January 28th, 2008

Influentials On The Web Are People With The Power To Link

by

In the networked web era, influentials may not be people with a particularly connected temperament or Rolodex, or people who control and influence monopoly distribution channels (e.g. newspapers), but rather people who influence the network by leveraging the most powerful force on the web — the link. People like bloggers, top Diggers, del.icio.us power users, Facebook users who share lots of links, MySpace users who embed videos, Twitter users who post lots of URLs, or any social network user with links to lots of friends.

This idea jives with a provocative article in Fast Company about a new disruptive Duncan Watts theory. After last year debunking the “wisdom of the crowds” using the theory of cumulative advantage, Watts is back, this time debunking the idea that there is a class of “influentials” who is more likely than others to spread ideas, trends, product endorsements, or anything else that can be spread virally. The existence of unique classes of influencers was the premise behind Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. But Watts, a Columbia professor doing work for Yahoo Research, says it’s all bunk.

The more Watts examined the theory of Influentials, the less sense it made to him. The problem, he explains over lunch in a Midtown restaurant, is that it’s incredibly vague. None of its proponents ever clearly explain how an Influential actually influences.

“It sort of sounds cool,” Watts says, tucking into his salad. “But it’s wonderfully persuasive only for as long as you don’t think about it.” For example, in The Influentials, Keller and Berry argue that trendsetters draw their social power from being active in their communities. Their peers naturally turn to them for advice. Need to buy a new car or navigate city hall? Everyone knows whom to trust. Gladwell, for his part, argues that trends spread like diseases; Influentials are the vectors who amplify and propagate the infection.

Fair enough, as a top-down view. But it’s murky, and for Watts, this is a critical flaw, because precision matters when you’re trying to explain highly social epidemics. Merely arguing that influence spreads like a disease isn’t enough, because, he says, diseases spread in very different ways. Some require multiple exposures; some don’t. Some reward “superspreaders,” and some don’t. (SARS broke out in Hong Kong not because the first victim was a superspreader but because a doctor mistakenly hooked him up to an aspirator–ventilating SARS-infected breath into the hospital air.)

This got me thinking about the dynamics of influence on the web, where in the age of Google PageRank, inline linking, and social applications, the link is the principal driver of “network efforts” and influence.

The reason Google’s search results often contain more blogs than traditional media content is that blogs were the first to harness the power of the link. Blogs linked to other blogs, while traditional media brands remained disconnected silos. Savvy web users — many college age or early 20s — pooled their links on Digg and developed the power to drive server-crashing volumes of traffic, forcing traditional media sites, who still lack such influence, to plaster themselves with Digg This buttons.

Embedding YouTube videos is a form of linking that allowed MySpace users and bloggers to drive the online video revolution. NYTimes.com users leverage the power of links in emailed articles to create a list of most emailed articles whose influence arguably rivals the NYTimes.com homepage.

One reason the emergent Twitter network is becoming so powerful is the widespread sharing of links. Twitter users are not influential because they have influential personalities, but because they are early tech adopters who are excel at figuring out how to use new web technologies to influence and create link-driven networks.

You can explain the power of social networks and the “social graphs” in terms of links — every Facebook profile has links to other Facebook profiles. Same with MySpace. And LINKEDin — get it?

Journalists and PR professionals, the influence brokers of traditional media, have lost a huge degree of influence on the web in large part because they don’t link to anything. While traditional media brands are still powerful channels on the web, they are losing influence everyday to the link-driven web network — journalists and PR professionals can no longer depend on controlling these former monopoly channels to exert influence online.

Whenever I give talks to traditional publishers who have been afraid to link to other sites because it will “send people away” instead of keeping them trapped in the publisher’s own content, my now standard response is to say that there’s a site that does nothing but link to other sites — all it does is send people away. And yet remarkably, people keep coming back. So much so, that this strategy has translated into $10 billion+ in advertising revenue. (Yes, Google of course.)

