Archives for posts with tag: Tools

The last few years have seen the adoption of social networking increase rapidly. From Facebook to Twitter,  LinkedIn to Flickr – there is a social network for just about anything.

As the revolution of social networking continues unabated, there comes a growing need to explore patterns within the networks – a process called social network analysis (SNA)

Previously, the world of social network analysis could only be accessed with a bit of computing knowledge. However, an open source programme called Nodexl has changed that by bringing some of the important metrics used to understand a network, and the ability to create impressive network graphs, into Excel.

Nodexl makes understanding a social network graph easy for anyone who can navigate around a spreadsheet. Excel is often where the world of computer programmers and the rest of us can meet up and speak the same language. Nodexl also makes it easy to import data from existing social networks such as Twitter, Flickr and Youtube

The people that can begin to make use of network graphs range from marketers to activists – and I imagine they are now a staple of any well equipped social media political campaign. Using a social network graph you can (among other things):

  • Spot the trusted influencers in a network
  • Find the important people that act as bridges between groups
  • Uncover isolated people and groups
  • Find the people who seem good at connecting a group
  • Plot who is at the centre and who is at the periphery of a network
  • Work out the where the weakest points of a network are
  • Assess who is best placed to replace a network admin
There are two basic components of a social graph:
  • Node: In a social network a node will usually represent a single person – but it can also represent an event, hashtag etc
  • Edge: A connection/interaction between two nodes – such as a friendship in Facebook, a follow on Twitter or an attendance at an event or Twitter Hashtag.

One major question that a social network analysis asks is how connected nodes (or people) are. But what determines how connected any person is? What metrics can be used to work it out how influential or powerful any individual player is?

These are some of the major metrics used in Nodexl – and they offer a good way to start thinking about your own networks:

  • Centrality – A key term which refers to how ‘in the middle’ a node is in a network.
  • Degree centrality – a count of the number of nodes a node is connected to. This could be the number of people that follow you on Twitter, or the amount of people that viewed a YouTube video. It is important to remember that a high degree score isn’t necessarily the most important factor in measuring a nodes importance.
  • In Degree and Out Degree – A connection between two nodes can be undirected (we are mutual friends on Facebook) or directed (you follow someone on Twitter that doesn’t follow you back). The In-Degree refers to the number of inbound connections, and Out-Degree refers to the number of outbound connections.
  • Geodesic distances – A geodesic distance is the shortest possible distance between two nodes  (popularly known as the degree of separation). In social network analysis, a nodes shortest and longest geodesic distance is recorded (the longest possible distance between a node and another is sometimes refered to as its eccentricity and can be used to work out the diameter of a network). An average geodesic distance of an entire network is worked out to assess how close community members are to each other.
  • Closeness centrality – This metric determines how well connected a node is in the overall network. It takes into account a nodes geodesic distance from all other nodes. Using this metric you can find people that don’t have strong connections.
  • Betweenness centrality – A score of how often a node is on the shortest path between two other nodes. This can be thought of as a bridge score – how important a node is at bridging other connections. People with a high betweenness centrality are often known as key players. A node could only have a degree centrality of 2, but if those two connections bridge to large unconnected groups, then that node will have a high betweenness centrality.
  • Eigenvector centrality – This looks at how well connected the people you are connected to are. It scores how much of a network a node can reach in comparison to the same amount of effort enacted by every other node in the network.

I am going to be exploring social network analysis over the next few weeks and blogging what I find here – if you want to follow along make sure you follow me on twitter or subscribe for updates.

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My last two blog posts have explored the basic concepts of SEO and how SEO is used to get to the top of Google News. This post I want to shift over to the murky side of SEO and see how it is used as one of the ‘Dark Arts’.

An undercover investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism recently exposed the inner workings of one of Britain’s largest lobbying companies, Bell Pottinger. Posing as agents for a country with terrible human rights abuses, the investigative team secretly recorded senior executives making promises to use the ‘dark arts’ to help bury negative coverage of human rights violations and child labour.

The techniques used by Bell Pottinger ranged from using their connections to the Prime Minister to ‘fixing Wikipedia’ and manipulating Google to ‘drown’ out negative coverage of their clients.

The manipulation of Google that Bell Pottinger refers to is the mastery of SEO techniques to push positive media coverage up a Google search engine results page (known as a SERP) and to pull negative coverage down. The idea is that the higher up a SERP a link is, the more likely it is to be visited by the searcher – a study found that 42% of searchers click on the first link on a page, and that 90% click somewhere on the first 10 links.

