Monday, June 6, 2011

Google Acquires Postrank: A Fork in the Road for the Future of Social Media

PostRanklogo150exit.jpgOne of my favorite startups in the world, Postrank, has been acquired by Google. Here at ReadWriteWeb we use Postrank every day and if Google shuts it down I am going to be sick. New account creation has already been shut off and a shell of the technology is most likely to become a part of Google Analytics.

Here's what Postrank does: you plug in any RSS feed to the system and it scores each post in that feed by the relative number of comments, inbound links, mentions on Twitter, saves on Delicious and other social media metrics. Then you can subscribe to a filtered feed of just the 10% most-discussed items in any feed. It's magic, it's gold and it's all too often unappreciated. Unfortunately, the company hardly focuses on that aspect of its business anymore. This deal could go one of two ways, very good or very bad, not just for Postrank but for its users and users of the entire social Web.


That core value proposition of Postrank, filtering various blogs for hot posts, has been moved to the background in favor of social media analytics of a publisher's own content. That, presumably, is what Google is interested in and will become a part of Google Analytics. Google Analytics is going to become a far more important product in the future than it is today; and it's already pretty important today.

Angels and Devils in Social Media Monitoring

Postrank can be used to do two things. (A) To help you listen to a larger number of voices than you might otherwise be able to. (B) To track what you've been saying that gets repeated and discussed most often. The company was much more focused on selling B than A when it was acquired by Google.

One of those things is an incredible tool for deep and meaningful growth. The other is useful, but when deemed the only use-case worth paying for, it becomes a sick mockery of the "social" in social media.

If you believe that social media has the potential to unearth ideas, knowledge, discourse and collaboration that will help solve some of the world's great problems - then a tool that will illuminate the contours of any new voice and shine a light on its finest work, is likely of interest to you.

If that focus gets turned around into a tool for already loud voices to narcissistically optimize their own choice of words with no higher goal in mind than further amplification of themselves for profit - that's like a beautiful fairy being enslaved by the devil.

Everybody's got to pay the bills though and not very many people believe in fairies anymore.

We use Postrank here at ReadWriteWeb to find hot topics of conversation in the haystack of hundreds of niche specialist blogs on topics like geolocation, big data and education. We use Postrank to determine which of the blogs on those topics get the most traction in a given week, to determine what a newly discovered blog's audience is most responsive to, what a blog's greatest hits have been, or with blog search feeds run through Postrank what blog mentions of a keyword have seen the most social media traction.

I once helped a recruiter search for her client company's name in Google Blogsearch. Then, we put the results through Postrank to see who wrote about the company and which items got the most traction. Those were potential recruiting targets.

I have more than twenty art and design blogs run through Postrank and then through an RSS-to-IM service, when one of their articles gets particularly hot. Those are great to read and fun to share on Twitter.

I once built a blog search aggregator for Sun Microsystems' annual conference using the now Yahoo-acquired Dapper to clean up blog search feed output and Postrank to populate a "hottest posts" widget next to the "newest posts" widgets for each of 15 topics. Sun liked that project so much they flew me down to the event and let me meet musical hero and surprise event guest Neil Young. Postrank helped me meet Neil Young - whose music I've listened to during some very trying times.

I built a mobile Web app for designers a few months ago and used Postrank-filtered blog feeds to populate a topical widget of all the hottest articles in the field, along with Dribble screenshots and Tweets from top designers.

I'm going to have a conversation with someone about a topic I don't know a lot about this afternoon, and I'm going to study up quickly by reading the most-discussed blog posts from the most-engaged-with blogs covering that topic.

I once had a dream, I don't remember if I was awake or asleep, of building OPML files of the top blogs in every country on earth, running them through Postrank to filter for the hottest topics being discussed, and giving those files to the Obama administration as a tool for international diplomacy. That was just a dream, but it wouldn't have been hard to create.

These are a few of the incredible possibilities that a service like this makes possible, a service that focuses on listening to other people. Not just listening to what other people are saying about you.

If social media is reduced from a world where anyone can speak and anyone can be heard to a world where we only listen to what people are saying about us or our companies, with each voice ranked for influence score and ignored if it doesn't score high enough, then I think some of humanity's lowest instincts will have triumphed over one of our most potent opportunities to use technology to better human relations.

Please don't kill the part of Postrank, Google, that is focused on tuning our attention to the incredible Web around us.


Sara Spraker Alexis Bledel Kim Kardashian China Chow Alecia Elliott

No comments:

Post a Comment