Yahoo Turning Talent Scout?

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Yahoo is exploring an automated way of becoming a finder of talent, of top reviewers, of social network influencers. Could a search engine replace music label A and R departments, Hollywood talent agencies, publishing house manuscript readers?

I’m terrified of the idea.

Commercial exploitation of talent is traditionally a slow and subjective process, in which talent scouts would experience artistic works and discover artists, by doing such things as reading manuscripts or listening to musicians, watching movies, and viewing artistic works.

Those talent scouts would then make decisions about how likely it was that an author or performer would become popular or successful based on a subjective assessment of the performances or works in question.

The scope of media has expanded from traditional literary and musical and artistic works such as “books, articles, songs, plays, movies, fine art or photographic images” to newer forms of media, such as “weblogs, video games, music samples, ringtones, websites, descriptive terms such as tags or keywords, or digital ratings and reviews.”

There are corporate interests seeking talent in these areas, especially at an early stage in the careers of such creators and publishers. Much new media these days gets exposed to the public before ever reaching talent scouts and critics.

Yahoo has filed for a patent that would work to automatically identify talent from quality, popularity, and productivity data available on the Web.

The patent application would attempt to look at the quality and popularity of artistic works and their associated publishers:

Talent Identification System and Method
Invented by Edward Stanley Ott
Assigned to Yahoo
US Patent Application 20080077568
Published March 27, 2008
Filed: September 26, 2006


Systems and methods are disclosed for automatically identifying talent from quality and popularity data available on a computing network. The computing network is monitored and new content items and their associated publishers are identified.

In addition, quality and popularity data associated with each content item are retrieved from one or more locations on the network. The quality and popularity data are then analyzed to identify popular content items within a particular scope and create a popularity measure of each content item.

The popularity measure of each content item is then used to create a popularity measure of each publisher.

Examples of Publishers and Talent

Examples of the kinds of publishers and talent covered under this patent filing might include:

  • Creators of playlists of songs within a genre (e.g., the “Greatest Bluegrass Songs to Dance To”),
  • Authors of books, blogs or websites (e.g., Patently Obvious),
  • Actual publishers of a book (e.g., Chivalry Bookshelf),
  • Reviewers or publishers providing reviews of local interests such as restaurants (e.g., the magazine “5280” covering the Denver market for reviews local attractions),
  • Producers of family-friendly movies (e.g., Pixar), or;
  • Landscape photographers (e.g., Ansel Adams)

Roughly, this process of identifying talent, publishers, and content might include:

  • A method for identifying publishers of content,
  • Monitoring the popularity of the content over time,
  • Identifying leading publishers that are likely to become more popular in the future based on the trends of popularity of the publishers’ content items.

Publishers might be identified within specific market segments, such as movie reviews, reviews specific to a geographic region, or music playlists.

Popularity might be measured by looking at metrics such as number of downloads, sales data, number of mentions in the media, mentions of a content item in the pages of a social network such as forums and chatrooms and sites such as

Productivity could be another measure viewed, with someone producing a number of popular works over time being considered more likely to create new popular works in the future.

…some types of data may be leading indicators of popularity, such as mentions in MySpace listings among 8-12 year olds, reviews by certain known reviewers, number of internet searches on a specific search engine, or number of downloads to a specific type of device such as an iPod, while other metrics may be lagging indicators of popularity such as number of mentions in main stream media articles or advertising revenue.

Thus, the system may distinguish between the types of data by developing complicated metrics that incorporate different types of data in an attempt to quantify one or more characteristics.

The process described in the patent filing would identify leading talent and publishers within different categories and audiences, and allow commercial interests to uncover and contact publishers and talent.

For example, in the same way advertising words are sold by search engines, the publisher identification system could alert members to up and coming talent within specified scopes and allow the members to bid or otherwise pay to engage the talent.

Information about talent, content, and publishers could be provided as part of a paid ongoing service:

For example, a record label that is continuously on the look out for new recording artists may purchase a subscription to periodic popularity rankings within specific scopes.

A bluegrass record label may wish to see the publisher rankings for all publishers of bluegrass songs each week.

Alternatively, a third party may wish to be alerted only to new publishers with high publisher velocities or new content items with high content item velocities within a certain scope.

Other Commercial Applications

The system described could be used in other ways, such as being adopted to sales of different items:

For example, the systems and methods described could be adapted to the sale of products such as bicycles and include such data as number of racers using each brand, sales amount, results of manual interviews or random polling of consumers.