The use of SEO to give your company a boost in search engine authority is nothing new – the process of using it to drown out negative coverage is a capability Bell Pottinger bragged about pioneering in 2007, calling it ‘Crisis Management’

(from PR Week)

The group claims the firm, headed by MD Paul Mead, will link PR with SEO in a genuinely new way.

‘Previously SEO has only been used to make sure a brand is noticed and high-up on a relevant search,’ said BP Group chairman Kevin Murray. ‘What we are doing is taking the world’s biggest reputation management tool – Google – and turning it into a tool for crisis management.’

Whilst the basic’s of SEO are simple enough, to be an expert takes a lot of effort and the field changes daily. Google is said to have over 10,000 signals that tell it how to rank web-pages – signals that are kept a closely guarded secret. It is a SEO specialists job to experiment with Google and crawl through the hundreds of blogs and forums dedicated to the topic.

The unethical dark side of SEO has a name, Black Hat Search Engine Optimisation. It is frowned upon by the more ethically minded SEO practitioners and generally considered a short term solution to an SEO problem. However, for a lobbying company like Bell Pottinger – these short term solutions can be just the fix needed to drown out negative coverage.

Common techniques include:

  • Keyword Stuffing: This is where as many keywords as possible are stuffed into the content and the meta data. This is quite an old technique that most search engines can avoid.
  • Invisible Text: Placing a long list of keywords in white text on a white background so that it is invisible to a viewer but visible to a search engine.
  • Doorway Page: A page on a website that viewers will never visit optimised for search engines. If anyone does happen to visit this page, they are redirected to the main page.
  • Link Farming: Harvesting links from unrelated pages
  • Throw Away Domains: Purchasing domains with a keyword heavy address and linking to your page.
  • Deceptive Headlines: Luring people to your site with misinformation to increase your authority.

Another interesting technique is called ‘Google Bombing‘. This is a process that involves creating lots of links around the web that point to the page being bumped up and filling the anchor text (the visible, clickable part of a hyperlink) with the keywords. One recent example was when Pro-Lifers used a Google Bomb to bring the Wikipedia page for ‘Murder’ to the top of a SERP for ‘Abortion’.

These are just a handful of techniques for unethical optimisation. SEO is a non-stop dance between the search engines that are trying to create a useful and fair search engine result page and those that try and manipulate it. Of course, the people that are the best at manipulating SEO are those that attract the highest fee’s – fee’s that only companies with the budgets of a lobbying company like Bell Pottinger can afford.

The Bell Pottinger investigation highlights the incredible importance of SEO in our digital world. If anything is to be learnt, it is that those that support human rights must learn these techniques in order to combat against them.

With so much content out on the web, the need for curators has never been stronger. Fortunately, a new category of software has emerged to help make the process of curating information easy and fun. Here is part one of my list of some of the best new curation tools out there:

Scoop.it

This website lets you create a magazine like page with content.

You log in, think of a topic, grab your url (www.scoop.it/example) and begin adding article you find using your browsers ‘Scoop’ button.

The website does all the work of making the page look nice, but you can customize the style if you wish.

And, if you looking for help finding content,  Scoop It will give you a list of recommendations for your topic from around the web.

It has all the social media plugin’s you need, a daily email update on both your topic and other topics you follow and an easy way to explore new topics.

Check mine out here about the war on drugs, or this good one on new web tools.

Storify

Storify lets you gather content from a variety of social media platforms and order (and reorder) it all into a single stream.

It is an ideal platform for following a Twitter conversation and quickly pulling out good tweets, adding some comments, and slotting in any relevant media. It is also offers to send a notification to anyone mentioned in the Storify project.

Because of it’s ease of use and clever design, Storify is seeing vast adoption across the web. Popular website ReadWriteWeb use Storify to curate answer to their regular ‘Big Question’ from across Facebook, Twitter and their own comments section. It is also the ideal way to curate an event that has a strong Twitter engagement.

Pearl Tree’s

A Pearl Tree is an attractive and elegant way to display the relations between webpages of content. 

A pearl is an item of web content (YouTube video, webpage etc) which you link to other pearls which contain similar content to create a pearltree.

