Tuesday, March 03, 2009

How to Measure Online Influence...

I tend to think of this blog as my humble contribution to the noise in cyberspace. While writing, the audience I envision tends to be either my students or close friends and family members who were kind enough to subscribe. I know that I'm not even close to some superstar blogger with millions of readers. But, once in a while, this conception of my audience gets completely rattled. Last year, I was quoted in an article alongside Tim Berners-Lee (the man who invented the World Wide Web, for pete's sake!). And recently, I was introduced to a writer from the New York Times who, upon hearing my name, knew me immediately. He said he's been a subscriber to my blog for months!

All of which got me thinking. Maybe I actually do wield some power and influence in cyberspace.

How could I find out?

The standard ways that online influence gets measured are through the number of page hits one receives and the number of subscribers they maintain. The Nerfherder is not overly impressive on either of those fronts. This blog receives an average of about 500 page hits per day, and has approximately 80 subscribers. I'm awfully proud that my little hobby achieves these benchmarks, but it's hardly on par with the millions upon millions that the most popular blogs receive.

I try not to take it too personally :-)

Measuring online influence is not an easy thing these days because, with the tremendous growth in popularity of online social-networks, really, how much do page hits and subscriber numbers tell you? A retail store might have a gigantic mailing list of people who signed up for their catalog, but that doesn't mean they're necessarily selling a ton of merchandise.

Micah Baldwin of Mashable recently tackled this problem. He argues that online influence can be broken down into three components - brand, expertise, and trust.

People who are truly influential become conduits for human based filtering and content discovery within their communities, as members of the community look to the person of influence to connect them to people and content they should trust, and fuel positive community growth.

Baldwin suggests the following metrics for ascertaining someone's true influence in cyberspace...

  1. Incoming Traffic - Pageviews, Incoming traffic from search engines, rss subscribers

  2. Incoming Links - Primarily manual links such as blogrolls, in-post deep links

  3. Reader Engagement - Internal searches, time on site

  4. Recommendations - Retweets, share stats

  5. Connections - Number of mutual connections, number of mutual connections on multiple sites

  6. Track Record - Age of domain, number of blog posts, length of engagement

  7. Engagement - How often and long a person has engaged with a service online

This is a terrific list because it takes into account both the quality and the quantity aspects of someone's cyberspatial reach. Personally, if I were to just add my own two cents here, the most significant measures of a blog's influence that a visiting reader can immediately determine are 1) the number of comments left on each post, and 2) the number of external websites that link to that site.

And with these metrics in mind, The Nerfherder really doesn't do all that bad. People shouldn't get too caught up in the quantitative data - after all, just because someone has 10,000 Twitter followers and 1,200 Facebook friends doesn't mean that they're necessarily more influential; they could get lost in the noise as easy as the rest of us. The quality of your interaction with readers, friends, and followers is, in many ways, even more important.

So let the big blogs have their millions of anonymous zombies. I'll take a smaller, but more loyal and interactive, community of individuals anytime.


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