We all know that “social capital” is a phrase used to describe the influence, reputation and connections a person has in a particular social context. Like money, it’s something that’s hard to come by but easy to lose. Tara Hunt, a person with greater than average insight into the social web, explores this area in ‘Social Capital and the Influence of Social Networks‘. I suggest you read it as it will help you to understand my slant on this subject. I’ll wait.
Back? Good. It appears to me after reading that, and much more written about the rise of social networks and the blogosphere, that we’re not talking about anything new. In fact this stuff is as old as Google itself. Why? Here’s why:
Social Capital is … complex and includes … the Social Capital of those who you have relationships with
So if you have a relationship with someone of high social capital (related trivia: my second ever subscriber on FriendFeed was Hugh Macleod) that raises your social capital. Where have we heard that before? Oh yes, search engines.
Search engines, at least the traditional ones such as Google, have a fairly simple method of working out how important you are. Let’s say someone searched for the word “trombone”. If you have the word “trombone” then you’re almost certainly going to appear somewhere in the search results. How high up depends on how important and relevent you are – your “web capital”, if you will. Let’s look at both these parts.
The relevence is dependent on a) the searched words appearing on your web page and b) how often the appear and c) where they appear. Actually it’s a lot more complex than that, but for this simple illustration it’s enough. And I want to move onto the more important topic:
On the web not all websites are created equal. Those which have few links going to them are, to put it bluntly, less important than those to which many people have linked. So sites such as BBC and Amazon are massively important, as they have been linked by so many people. A link to a website is like a vote of confidence in that site – it translates almost directly into pure importance. OK, it’s more complex than that, but you get the idea.
So if you’re a little unimportant site, and you get linked from an important site, it has a positive effect. Suddenly Google says “Well, I thought that little site was unimportant, but look who has just linked to it! I’d better push it up the search results a bit.” And a few links from a few high-profile sites is like a Hollywood A-lister calling round your house and saying “Hey, come on, I’m taking you out drinking with my A-lister buddies”. It has a positive effect.
So what has this to do with social networks? A lot, as it’s exactly how social networks operate as well. The more people you have as “friends” and have you as a “friend” the more important you are. Great, fame and fortune awaits.