Anyone can become influential on the web simply by setting up a blog or an account on a social network or social bookmarking site and linking to people and content that interests them. Anyone who is influential offline and wants to retain that influence online needs to start linking — and to leverage those links in a large network.

Influence on the web is all about connectivity — the larger the network, the more powerful the links.

Comments (40 Responses so far)

  1. [...] In fact, they might just be more important, because if Watts is right then companies have to get the word out about their products to as many people as possible, simply because there’s no way of telling [...]

  2. “Open Link In New Window”.

    It works wonders. If I become a consultant to newspapers, how much would that advice be worth?

  3. [...] liked Scott Karp’s article on this, because he argues that influence still exists, just that it works differently on the web.  [...]

  4. [...] Read the rest of this post Print Sphere Comment Tagged: del.icio.us, Dig, Scott Karp, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace | permalink [...]

  5. I’ve been noodling with a “hyperlink” related theme and your post yielded more insights. As the semantic web further empowers the link, the tendrils of influence will spread beyond pages and blogs to further shape consumption of media, goods, and services. “Influence is the new sell.”

  6. [...] 2.0, “Influentials On The Web Are People With The Power To Link“  (thanks [...]

  7. [...] control a number of factors that help them increase the odds of spreading virally. Scott Karp has a great article about the role that influentials play on the web. Trust me that on the web the Tipping Point theory [...]

  8. Scott, I commented on the orginal Watts article.
    Your point re links: We all have the power to point at what we like. That’s the disruptor. Mass media can join in and point to if it likes but all it can do is join in – not dominate.

  9. [...] are some other interesting perspectives on the issue — Mike Masnick, Scott Karp, Mathew Ingram, Gavin Heaton, Karl Long and Valeria Maltoni. Share This If you enjoyed this post, [...]

  10. [...] Scott Karp [...]

  11. [...] Influentials On The Web Are People With The Power To Link – Publishing 2.0 [...]

  12. I love this! This could save the world.

  13. [...] Influentials On The Web Are People With The Power To Link – Publishing 2.0 In the networked web era, influentials may not be people with a particularly connected temperament or Rolodex, or people who control and influence monopoly distribution channels (e.g. newspapers), but rather people who influence the network by leveraging the most powerful force on the web — the link. People like bloggers, top Diggers, del.icio.us power users, Facebook users who share lots of links, MySpace users who embed videos, Twitter users who post lots of URLs, or any social network user with links to lots of friends. [...]

  14. [...] sure you have some of the big boys in the tech blogosphere on your side as well as a crew of really good bloggers from in the blogging trenches ready to let [...]

  15. The link is indeed very powerful. I mean the link and the click directly translates. I’m a big fan of del.icio.us and same as Google it does nothing but send people away, but it serves a greater purpose that that too. I don’t know what the demographics are but if users use “techy” sites they will no doubt use firefox or similar, and they are most likely to use the power of the “new tab”. So “clicking away” could merely mean, seeing what is behind door number one, rather than going down a rabbit hole and never coming back.

  16. The power to link is essential in the web 2.0 format that we are currently working in. The editors at TheIssue.com realize this, in fact without even knowing it, they embody it. A blog aggregated newspaper that takes its content from the boisterous blogosphere and re-contextualizes it in familiar newspaper format, linking to the best blog content on the web. The Issue is the happy medium between old world journalism and web 2.0. It’s all linked in.

    Cheers,

    Mike McGregor
    Editor
    TheIssue.com

  17. [...] to his critique, however other evidence points to the contrary. Social media has behind it the power of links, word of mouth and the ability to create relationships that push people together to become an [...]

  18. [...] Influentials On The Web Are People With The Power To Link. With keen interest I’ve been reading the content that has erupted around Clive [...]

  19. [...] in the sea of election content. Yeah, you can do it by yourself — but on the web, the larger the network, the more influential the linking — time to break down those traditional media [...]

  20. [...] Meet the new web influentials. They’re not necessarily the most people-connected, but rather the “people who influence the network by leveraging the most powerful force on the web — the link. So says Publishing 2.0. (Note to self: More contextless links in the future.) [...]

