First of all, a brief introduction. My name is Ilya Grigorik, I’m the CTO/Founder of PostRank. At PostRank we aggregate the activity from all the most popular social networks, correlate those engagement activities with links and content and then provide analytics, and filtering. Interested in an Android story that received the most engagement within the past week? We can answer that.
Now one thing that should strike you about this list is that it is only the first four: views, clicks, comments, and trackbacks that are capture by traditional web analytics. All of that activity happens on your site, which means that you can use Google Analytics and get at the data. But, as we all know, this new “social web” thing happened in the meantime, which means that we’re missing a huge slice of the pie when we focus on GA only. On that note, I’d like to share a few insights we’ve gathered at PostRank over the period of last two years.
First of all, starting with the basics, if we look the top 10K blogs year over year, you’ll actually see that the audience participation on those sites is growing 30% percent year over year. And participation includes leaving comments, voting, discussions on twitter, and so on. So the web is definitely becoming more social, and I think everyone in this room is an active participant in this trend.
Now this one is interesting. Remember that list of icons a few slides back? Only a few of the activities or gestures that were on that list actually occur on the publisher site. And if we look at the trend year over year, it is clear that the conversations and engagement is moving off the publishers site. Back in 2007, comments and trackbacks were still the primary means of engaging in a conversation. Fast forward two years, and and it’s almost the opposite. We are now taking the content elsewhere, sharing it with our friends or family, and discussing it there. So, while the amount of conversation is growing, if you were just monitoring your own site as a publisher, chances are, you’d think that we actually becoming less social. Go figure.
Now before we drill into some of the specifics as to where and how that engagement is happening, first a quick look at the methodology we use at PostRank..We tend to look at all of the activities as belonging to several generalized types of interactions. At the very bottom, we have clicks and views, which by our standard actually require the least amount of engagement – you view a page you move on. The next bucket – collect --, activities such as bookmarking a site, or voting on a story, are one click interactions, but they do consume some extra some social capital and time, so we give them a little more weight.Moving up the ladder, you have chatter, which are channels such as twitter, friendfeed, facebook and others. Short form commenting, sharing with your friends. And then finally, we have critique, which is primarily long-form on-site comments, and trackbacks which require that you actually write your own story and cite the original. Roughly, as you move up the ladder, you are incurring more effort and hence more engaged with the content.
Now with that in mind, we can start comparing the different buckets overtime – and one trend that jumps out immediately is the explosive growth of the chatter channel. Which, of course, is no surprise to most of us in this room, but it does have a profound effect in many adjacent fields. For example, we are actually not writing less content or producing less links, so the fact that the trackbacks column is becoming smaller is somewhat misleading. If you were to look at the absolute numbers the number of trackbacks has been more or less steady. But what it does say is that our attention and effort is increasingly spent elsewhere – on friendfeed, twitter, and so on.If you’re in SEO, you’ll quickly spot the problem – PageRank works on links, and if twitter and facebook is where we spend so much of our time now.. Then we need changes in how that content is ranked. Real-time delivery and aggregation is but a small property of these streams, yes these streams are much more efficient at those things, but there are much bigger things at stake here.
And speaking of real-time, much of the current conversation is currently fixated on the technical aspects. Is it the RSSCloud or PubsubHubbub protocol, or maybe Comet, or ReverseHTTP? We are all worrying about the tools and the mechanics, but I think a much bigger challenge in front of us, is how do we make it all relevant? I believe filtering will be to the Real-time web as round corners were to Web 2.0, albeit with a lot more utility – it’s a big challenge, and it’s an exciting one.
Anyone familiar with this graph? It’s a result of an interesting study back in the 70, where a students attention was graphed as a function of time, showing a giant trough in the middle, dipping to as low as 25% during a typical class!Now overlay the real-time web on top of this, and surely we would get something like this, right? Twitter is always about the shiniest object in front of you, right? Turns out, there is more to this story.
Taking the same dataset, I took 100k random posts from each year, produced a time series graph of the distribution of the engagement, and graphing it here year over year. And interestingly enough, over 80% of the engagement today with a piece of content happens in the first day – which definitely supports our hits driven and real-time stream notion. However, back in 2007 that number was almost 95%! Going from 2009 to 2007 you can actually see that some of the engagement has moved from the first day, into 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. So, funny enough, as we made the web more-real time, we also shifted some of the engagement into the tail!
Now, we could drill in even further.. And it turns out, in that first day, it is the first hour that claims the majority of all the engagement. In 2007 over 90 of all the interactions happened in the first hour. But once again, fast forward to ‘09 and we’re down to 60%.Interestingly enough, this first hour, is definitely not driven by Google, it is dominated by social hubs and networks – the remainder, the long tail of engagement, is where Google and SEO comes in.Which means, this a huge opportunity – SEO is huge industry, but SMM is still in infancy – lack of tools, lack of understanding.But in any case, what’s happening here?
And of course, there is no direct way to measure this change, but I have a theory. Specifically, we are seeing the effect of strengthening the weak ties.While it is certainly true that the half-life is still very short, because we are so much more connected, it is easier to spread information. We’ve lowered the barrier by orders of magnitude: from email FF chains to a single button.
And of course, this is not limited to Twitter. Facebook is encouraging users to do the same thing: single click like and share. So did Friendfeed, and so does Tumblr and many other social sites. All of them are trying to lower the barrier for participation, and because of that, information travels further, for longer periods of time.We are all curators.
So to sum up, I think there are 6 interesting takeaways here…
Measuring Engagement of the Social Webwhere did the conversations go? Ilya Grigorik @igrigorik PostRank
Real-Time… Stream Hyper-local RSS Cloud Push PubSubHubbub Low-latency Comet ReverseHTTP PubSub Filtering to the Real-time Web is as round corners were to the Web 2.0 (albeit, hopefully, with a lot more utility)
Social web is growing fast One click participation: strengthens weak ties We are all curators: distribution is truly distributed Monoculture won’t happen (see 3, 2, and 1) Distributed conversations require new & better monitoring tools Filtering & Real-Time Web is like Web 2.0 and round corners