"The Web is about people connecting to each other." This is a quote from a talk Azeem Azhar gave at Lift in March of this year.
PeerIndex is a technology company that developed an algorithm-based tool to help discover information on people, places, and subjects. In a hyper connected world, it's important to have filters for signal. And there are clear benefits from making the right connections to the right people.
The site analyzes 6.3MM people and provides a statistical view of authority and expertise in given topics. The analysis is content- and context-driven.
The company was founded in 2009 by Azeem Azhar, an Internet entrepreneur and investor who previously worked at The Economist and Guardian; Bill Emmott, former editor-in-chief of The Economist; and Ditlev Schwanenflugel, formerly of McKinsey & Co.
How it works
In a recent conversation with Azhar, I learned that the way PeerIndex works is based upon topics. Someone who is an expert on a topic may not have the same command and knowledge in another. Rankings are then weighed in three areas:
- authority -- the quality of links and content you share
- activity -- how active you are on a topic based on relevance
- audience -- essentially your reach
Azhar said that PeerIndex also measures the quality of the information you share, ot just the activity in a particular network. It tracks activity over time, and you can add many social networks when you claim your profile -- Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Quora, and your blog.
Currently, PeerIndex focuses on indexing people. Because scores are topic-based, people who are consistent ans share quality content score higher than people who over share lots of different topics. It's that signal vs. noise principle that is at the root of the company's philosophy.
If you search for a list of experts in a topic like technology, you may find Robert Scoble, who you should already have identified due to the sheer volume of his activities and connections. As a brand, I'd hope to also uncover other gems I would have not found easily on my own.
What you see above is my profile including my Twitter and blog activity only. You can clearly see the concentration of my topics -- technology, business, and media -- with a side of lifestyle thrown into it.
Because the site tracks activity over time, it provides a better picture of someone's activity and authority ratio, discounting occasional off topic posts.
Of course, I don't write what I write about to get on a top list anywhere. And I take many of these tools with a healthy grain of salt. However, I do see how PeerIndex could be a useful indicator in identifying people passionate and knowledgeable about a certain topic.
One point of concern I raised is that people do have different behaviors and even content strategies -- either planned or reached organically due to comfort levels -- on different networks. The statistical view of one's total activity may take care of that.
What happens if you're an authority in a topic and don't post to social networks? Azhar said this is the same issue academics who don't publish face -- and they are working on ways to figure out how to take some of that into account.
Azhar said he hopes to charge businesses for custom analyses and deeper access to PeerIndex’s data. The commercial applications are focused on working with opinion leaders to help them get a return on their social capital. So far, they have close to 200 partners via API. They integrate topic-level and overall PI data into applications.
Is social capital like money in the bank? To me, capital does one no good in the bank. Sitting there and getting just a little bit of interest over time. Could you be putting that virtual or topic-based "currency" to work harder by investing your energy in other people and getting ideas done?
The challenge is that with the cost of making connections online dropping to zero, and the volumes of connections you can make going up exponentially, it's become increasingly difficult to tell which to follow and engage with that will pay off over time.
Identifying and connecting with people you can trust is what signal is all about.
Conversation Agent's Take
The keywords preselected for a profile when first claimed in the system are selected based upon the person's activity in the last 120 days. They can adjusted by picking from a list, which I assume is also based upon the content shared -- links, tweets, blog post tags, and so on.
The tool connects users with their network, or graph, depending upon how the information contained in tweets is shared between them. Say for Twitter, it then tracks the information flow on a topic by looking at how links, words, or phrases are picked up and reused by others -- retweets, @ replies, and so on.
At the moment, there are few reviews on PeerIndex on Oneforty. The tool could be useful to an organization that is looking to partner with someone interested in and showing consistency on a topic. Organizations may be able to identify experts who have authority in a topic, yet are not on top of the buzz charts.
The most interesting application to me comes with the ability to filter based on authority. Finding the true experts from the keywords and activity density around a certain topic. To see these experts, companies and agencies alike will need to get passed follower counts, and focus on relevance and quality.