  21. Google may have to revise its strategy to give us an unbiased view!

  22. [...] has been some good thinking on the subject already. Noah weaves some thinking around engagement, or participation, of what is [...]

  23. [...] de WOM y llegar a un target (la audiencia de los blogs) muy afín a su producto y estrategia (influentials y crossumers). Ellos cumplían a rajatabla el principal requisito exigible (por entonces, hoy no [...]

  24. [...] coverage in the sea of election content. Yeah, you can do it by yourself — but on the web, the larger the network, the more influential the linking — time to break down those traditional media [...]

  25. [...] influential” By Jessica ClarkAdd commentsimpact, web 2.0 A useful summary from the Publishing 2.0 site: Journalists and PR professionals, the influence brokers of traditional media, have lost a [...]

  26. [...] real, feasible way of suppressing it.  Scott Karp reaffirmed this idea in his January 28th blog http://publishing2.com/2008/01/28/influentials-on-the-web-are-people-with-the-power-to-link/#more-97… , in which he sustains that it’s the citizens that invoke the discussions and shape public [...]

  27. [...] I’ve also spend a lot of time thinking and talking recently about how understanding the future media on the web is so counterintuitive from the perspective of traditional media — about the challenge of making the leap from thinking about linear distribution to network effects. [...]

  28. [...] are big consumers and influentials. Scott Karp, Publishing 2.0, has an excellent article titled “Influentials On The Web Are People With The Power To Link” that is all about the power of these fans. Influence on the web is all about connectivity — the [...]

  29. [...] by David Meerman Scott, his guest post on “The New Rules of B2B Marketing and PR”, and Publishing 2.0, by Scott Karp. addthis_url = [...]

  30. [...] product — on the web (thanks in no small part to Google, and its link-based algorithms): Links are influential. Links set the agenda. Links direct public attention. Links connect ideas and [...]

  31. [...] Learning #1: Links are Powerful, enriching your content: Deeper and Dynamic (Scott Karp, Publishing 2.0) “In the networked web era, influentials may not be people with a particularly connected temperament or Rolodex, or people who control and influence monopoly distribution channels (e.g. newspapers), but rather people who influence the network by leveraging the most powerful force on the web — the link.” Read More Here [...]

  32. [...] Learning #1: Links are Powerful, enriching your content: Deeper and Dynamic (Scott Karp, Publishing 2.0) “In the networked web era, influentials may not be people with a particularly connected temperament or Rolodex, or people who control and influence monopoly distribution channels (e.g. newspapers), but rather people who influence the network by leveraging the most powerful force on the web — the link.” Read More Here [...]

  33. [...] Scott Karp says influentials on the web are people with the power to link: In the networked web era, influentials may not be people with a particularly connected temperament or Rolodex, or people who control and influence monopoly distribution channels (e.g. newspapers), but rather people who influence the network by leveraging the most powerful force on the web — the link. People like bloggers, top Diggers, del.icio.us power users, Facebook users who share lots of links, MySpace users who embed videos, Twitter users who post lots of URLs, or any social network user with links to lots of friends. [...]

  34. [...] Web 2.0 hat dem Hyperlink neue Popularität verschafft. “Influentials On The Web Are People With The Power To Link” überschreibt Scott Karp seinen Artikel und resümiert, dass Hyperlinks die Dreh-und [...]

  35. [...] Because journalists don’t link to anything, they are completely disenfranchised from the web’s link driven distribution system. [...]

  36. [...] with the power of links, how verbose do you need to be online? Why not just summarize and place links, then let users [...]

  37. [...] web is ultimately nothing but links, pathways for navigation for both humans and search engine spiders (also known as robots, crawlers, [...]

  38. [...] LINKS = Influence on the web. [...]

  39. Today a blog and website make your identity. People know by your blog and to get their you need to bee a part of all these community.

  40. Great post.. this is really a great information..This will be useful post.. I will comeback for more..

    Cheers
    sain-web.com

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