Monetize Your Followers

As a statistician and mathematical modeling practitioner, I’m not a stranger to the concept of quantifying the value of intangibles.  In the ethical framework in which I studied and worked, such quantification might be applied to a concept such as negative dollar value of ill-will (per person) generated by denied boarding due to passenger aircraft over booking.  Yet I found myself rather unnerved today by TweetUp’s article today, How much is a follower worth?.  According to TweetUp analytics, the answer is $136.80, as of June 2010.

What is so troubling about this? I believe in free enterprise, von Neumann economic utility theory, liquidity, efficient capital markets, Keynesian economics,  freedom of choice for retail consumers, Adam Smith, and evolution.

Nomenclature confusion: Friends, family, followers versus customers?

I suppose I draw a distinction between the categories of “friends and family” versus “customers and clients”. I want to look out for the best interests of the first category. However, I’m willing to let the Efficient Frontier do its best for the rest, knowing that in the long-run, everything should work out.

Classification dilemma of FOAF

Friend, Fan, Follower or Something Else Entirely?

Twitter assigns two only two types of user roles: follower and following. Google’s Picasa photo application assigns roles of friend, fan and favorite, which is no less confusing.

Google Buzz is more flexible, allowing users to name categories of contacts without restriction. One may have family, friends, colleagues/ coworkers, business contacts and so on.

Facebook is starting to move in the right direction, with friends kept distinct from fans, the latter usually pertaining to organizations or public figures. However, there remains no ability to capture the nuances within the friend category.

I perceive these oddly and inconsistently defined user roles as a discontinuity embedded within the social networking model of Web 2.0. For many months, I could not articulate my unease with certain social networking applications, but not others. Now I understand. I balk at the logical inconsistency and behavioral proscription (as defined by my personal moral framework) in these follower/friend (but no family) role definitions.

My instinct is to avoid any entangling of ties between family/ friend/ loved ones and my customer base. Behavior that is required to achieve the goals of commercial FOAF *.gifenterprise is not appropriate for those with whom I am emotionally involved.

Perhaps the conflict can be resolved through better nomenclature.  I have a solidly codified standard of behavior and obligation toward those I call Friend. I do not wish to monetize my friends. That seems exploitative and morally wrong. The language of business is entirely different. I see no moral hazard in valuing one’s customer base.

A call to action

We must use better terminology! Linkages capture non-numeric relationships. Today’s internet is the world of the semantic web. Text analytics. The Social Graph. URL’s and URI’s. FOAF (“Friend-of-a-Friend”).

Mark-up language is not just for hypertext anymore!

Nor is it confined to the extensible (XML) variety. The Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) lists no fewer than 50 common and uncommon industry and cross-industry entries in its schema library documentation. And even this list is in a continuing state of flux as it evolves to meet the needs of users. The schema document includes:

Biology, Chemistry, Geology, Weather, Mathematics
  • BioML Biopolymer Markup Language
  • CML   Chemical Markup Language
  • XMML  eXploration and Mining Markup Language
  • DWML Digital Weather Markup Language
  • MathML  Mathematics Markup Language
Business, Finance, Taxation, Real Estate
  • B2MML  Business to Manufacturing Markup Language
  • FIXML  Financial Information eXchange Markup Language
  • Tax XML  Federation of Tax Administrators
  • RETS  Real Estate Transaction Standard
Government, Legal, Education
  • EDXL  Emergency Data Language Exchange
  • JXDM  Global Justice XML Data
  • SIF XML  Schools Interoperability Framework XML

and many more including healthcare, publishing, pharmaceuticals, media, software and even metadata. Most have yet to be implemented. Yet many will eventually come into popular use: MathML 2.0 was comprehensively defined, tested and documented by 2003, but was quietly sidelined until the time was right.  That time happens to be now, as it is one of the features supported by HTML5.

Friend of a Friend button

In fact, WordPress, the digital publishing platform I am using to compose this bit of truculence is fully enabled for the Friend of a Friend (FOAF) project whose ultimate goal is creating  a Web of machine-readable home pages describing people, the links between them and the things they create and do.

We are defined by our use of language

Friend of a Friend Button

My neighbor, my mother and my students need to be classified differently than my current or potential customers. It is morally repugnant to apply valuation methodologies to those we love and care for. We are in the early stages. Let’s build the framework correctly and standardize our usage of “Friends”, “Followers”, “Favorites”, “Fans” and “Subscribers”.

Published in: on 7 July 2010 at 5:30 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I think the standardization occurs over time naturally though I agree with your call for it. I believe you mean it in a more official way than I am referring to, however.

    Morally repugnant though… why is that? I can’t quite see how valuation methodologies are like that. I can understand ethically wrong if used to harm or hinder family and loved ones, but on its own I’m not sure if the methodologies are in the wrong morally.

    But also, you’re a statistician? Awesome! The world must be so interesting through your eyes.


    • Agreed Benny, the valuation methodologies are blameless. Mathematics and probability theory have a clean, elegant beauty. They’re most effective when applied to the physical and natural sciences, less so to model complexities of human and market behavior.

      I do feel that machine learning algorithms (buzz word!) are better for models of dynamic non-linear systems. Stochastic/ Markov processes, segmentation, clustering (and Bayesian methods that go in and out of vogue), continue to remain effective as part of the predictive analysis toolkit, when applied appropriately.

      No, none of it is morally wrong, nor is it necessarily wrong to apply to human behavior. However, I want to keep my mother, brother, elderly neighbors, real friends (not Facebook-type n > 300 count friends! I don’t do Facebook anymore actually) and my two little nephews in a special place apart from valuation and influence metrics. Happily, I’m not alone in this, as I’ve viewed some recent Google conference and slideshare presentations where those very concerns were identified in their Open Social app.

      Thanks for stopping by! I’ve got an entire series about electricity for you. Still need to check on the ferrous compound you mentioned though!


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