The Influence Economy

January 16, 2009
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There’s an interesting convergence of two ideas in recent days. On one hand, there’s been a lot of attention to the problem of measuring Twitter authority / influence. On the other hand, there have been efforts, some more serious than others, to monetize the connections established on social networks like Twitter.

Of course, these are flip sides of the same problem: measuring and optimizing value in a social network. Or, as I like to think of it, the influence economy.

I recently proposed a way to measure influence on Twitter–or, more generally, in an asymmetric social network. While the measure is simplistic, it has the virtue of modeling attention scarcity, thus making it resilient to the inflationary effect of people following more people in the hope of reciprocity. I’m quite bullish about it, and looking forward to seeing someone implement it.

Given such a measure, let’s turn to the question of buying and selling friends. If we can measure influence, then we can monetize it, much as content providers monetize their audience’s attention by selling it to advertisers. But, just as content providers destroy their value by spamming their audience

There’s an interesting convergence of two ideas in recent days. On one hand, there’s been a lot of attention to the problem of measuring Twitter authority / influence. On the other hand, there have been efforts, some more serious than others, to monetize the connections established on social networks like Twitter.

Of course, these are flip sides of the same problem: measuring and optimizing value in a social network. Or, as I like to think of it, the influence economy.

I recently proposed a way to measure influence on Twitter–or, more generally, in an asymmetric social network. While the measure is simplistic, it has the virtue of modeling attention scarcity, thus making it resilient to the inflationary effect of people following more people in the hope of reciprocity. I’m quite bullish about it, and looking forward to seeing someone implement it.

Given such a measure, let’s turn to the question of buying and selling friends. If we can measure influence, then we can monetize it, much as content providers monetize their audience’s attention by selling it to advertisers. But, just as content providers destroy their value by spamming their audiences with ads, influencers stand to destroy their own value by selling out.

But, as the saying goes, everyone has a price. It may be crude, but we can certainly compute how much influence X gains from Y following X–as well as how much Y’s value as a follower decreases through the dilution of Y’s attention. Thus, if X wants Y as a follower, perhaps X should offer Y compensation that reflects X’s gain and Y’s loss.

I haven’t yet worked out the math, but it seems straightforward. And it might even translate into a business model for Twitter and other social networks. By supporting real value creation in the network, an online social network is in the best position to demand a cut of that value as a commision.

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