to companies. Springline had no idea about the demand for a non-existant product, but a freelance marketer could have noticed the blog trend, projected sales, and sold this info to Springline. One problem – it isn’t a very repeatable service. I doubt Springline will ever have a hot product like that again…

    However, trust networks may reveal the trendmakers in the blog community. If a trendmaker is given a product, he or she may write about it, and you have free word-of-mouth advertising from a source that many already trust. Think of how bad TiVo’s media advertising is, but how effective the word-of-mouth advertising has been. At worst, popular bloggers get free stuff…

    Of course, both of these are just gay “advertising… but on the web!” ideas. But sometimes, you just have to go for the gay.

  5. Dear Rands;

    Two questions:

    Whatever happened to “The Bonghit News Network”? That was so ahead of its time as a blog before blogging got really popular. I always thought of it as a joke that got out of hand and mutated.

    Could a blog generate income not so much as

    selling software, but as selling ideas and activities? Look at Martha Stewart-even though she’s in the dog house for insider trading- her Tv. shows are in essence one big infomercial for her products and services. I wonder if a blog could be used for that? I should think though, you would need to add more zetgeist to make it compelling enough to read daily.

    Peas out,

  6. It still blows my mind that to many folks “the internet” is new… just look at all the people who are just getting their first AOL accounts still.

    Though it may be “old hat” to many, blogging is still evolving at an amazing pace & really, still in its infancy.

    I think it’ll interesting to look at the way it is changing the way people relate to each other online (and off).

    And if Marshall McLuhan is right and “The Medium is the Message,” WHAT is the message?!

  7. Hrmmmph. RSS readers.

    This is probably better suited to your article specifically about news aggregators, but I can’t for the life of me see the diggity diggity bout em. This may be because Straw is the only RSS reader I use, and it doesn’t have any categorization.

    But bookmarks are categorizable too. And I can find new stuff and read favorite stuff all in the same application, willy nilly. I can have my tech category and my people category and my war blog category (please Gary don’t preface the word blog with an apostrophe that’s yesterday’s leftovers) and my pornogasmatron category all in the same place.

    Rands, you speak about blogs better than anydamnone. I love to hear it – I have many a holy shit moment when you discuss the phenomenomenomenon. But I don’t understand how RSS readers trump bookmarks. Yet.

  8. I think Google already caches a few blogs here and there. I made an entry about two years ago about PC-Cillin causing massive, pustulent hemmorages in Win2k and somehow to this day I get comments there from random surfers who need help with their PC-Cillin/2k crisis. Now that I’ve got my LiveJournal embedded into my website, I think this’ll happen to me with increasing frequency. Google has cached my site several times already, according to Summary.

    And the only thing I use bookmarking for is to keep a list of URLs that I’m too lazy to write down.