This column appeared last week in MediaPost.
THE MOST COMMON REACTION I hear when I invite a friend to Spock is, "Not another!"
That’s understandable; 2007 was the year that accepting online invites went
from exciting to burdensome.
brings new approaches to search engine optimization that I anticipate will
become a model for other sites, and it offers its own benefits for users to
manage their online reputations, so it’s one invite worth accepting, if just to
see how it stands out.
Spock’s core is a people search engine. Search for Guy Kawasaki,
for instance, and the first
listing that comes up provides information and links about him culled from
various sources like his blog and LinkedIn profile. There are three hooks for
what makes Spock different, even if the elements themselves aren’t unique on
their own: tags, profile aggregation, and reputation ranking. We’ll explore how
they work together to make Spock one of the more exciting sites to watch early
The top of every profile entry includes tags. Tags on my
profile include current and past job titles and companies, some basic
biographical information ("from Mamaroneck, NY"), general
professional categories ("search engine marketing," "emerging
media"), and a few of my favorite TV shows ("likes ‘Arrested Development"’).
When I claim my profile, I can choose which tags are relevant to me, and those
that aren’t disappear.
Other Spock users can contribute and vote on tags too. If most of
my Spock contacts know me for my search engine marketing work, they can vote on
that tag and it will rise to the top of the profile. Considering the value tags
have in search engine optimization, Spock is empowering its users to take care
of a lot of the SEO for them. To balance that, the Spock
Robot also votes. It even has its own profile, and its tags show how people
have mixed reactions; some contributed the tags "hates privacy" and
"finds way too much information," while others call it a "cute
search engine spider."
There’s no shortage of profile aggregators that aim to help people
consolidate their online identities, and this field should explode this year.
What makes Spock a bit different is that its robot scours the Web and tries to
group the profiles together, generally based on one’s email address. Once you
claim your listing (or multiple listings if needed), you can then select which
profiles to add or hide.
Whose opinion matters more, that of a Spock user or the robot? If
the user has done anything on Spock, the human wins. That’s because of the
importance of Spock Power; the most active, trusted users have a greater say
than anyone else. The robot’s Spock Power score is a lowly 1, while heavy users
have scores upwards of 1,000 (Spock co-founder Jay Bhatti has the ridiculously
high authority of about 270,000, but I’m guessing he spends a little more time
on the site than the average user).
It’s rare to see a site adopt reputation into its algorithms and
technological backbone. With Google Adwords, for instance, a click from one
user is just as meaningful as a click from another. With digg, the number of
votes and the rate at which they’re entered determines what climbs the
rankings, though a regular digg contributor who is active within the community
will find his own submissions dugg more than others. With Wikipedia, anyone can
contribute to or edit articles, though active contributors implicitly wield
more authority (a select few have added authority for policing the site). With
eBay, reputations matter, but among the larger community of buyers, the highest
bidder wins an auction, not the person with the best reputation.
Spock takes a completely different approach, where it decides on
the person’s reputation, and the community then validates it. If Spock’s robots
are right, then why not expand the model? It can serve as a heuristic, a
time-saving rule so people don’t have to spend much time judging each other.
Then again, it does fly in the face of some of the democratization
of media. It’s not one person, one vote, but rather an aristocracy of sorts.
The reason it can work on Spock is that with people’s profiles, it’s expected
that the profile subject has the final say, while those with higher reputation
scores will presumably want to only engage in actions that will increase their
Spock will still have the challenge of
overcoming the "not another" reaction to its invites, but regardless
of how well it does that, its model will likely spread. Maybe then the robot
can earn a higher Spock Power rating.