February 26, 2007
Finding More Nuanced Ways of Understanding Most Popular Sites, Posts

Our research director, Joshua Green, sent around this fascinating post that appeared earlier this month on the blog Read/WriteWeb, focusing on more sophisticated ways to measure what audiences are saying.

Alex Iskold writes, "In the web 1.0 world, understanding what people liked was a voodoo science. Luckily, in these days of blogs and social software, there are fairly definitive ways of measuring what people like. Comments on posts, del.icio.us bookmarks, Technorati links and of course Diggs, are all entries into the fascinating world of social popularity."

Instead of just tracing page views, they looked at the posts they had published which had received the most comments, with the most popular post in this regard receiving 201 comments, almost 100 above the next most-commented-on post.

They found a much different ranking of popularity by looking solely at bookmarks on del.icio.us, and yet a third much different list from digg.

The author concludes, "Using social information to measure user information is an effective way for bloggers to understand what their readers like. It is also possible to use the methods we've outlined here to measure the popularity and effectiveness of pages on a corporate web site."

A similar impulse guides Todd And's Power150, which measures the 150 most popular marketing blogs on the Web. I found out about the site when I realized that this blog was on the list, currently hovering in the early 40s of the Top 150. In Todd's case, he looks at Google placement, Technorati rankings, and Bloglines, along with his own subjective score, to come up with a final list.

The point is that there are many ways to measure popularity, and it is certainly true that page views is not the be-all and end-all. Rather, it is a measure much akin to the counting of impressions for television (although with much better accuracy, one would think), instead of measuring any qualitative relationship with the content.

This idea of finding ways to measure viewer sentiment also takes me back to the editorial from the BBC News Web site I wrote about last July. In that post about the shrinking distance from producer to consumer, I wrote about journalist Daniel Pearl. I wrote that he had written that "readers no longer ever have to contact the station to voice their opinion because sites that track the blogosphere--such as Technorati--can give journalists an immediate barometer of how a story has been received among viewers and some clue as to what directions to follow up, based on audience response."

A more qualitative and nuanced way of understanding how people engage with content is necessary and also becoming more possible on the Web, and these various examples are only beginning to point to the tools and ways of thinking which can help drive a better understanding of how people engage with content online and which content they subsequently find more engaging. Definitely food for thought.