Furthermore, embodiments of the systems and methods described herein could be adapted to work with any data source associated with any commercial enterprise in order to identify consumer habits and trends in the use of resources.

For example, the usage trends of different types of cars within a car rental agency could be automatically analyzed in order to identify how best to purchase cars in the future based on popularity and quality data.


I think I like the old talent scout method better….

Popularity doesn’t equal talent.

Many artists who bring us something new and unique are often unpopular at the start of their careers, and an automated process like the one described stands a good chance of harming us as a society rather than helping us.

It rewards the loudest voices, rather than the ones that might hold the most beauty, the most innovation, the most potential to make positive changes in the world around us.

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21 thoughts on “Yahoo Turning Talent Scout?”

  1. Hi Bill,

    I actually like the idea behind this Yahoo filing. If this works, it would further democratize the search for and promotion of talent.

    You correctly noted that “popularity doesn’t equal talent”; but, then again, it never really has — just look at Microsoft. LOL.

    The old way of scouting for talent put the “talented” at the mercy of a few decision makers. Yahoo’s way seems somewhat less subjective and biased than a handful of talent scouts and suits making these decisions for us.

    This Yahoo idea takes the idea that has propelled American Idol to where it is today and moves it way forward into the Web 2.0 space.

    Move over Simon Cowell, you may just have to sell that brand new $1.2 million Bugatti Veyron you just bought. LOL…. j/k

    Anyways, kudos to Yahoo for showing such imagination and creativity. Even if this “Talent Scout 2.0” never does work out by finding the next Jim Morrison, Shakespeare et al, it is still intriguing just the same.

  2. This is definitely a very good idea that should take off well. I love how you brought up the fact that “popularity doesn’t equal talent” This patented application will give everyone a chance where popularity doesn’t seem to matter in an unbiased application.

  3. Hi People Finder,

    I did think of American Idol as I was reading through the patent filing. As reality television, as entertainment, the show is interesting. But I don’t really buy into it as a method of finding America’s best performing singers.

    There are many reasons why someone might be popular, but only a few of those may have to do with the quality of what they create, or the manner in which they perform, or the innovation that they might bring to some art form.

    There are also many writers, photographers, sculptors, painters, bloggers, playwrights, publishers, producers, reviewers, who create brilliant works quietly, without attracting large audiences.

    I’d much rather see something from a Yahoo that would help artists follow their own visions, and make it easier for them to create following their own paths, exercising their own creativity, then some automated means of commercially exploiting those who might compromise their visions for popularity and the chance to be some corporate tool.

    Hi NewSunSEO,

    Unfortunately, I do think that there is an assumption being made in the patent filing that focuses upon popularity being a key indicator of talent. I think that’s a mistake.

  4. Greetings Bill, your posts are always good! Have to agree that popularity doesn’t necessarily equate to talent, however it is quite exciting to have different channels to get exposure for artists. Got loads of musician friends, and they are always looking at ways to gain some exposure and get a gig or two.

    Perhaps a bit of both worlds is needed here, but would rather see Yahoo focusing on a less mechanical way of determining the “value” of talent.

    Have an awesome day, folks!

  5. Hi Bill,

    Really interesting post. I would concur that talent is indeeed very different to popularity; but there seemed to be a hint that ‘popularity’ will be weighted so not all mentions are created equal.

    I also think that ‘productivity’ is a bit of a strange one – surely that could be a case of quantity over quality? Although I guess when taken in conjunction with popularity this may even out.

    There is something to be said for the human approach, but I could see practical applications for marketers – not in terms of taking data about specific individuals, but more broad ‘trend’ data sourced from an application like this might be very valuable.

    Let’s take diets for example – a couple of years ago low carb diets ‘tipped’ in the UK and sales of bread, potatoes – good old British staples fell.

    Now if supermarkets were aware of this type of trend a bit earlier they may have been able to cash in… as it was, some were very slow on the uptake.

    Anyways I’ve blethered on for long enough – would be interested to hear your thoughts πŸ™‚

  6. Hi Jaques,

    Thanks. I agree that increasing exposure for artists can be a good thing to do. I’m just not convinced that what Yahoo describes is a good way to achieve that result.

    We can’t be sure that what they even describe in the patent application will ever be developed.

    The way that I see it is, if corporate America wants “talent” badly enough, they should start investing in the arts, and in educational opportunities for people who might not otherwise get those opportunities.

    Hi Hannah,

    Thank you. The patent application, and the assumptions behind it can appear attractive because they are dressed in scientific clothing.

