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Aardvark

SEO: Content is King; Social Media: Context is King

While leading natural search strategy at eBay, we had a motto: Content is King. It wasn't a unique tagline - even CKX, Inc (American Idol, Elvis Presley, etc) stands for "Content is King". While at the Polaris Digital Media Summit in Jackson Hole this past week - several folks (including myself) referred to social media as the "new SEO". When it comes to traffic acquisition and product marketing strategies, Facebook is indeed the new Google - it is top of mind for marketers in much the same way that natural search was a primary focus over the last several years.

And if SEO is driven by content... Social media is driven by context.

Google :: Facebook SEO :: SGO Content :: Context

In fact, context is so critical to social efficacy that it has been billed as SGO: Social Graph Optimization. Meebo founder Seth Sternberg is credited with the term: "Search has been great traffic driver. Now social media drives [traffic] and needs to be optimized." Much of the conversation at the summit was focused on driving traffic through social media and optimizing content across the social graph. The consensus was that context drives relevancy... and thus virality... and thus efficacy. Consider social sites like Quora and Aardvark as examples: using Facebook Connect and algorithms, questions are delivered contextually based upon your social graph, knowledge and activity.

And as the world of friends / followers, status updates and 'check-ins' grows - context helps stand out among the noise and therefore alleviate users from being overwhelmed.

This is further complicated by Facebook's "News Feed" - which itself is akin to Google's black-box search algorithm. We have a general sense for how it works and what Facebook values: activity (comments, likes, shares) results in content being "news worthy". As it has been described by Alex Shultz before, it is about "interestingness squared":

- content that is considered "interesting" is rewarded (highlighted in newsfeed with better chance to becoming viral) - and content that is uninteresting (ie irrelevant) is punished (relegated to "live feed") and consequently has difficulty gaining visibility

As you think through social media and optimization, think through how it relates to your brand and product experience... and how the outputted content relates specifically to users (both the publishers and consumers). The more relevant and closed that loop is, the more effective the experience will be and the more likely your users are to engage / share.

The Power of Social Recommendations

It's no surprise that social recommendations work - they are based on connections, shared interests, references, etc. I've written many times that I believe conversation - enabling it, aggregating it, filtering it and applying authority / relevancy - is where the real-time-web's great value is derived. An example from last night that: - proves the power of network-based sourcing (and demonstrates the size and robustness of Facebook) - validates the missions of certain companies (like Aardvark for instance) - likely frightens players in the recommendation space who are not innovating - and raises a series of other questions (more below)

Last night, in a bit of a scheduling bind, I was trying to secure a nice Napa hotel for a post-wedding weekend getaway (between our belated honeymoon later in the year). After spending a few moments unsuccessfully researching highly rated hotels online... I found nothing. After calling a couple friends directly, I still had no leads. So I posed the question on Facebook and received 10+ lengthy, trusted responses in a couple hours. The quality of the responses far exceeded anything I found online because it came from trusted sources, was articulate, qualified and timely.

The questions out of this experience: - in which verticals does it work and, depending on the space, how does the depth of experience change? - how can this content be archived and search? - if this list is truly better than Citysearch's Top 10 Guide - how can is it made available in relevant ways outside of my network? - can Facebook Connect enable the same experience and quality for sites off-Facebook? - what role does Twitter play a role here considering that it is a public network?

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Aardvark, Facebook Connect & 'Social Finding'

Note: this is the third post of a four-post series on how Facebook Connect in changing digital media and online marketing. See the others here If you haven't tried Aardvark yet, register and give it a spin... it's unique, useful and delivers surprisingly high-quality answers to your questions. The concept is rather simple (while the technology is clearly complex): users ask questions to their social graph (across web, chat, Facebook and Twitter integrations) - Aardvark then fields answers from those users most likely to deliver the best results (in other words: Aardvark is determining authority and relevancy to the noise that often exists in social contexts). Aardvark is also a terrific example of how Facebook Connect can be used to solve two major, common issues that I have written about before:

1. Arriving in an empty party: MySpace had Tom... but there is nothing less engaging than arriving to a service / party alone and without connections.

2. Finding: Ever tried to browse Apple's App Store, eBay or any other site with decent inventory? It's difficult and, at times, impossible.

Facebook Connect can solve both and Aardvark is a perfect demonstration. First, they use Facebook Connect to allow users to find friends from their Facebook social graph who are also Aardvark users - this is powerful for new users and for viral marketing (invitations are also powered by Facebook Connect). Once you are connected through Facebook, Aardvark can determine social connections (relationships, proximity, etc) and begin to assign authority rankings based on content, relationships, and so forth. Through the integration, Aardvark has:

- improved viral marketing through an invitation program - increased engagement through social recommendations - improved efficiency and relevancy of finding content, people, etc - improved their internal algorithms (which are core to the social and authority rankings)

Also worth looking at: CitySearch has done a similar integration which achieves much of the same.

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13 iPhone Apps I Want Developed (Google, ESPN, FriendFeed)

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1. GMail The improved Gmail iPhone site is just that: improved. But a true GMail iPhone App would allow fuller cusotmizations, run faster, better integrate calendars and contacts... and soon utilize the new push notification systems of iPhone 3.0.

2. Google Reader / RSS I use my iPhone as much for email as I do for content consumption. A Google Reader App would instantly be my starting point for iPhone-based web browsing. It would also increase my activity on Reader - particularly the social aspects (sharing, commenting, etc).

3. AdWords / AdSense Ever been without a computer and needed data associated with AdWords or AdSense? Happens to me all the time... Better yet, the ability to lightly manage campaigns (particularly with AdWords).

4. Facebook Connect + iTunes & App Store This is a pipe dream, but I would love an Apple built app that, via Facebook Connect, created personalized histories and storefronts for iTunes and the App Store. I find both stores increasingly unusable due to the overwhelming inventory... Facebook Connect is the solution.

5. ESPN Fantasy Is there a better use case for an iPhone App? Fantasy sports require on-demand knowledge and management. Fantasy sports players would never put their iPhone down again. 6. FriendFeed Perhaps this would be solved for me by a Google Reader App... but FriendFeed would provide more social functionality and would certainly make me a more loyal, active user.

7. Techmeme I visit Techmeme daily. It is particularly difficult to navigate on the iPhone. A simple iPhone App would make the on-Techmeme / off-Techmeme navigation more efficient. It would also allow for history and search functionality.

8. Starbucks I drink a lot of coffee and use a lot of Starbucks' free wifi. Some sort of location finding application that provided coupons and incentives would be very appetizing.

9. MLB.TV MLB.tv is my favorite product of 2009: amazing HD streaming quality with every conceivable feature request (fantasy tracking, four-game split screens, DVR controls, etc). I would pay an additional $10-$20 to get the streaming on my iPhone (when 3.0 arrives).

10. Google Analytics Makes total sense. All I need is basic statistics.

11. Aardvark I love Aardvark... but my most frequent use-case is when I am away from my computer. With an iPhone App, I would use Aardvark far more routinely and it would be my Q&A service of choice (perhaps replacing Yelp and others on mobile).

12. Wordpress.org To the best of my knowledge, there is not an equivalent of the great Wordpress.com iPhone App for blogs running Wordpress.org... if there is, please let me know. If there isn't, please build it.

13. USPS Tracking The FedEx App is terrific and solves a big need - and with 3.0 it will be even better. I would love the same for USPS (but certainly do not expect this to be built!).