Agent Rank As Google Building an Identity Service Based on Authority?
What does it mean to call Agent Rank an Identity Service? Might that have implications for how web pages rank at Google? If Google starts using authority signals into those rankings, it very well could.
At the Edinburgh Intl TV Festival on August 28th, 2011, at a Q&A with Eric Schmidt, Andy Carvin from NPR asked about Google’s insistence on using people’s real names. He received a long response that pointed out using Google Plus as an identity service using a ranking signal built into it.
But my general rule is people have a lot of free time and people on the Internet, some people do really really evil and wrong things on the Internet, and it would be useful if we had a strong identity so we could weed them out. I’m not suggesting eliminating them. What I’m suggesting is if we knew their identity was accurate, we could rank them. Think of them as an identity rank.
The Return of Agent Rank and Portable Digital Signatures
The patent describes how authors can mark content published on the Web with a digital signature. That would be regardless of it being a web page, article, blog post, or even a comment. It also tells us that authorship might influence the rankings of that content by associating a reputation score with it.
The patent also describes ways of using metadata to provide information about whether published elsewhere. This would be somewhat like the syndication metadata tags developed for Google News. (See also, Google on Duplicate Content Filtering and News Attribution Metatags.)
An Update to the Agent Rank Patent
This summer, Google updated the reputation scoring system described in the Agent Rank patent. That makes it more likely to use an authorship markup approach and a system like Google Plus. It’s not the first continuation of the patent. An earlier continuation was published in 2009.
Both continuations of the original patent contain substantially the same description, but the newest version of the Agent Rank patent adds an interesting element in its claims.
Here is the first of the claims listed in the agent rank patent filing:
1. A computer-implemented method comprising: evaluating a document that is hosted on a site, the document including a content item to which a maker of the content item has applied a digital signature; determining whether the digital signature is portable; if the digital signature is portable, using a reputation score associated with the maker in calculating a quality score for the document; and if the digital signature is not portable, using the reputation score associated with the maker in calculating the quality score for the document only if the digital signature is fixed to the site.
Note the use of the word “portable.”
That seems to be one of the more significant updates to the patent. I think it makes it more clear that associating a Google profile with content authored by someone is like applying a digital signature to that content.
Note that someone doesn’t have to use Google Plus with authorship markup since they need only link their profile page with their Google Account under the processes described by Google on their help page for using the markup.
Reputation Scoring under Agent Rank
The Google+ authorship markup can identify who the author and possibly originator of content might be. The Agent Rank process also involves adding a quality score to a document based upon the reputation score of its author.
It’s quite possible that Google might use information that it finds on the Web and at Google plus that it can clearly associate with specific authors. This would create a credential score of the type that I described in the post How Google Might Rank User Generated Web Content in Google + and Other Social Networks.
Google might also issue Authorship Badges as well that we could use in other places such as comments on blog posts, or upon guest posts on blogs where we might not have an author profile page, or upon a site where we might submit articles.
Google’s Panda updates emphasized the “quality” of the content found on the Web. An authorship reputation could easily be another signal of quality in ranking pages.
Agent Rank Conclusion
As I noted in my last post, Google’s New Freshness Update: Social Media Has Changed the Expectations of Searchers, there are many reasons why Google might look more at social signals, including the ability to surface fresher content faster.
If Google is to do that, it needs signals other than PageRank to find very fresh content. That is because PageRank tends to work best for content that has had time to attract some links. You can add an author’s reputation score based upon contributions to social networks. Or through very recently published content and meaningful interactions with others in social networks and comments. That will add an element that doesn’t rely upon a link graph the way that PageRank does.
Adding authorship markup to the content that you create would be a step in this process. It would enable Google to associate a digital signature to content that you might create at many places on the Web.
Google has taken steps to install authorship markup on its own. In a June post about Authorship Markup on the Google Webmaster Central blog, they tell us:
We wanted to make sure the markup was as easy to implement as possible. To that end, we’ve already worked with several sites to markup their pages, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNET, Entertainment Weekly, The New Yorker, and others. In addition, we’ve taken the extra step to add this markup to everything hosted by YouTube and Blogger. In the future, both platforms will automatically include this markup when you publish content.
You May Be Using Content Google Knows that You are the Author of
You can publish content to Youtube or Google Blogger, or one of Google’s organizations. If you do, you’re already using authorship markup.
Some other recent posts elsewhere that discuss Agent Rank and Google Authorship markup:
- Jim Boykin at Internet Marketing Ninjas – Google Agent Rank and Reputational Scores ¦ It’s About Content and Writers and Panda!
- Simon Penson at SEOGadget – Google’s Heading for Life after Link Trust – Here’s How to Prepare
- John Doherty at johndoherty.com – How A Search Engine Might Determine Author Authority for Rankings
- John Doherty at SEOmoz – Social Network Spam and Author/Agent Rank
How do you feel about Google Plus as an identity service?
Will you be adding authorship markup to your pages if you haven’t already?