    I’m siding with providing quality, value, and education to people, and letting them make informed decisions as a first step, rather than trying to force messages down people’s throats based upon assumptions made by marketers because a certain YouTube video was watched so many times, or a specific eBook caught a lot of attention.

    I think that one of the risks of looking at trend data is that it doesn’t necessarily capture the intent behind the downloads, or the circumstances behind the prolific nature of a reviewer, or the non-talent based reasons for the popularity of one author or blogger over another.

  7. I hated this post until you said that. πŸ™‚ If this patent were active, it would equal spam.

  8. Thanks, Kimberly πŸ™‚

    I hope that Yahoo has no intention of developing this patent application, too.

    It’s pretty intrusive, from a privacy stance, and it would be spam.

  9. Considering the fact that popularity would be weighty, it would be the next generation of vote farming / hoopla farming as opposed to link farming. πŸ™

  10. I think this is a very interesting concept and I appreciate your points. I think any automated system like this would be exploited.

  11. Must agree with you on corporates having to help in providing education. These matters lie really close to my heart and it is cool to hear like minded folk expressing their opinions.

    Objectively have to concur that it is unlikely that this will be developed in this spammy format. It’s interesting to see what the big players are showing interest in, as their intent could identify possible future trends.

    Have a brilliant weekend all!

  12. You guys are right…in it’s current form this patent would indeed equate spam! It is interesting to see where the big guys are heading by following these patent apps. Thanks for always bringing us new and interesting things to the table, Bill

  13. Sounds like a system that could be exploited and it would probably be very lucrative to do so as well.
    I predict that a lot of russian artists are going to be popular if this goes through.

  14. @ Connie,

    Thanks. I think any automated system has the potential to be exploited. Ignoring my distaste for the basic premise behind it for a moment, the question of how likely it might be exploited may depend upon what kinds of weight and confidence Yahoo might give to things like popularity, user ratings, origin of information, reputation of voters, and other scoring mechanisms that they might use, as well as a method of human feedback to measure those factors.

    @ Jaques (Net Marketing),

    You’re welcome. I hope that this invention isn’t developed. If it is, I hope that it isn’t released for use.

    @ Dennis,

    You may be right. πŸ™‚

  15. I am the owner of a social talent scout portal.We use videos from different video portals to found new talents.The different to the standard “how-to-find-a-talent”-way is,that our system accept submits from our users.And this is a mutch better way to find real and new talents.Because of this we get a lot of different meanings.This is a good filter. The problem of the named patent is,that not only one way is the right way.Different kinds of talents need different ways to uncover this talents.
    Thanks for the story.

  16. Hi Joseph,

    Thanks for describing the process that your site follows to find talent. Much appreciated.

    The process described in the patent filing presents an alternative that is pretty broad. I think that it anticipates using a few different approaches, but it’s worth digging into it deeper, and exploring what some of those approaches might be.

  17. Hello Bill,
    It’s almost been a year since you wrote this posting, I’m reading it right now and I would like to say that talent scouts should go to look for performers at their live performances and to look for talent performing at local venue so they can actually see how a performer interacts with his audience, how they improvise onstage, how well there are formatted, etc. There is a lot to be said about experience, about somebody that books their own shows, that sends out their own PSA’s, then negotiates with other acts, etc. There is something to be said about a performer who has his own equipment, who can realize how many people are really involved with the production. from mastering in the studio, collaborating with other musicians within the composition, etc. there are many ways to observe a performer but the best avenue approach is when he or she is in their live element.

  18. Hi Cliff,

    I agree with you. I’m a baseball fan, and I see many people make the same kind of suggestions that you are in terms of baseball scouts actually showing up in person to evaluate prospects – a scout has a tremendous amount of experience in talking to players, seeing how they interact with others, how good their mechanics are, and how much potential they might have. It really helps to actually see them play.

  19. I think popularity makes for a Prom King, not a Software Empire.

    Besides, I believe there is software developed by some Spanish mathemagicians, that were able to identify what made pop songs, popular. They charged a hefty fee to review songs before they were released to estimate their popularity. With that tool, all it takes is a bunch of people sifting through MySpace pages and running the tunes through the software and signing the winners.

  20. Hi Ed,

    As I noted in my conclusion in the post, “Popularity doesnÒ€ℒt equal talent.” But, even if we both agree to that, we can’t ignore the fact that Yahoo has come up with an approach to try to help people find performers, creators, and other talented people based upon discussions that they find on the Web in different places. Whether or not it is something that they will develop is a different question, as well as whether it would be truly effective if they did, but I think that it helps to be aware of the possibility that they might.

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