It’s ideal application would be as a visual guide to a topic, taking people through different networks of thought. For example – this pearltree explores the concept of the virtual currency of BitCoin.

Projeqt

Projeqt seems to be a very polished and stylish way of curating content. It’s functionality is quite basic and works in a similar way to a Powerpoint presentation.

You arrange your content (videos, pictures, text, RSS, Twitter) onto a series of slides and let the user glide through the story.

This platform would be ideal for showcasing a series of pictures with short comments in between. For a good example of the possibilities, check out this example by Brain Pickings.

Pinterest

Pinterest dubs itself as an online pinboard. You pin things you find to your own virtual pinboard page and find other people to connect to with similar interests.

The layout is both simple and appealing. It looks suitable for visual based curation and has seen early adoption within the craft and art worlds.

Promotionally, Pinterest is aimed at the casual user, and not so much the professional curator. Uses include planning a wedding, redecorating your home and sharing recipes.

Redux

I’ve been looking for a service like this for a while! Redux is a curation tool for video. Create your own channel and curate videos around your theme.

The user experience is pretty sleek. After clicking on a channel you are taken straight through to a full screen video with controls to move on to the next one or pause.

As a curator, you can add videos to pre-existing channels or create a channel of your own. The screen for curators isn’t quite as stylish as the viewer screen, but functional enough.

The EOL is aiming to be a single online resource cataloguing all life on this planet. Collaborating globally with many other collections, the site is working to provide a webpage for every single one of the 1.9 million species on the planet.

Each page will contain photo’s, sound-clips, videos, maps and articles written by experts and verified by the scientific community. There is also prominent ‘threat status’ section, letting the viewer know how endangered the species is.

On every page there is a dedicated community page which links to all discussions that relate to that particular species. Anyone can sign up and begin a discussion and all content is licensed under creative commons. It currently has 48,000 members who have already contributed towards the 634,000 images on the website.

The ultimate goal is to ‘make high-quality, well-organized information available on an unprecedented level.’

Nation of Neighbours provides a simple set of tools that enables citizens of a community to communicate with one another. It is a development of the existing Neighbourhood Watch scheme and allows citizens to share information on local crime, report suspicious activity and voice concerns about the community.

Any registered member can submit a report about their local area. A point based ranking system determines whether a member can file a report straight onto the website, or if their report has to go into a queue. Items in the queue are moderated by active members who have accumulated enough ‘stars’.

Any person can register their local community (US only at present). Members can receive alerts whenever there is a new report published that matches their alert criteria via email, text or RSS.  There is the option to publish local news and events, share photos and discuss community issues.

The hope of the project is that it will increase social participation and strengthen the sense of neighbourhood whilst helping local authorities keep in contact with the community and reduce crime. Plans for the future include an API that will enable Nation of Neighbours to be incorporated into existing community websites.

When a debate rages in the press and online, it can often be difficult to get hold of the bare facts and the basic arguments. Wranglr is a simple response to this problem.

Wranglr lets you see both the arguments for and the arguments against an idea side by side. Lines connect primary arguments to counter arguments so you can easily follow the flow of an idea. When you click on an argument you can see the point in more detail and click through to a link with further information. By logging in with your social network credentials, you can start a debate and contribute arguments to existing debates.

The current debate is on the alternative voting system, and the graphical representation of the arguments really helps someone gain a quick overview and familiarity with the arguments. The scope for debates is pretty large – I would like to see a debate asking if bankers are responsible for the financial crisis, or even an argument as epic as the existence of God! A quick scan through Quora would offer some interesting ideas.

I imagine the site will face some problems as it develops – particularly separating good arguments from rubbish opinions – and may require some form of moderator. But for people that want a quick digest of the facts, without any interfering noise, the site will probably be a success – and I’m sure the feature list will expand (although I hope the core simplicity remains).

For an introduction and some background by the creator click here.

Yammer is an enterprise social networking tool that offers both free and paid for services. You register using your companies unique email address. It is pretty much a private Facebook for your company – with all the social networking features you could want. It is used by 80% of the Fortune 500 companies and top clients include the BBC, Groupon and Barclaycard.

Yammer saves time and increases productivity, encourages spontaneous real time conversations, connects people within the organization and encourages the sharing of new ideas. The Facebook-like layout also means that people intuitively know how to use and navigate around the site.

A recent poll of 10,000 Yammer users has turned out some positive results for the company: