Viewpoint - Generating wealth from the Web. Is follow the new economicmodel poised to take on search?


I wrote that Social filtering is deeply human at the beginning of November and I knew that there was more to the topic/ theme/ thought then but I could not articulate it. Since then I have been juggling with various ideas, these have often been driven by my necessity to justify Twitter. Twitter, get it or not, provides a function called “follow” – you can follow who you like, and you get updates/ insight/ information/ attention from them. However, can you turn “follow” into value and is following your social filter based on those you trust.
Follow has an obvious value to the person who follows the leader. You gain free insights/ selection/ value/ updates/. This social filter is based on trust and it is different from curators and editors who have specific agenda’s and income/ profit requirements. In the original post I quoted David Armano “Often times the quality of links and information I get on Twitter is better than what I would have gotten from Google because the knowledge of the human feed is deep, niche, and fickle.”

Here are several scenarios to consider when thinking how we could turn follow into value and comparing outcomes from search and social networking, they are not exhaustive but should provide a good place to start a train of thought.
1. I am looking for a great Thai restaurant
Option 1. Search.   Type in “Great Thai restaurant” into Google, my mobile sends my location and Google takes a guess I want food tonight and near to where I am search, reasonable assumptions driven from our need for context and personalisation. From the “unknown algorithm based results” that favours Google, I then read some third party reviews which I cannot judge if they are paid, biased or just vocal. Is the selection any better than walking past and seeing how many people are sitting in the restaurant?
Option 2. Post to Facebook and ask my friends and my network where a “Great Thai restaurant is” – there is more work to this one and I am wholly dependent on someone helping. Size of network helps at this point.
Option 3. Twitter/ follow. I love Thai and I am already following others who love Thai. I Tweet to my network of same minded followers who can deliver a recommendation. 
In option 1 – Google wins. In option 2 – Facebook wins. In option 3 – the community wins and the person who helped me may get a discount on their next meal.

2. I want to invest some money
Option 1. Search.   Type in “Great Investment fund” into Google. From the “unknown algorithm based results” that favours Google I will click on some links and read, subject to many legal notices, about the performance of various funds. If I invest I will have watch and wait for the results
Option 2. Post to Facebook and ask my friends and my network about their experiences with “Investment funds.” Not sure I would really be that happy with this for many reasons including telling the world about my desire to invest.
Option 3. Twitter/follow.  I love to invest and I am already following others who love investment. I follow a service that allows me to manage my own money (never give up control) and I invest based on what the best in class is doing ( To follow the best investor I share some of the upside. No management fees, no overheads, risk on my terms, stop and start when I like. Worth noting that J.P Morgan funds investment advice is now on iTunes
In option 1 – Google wins. In option 2 – no-one wins. In option 3 – the person who I follow gets a share of my upside, assuming that they want to create value over time and not destroy it once.

3. What is hot in tech/ service/ my industry
Option 1. Search.   Type in “what is hot in tech” into Google. From the “unknown algorithm based results” that favours Google I will click on some links and read. The top tech web sites are there with breaking news. I can use various tools to determine what is hot and trending or I can use my “reader” to filter from my own favourites.
Option 2. Post to Facebook and ask my friends and my network about what they think is hot. Day 1; I will get a few views. Day 10; I will get a less help and probably a polite note telling me not to ask again. 
Option 3. Twitter/ follow. I look at what is trending and select a few “trusted” people to follow and follow updates as and when they occur. I add value to my network by adding my own opinion, or pay to sit there and listen.
In option 1 – Google wins. In option 2 – no-one wins. In option 3 – the community/ cluster wins.

Logical response
The obvious contention to these three and very simple scenarios is; to Quote Paul Rodriguez who commented,  “lemmings, pied piper, following somebody the wrong way up a one way street, jump off a cliff if I told you, following the falling domino in front and having the falling domino behind follow you, following somebody you trust, who is following somebody they trust who is following somebody they trust who is following somebody stupid, the list is endless...the risk is that instead of having the madness of crowds, maybe the 21st century equivalent is the madness of tweets? Laws such as the snowball effect and the law of unintended consequences become far more amplified in an interconnected world. In which case market (and wealth) fluctuations become more volatile, but then you only *truly* make money on the gradient.”
I expect that there is a lot of empathy for the logic of this response, however, is follow (Twitter or other tech based follow services) any different from what we have today with editors/ press/ celebrity and broadcast as we all believe everything from the red top tabloids and sky/fox news!

