Friday, July 16, 2010

How Communities Crowd Source On Search Engines

by Laurie Sullivan

PageRank is a community-derived ranking scheme for search. I find crowd sourcing campaigns fascinating, but hadn't thought about Google's search engine technology as a measure of community acceptance until Digg Chief Scientist Anton Kast mentioned it from the audience during a DigitalLA panel Wednesday night. The Grammy Museum in Los Angeles provided the perfect location for the discussion that delved into crowd sourcing and curating. I'll tell you why later.

Participating in DigitalLA's Crowd Source to Curation panel allowed me to turn the question to Kast when the topic switched to algorithms and semantic search queries. I asked Kast when Digg will provide these types of search option after panelist Chas Edwards, Digg's chief revenue officer, explained semantic search queries present a challenge for news curators.

Aside from "like," "share," and "digg," buttons that send signals from communities, algorithms determine most news content, even on search engines, Kast told DigitalLA attendees. Take Google PageRank, for example. The signal provides one of many unique insights into the value of the content on the page. Using PageRank and other factors helps to push up in ranking the content from Web pages and sites.

For Digg, having the ability to serve up content that community members want to read before they ask for has become "the holy grail," Kast says. Serving up queries based on personal information and semantics, rather than the relationship with people, presents difficulties. Google, Bing and Yahoo have tried to perfect this type of search for years. It takes sophisticated algorithms and lots of data. Google may have solved that roadblock for travel-related searches with the acquisition of ITA Software for $700 million.

Digg's problem is a double edge sword because if the algorithms get it wrong the error introduces mistrust and lack of credibility, Kast says. Incentives for humans to like, share or digg a piece of content provides a stronger connection between that piece of content and the brand.

Crowd sourcing worked well for The Recording Academy when it launched a marketing campaign called "We're All Fans." The campaign, completely constructed by social media elements from music fans, promoted this year's Grammy Awards telecast. Community involvement led people for the first time to send around content to promote the event. They talked and blogged about it.

The campaign demonstrated to The Recording Academy that the more respect, voice and involvement it gave to the community, the deeper the relationship companies will have, according to Evan Greene, chief marketing officer at The Recording Academy. Crowd sourced user-generated videos created the tapestry for the spots, he says. "It opened our eyes about how impactful it can be," he says, adding that ratings for the telecast rose 35% this year, but acknowledges "you can't contribute any one thing to the success. Everyone did their job."
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