However, putting follow into context Researchers at HP Labs discovered that Twitter can predict, with astonishing accuracy, how well a movie will sell. The researches at HP started by monitoring movie mentions in 2.9 million tweets from 1.2 million users over three months. These included 24 movies in all, ranging from Avatar to Twilight: New Moon.  Then they took two different approaches, dealing with two very different performance metrics: the first weekend performance, which is largely built on buzz and the second weekend performance, which is largely built whether people actually like the movie. To predict first weekend performance, they built a computer model, which factored in two variables: the rate of tweets around the release date and the number of theatres its released in. Lo and behold, that model was 97.3% accurate in predicting opening weekend box office. By contrast, the Hollywood Stock Exchange, which has been the gold standard for opening box-office predictions, had a 96.5% accuracy. “
What should be even more alluring to business strategists and CEO’s; as Tech Review points out, Twitter might be more than just a mirror of mass sentiment - the service might also influence it. In other words, could you actually make a product launch far more successful with a really smart Twitter/ Follow strategy?   However are we measuring or observing the results of a system in motion and in the process influencing those results? For anyone with a science background this will bring up Werner Heisenberg and The Uncertainty Principle
Heisenberg determined that “both the position and momentum of a particle cannot be known simultaneously.”   The dichotomy raises the mind-boggling prospect that unless we observe an event or thing, it hasn’t really happened, that all possible futures are quantum probability functions waiting for someone to notice them - trees falling unheard in a forest. Maybe this Viewpoint never existed until you searched for it and Google created it as you wanted it!
(Yes for those who have mastered QM I am confusing the observer effect of with the uncertainty principle. Technically the uncertainty principle has nothing to do with "observing", it has to do with measuring. The observer effect is a supposed effect of observing an event and the influence of your observations on the event. No one would ever have to actually observe a particle's position to obfuscate its momentum, the mere act of using the photons to measure its position, even if nobody ever observed it, would suffice. It's the act of measuring, not actually observing that causes the uncertainty principle, but when observation requires something that may cause change the problems occur)
Anyway, how does this relate to the analysis and feedback within my framework of thinking about Follow?  Think about it this way:  The mere act of observing a social change, changes the behaviour of that social object.  In “reality TV” they put cameras in front of “real” people for the viewer to watch how “real” people behave, date, compete, etc.  But this in fact makes those on camera less and less real.   They’re not actors, nor are they behaving like normal people.  They are somewhere in between the two. 
In the case of Twitter predicting a movie success, could an editor or critic have the same effect, if they could do it in real time and not on paper? How does Google real time search affect your searching habits and techniques.  You no longer have freedom in the web, as the recommendation is based on what the crowd says is important and therefore we are actually just lemmings.

Restating the Problem
Therefore the problem (Generating wealth from the web) is far more complex, multifaceted and inter-twangled, as there is unlikely to be a single source.
  • Do I want to be directed by people I trust but I may not be able to determine their source – Follow
  • Do I want to be directed by an unknown algorithm that can change at any time and could be biased to their own needs – Search
  • Do I want to be directed by Brands – Marketing/Ads
  • Do I want to be directed by the media/ editors/ critics where I may be able to determine their bias – Broadcast/ News
  • Do I want to be directed by the fashion/ celebrity – Sales

This complex dependency is an issue which editors and bloggers have faced time over. Do I write based on what people want to read, based on clicks and response data or what I find interesting – are we (am I) adaptive or reactive, do we want to be individual or loved or make money or provide democracy or lead?
I really don’t need to know what you had for lunch and I don’t have to follow you.  Follow would put me in control and can seek out value from the community and not some bland algorithm that controls what part of the web I can see. However the issue facing follow is how will I pay the platform that underpins the service?
A reasonable concern would be that the 'follow' theory is weakened if the 'followed' account generates little content, or at the wrong time. e.g. If I follow five Thai restaurants but only one puts messages out, at 1am, I am not going to that delighted with the experience (unlike search that does not provide real-time as everything has to have been indexed). This low level of activity from Follow has two effects, you give up early or I personally have to exert a lot of effort as I need to continually add/prune/curate.  This takes time, as humans we are inherently lazy and would therefore prefer for someone else to do this for us.  Editors rule!
Wrapping up
This long Viewpoint started with the idea that “follow” is the new economic model poised to take on “search” and I believe that there is substantial value in “follow.” Reading that Google offered $3bn for Twitter makes be believe that there are other strategists who are struggling with the same issues and the value!