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I am Spartacus

Insights January 11, 2012

An entire army of Roman slaves is murdered at the behest of a Roman general’s inability to identify his defector. This is the result of the climactic scene in Stanley Kubrick’s 1960 epic classic, Spartacus. In a demonstration of conformity, hundreds of slaves rise and stand alongside Spartacus to protect him from crucifixion. Of course, grave misfortune quickly falls on all.

How does the Google Empire begin to determine ownership and trust as they attempt to weave a new social graph? Much like a hyperlink endorsement, the task at hand requires an ability to understand the new footprint an individual or brand leaves across the web. Today, our contributions to the digital medium bleed well beyond the white fences of our canonical homes. Syndication, social sharing, paraphrasing, and sourcing create added confusion for search spiders attempting to identify the author of any media asset, let alone the true reputation and authority of the referencing source. Too much ambiguity in ownership and you’re quickly swallowed in the vast sea of SERPs or, worse, penalized.

This is not to say you need focus on the purveyors of your hard work; much like a backlink profile there inevitably will be instances of automated scraping and spam—all of which is very natural and expected. Rather, its time we begin to explore the likely signals and referential elements that are within our control.

The Reputation and Collaboration Dilemma

Collaborative technology has allowed for the rapid growth of most large-scale knowledge platforms, such as Google Maps and Wikipedia. It is also what will, eventually, deliver us the semantic-web as Google, and others, attempt to catalog ‘an internet of things’ through various crowd-sourcing task services like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.  But how are they to effectively establish ‘who’ is contributing and whether or not their value-add checks-out? Wikipedia is riddled with inaccuracies and grammatical gaffes, but lives in a much more controlled environment laden with editors in contrast to when you’re attempting to make sense of what people are saying and doing on websites you do not control.

Establishing reputation is, of course, a tricky art. For example, a research paper entitled “Reputation Systems for Open Collaboration”, the original WikiTrust algorithm of Wikipedia, was “…open to many attacks that allowed users to gain reputation while doing no useful work (or worse, while damaging the system).”. The self-creation of errors and omissions through a ‘dummy’ account, later to be corrected with an account in good standing, quickly inflates reputation scores. It was determined that reputation scoring be shifted to, rather, measure contribution quality by analyzing “standard edit distances between revisions” and “differentiate between word insertions and deletions”.

But how does this fit into the broader context of the web’s endlessly growing list of contributors? And how do we ensure our work is properly given credit and garnering positive quality scores?

Here are a few simple best practice authorship mechanisms to consider as you push your work out to the web:

Establish with the Source

Create an account with Google+, immediately. This is the easiest way to ‘explicitly’ provide Google with the websites you own and/or regularly contribute to is to simply add links to those websites under the category “Contributor To.” This limits any confusion when you begin sharing your work socially. From here, any resulting social events (shares, +1s, comments, etc.) will accumulate trust and reputation value for both your authorship, as well as, your content.

While Google has been analyzing Twitter relationships and public Facebook signals for quite some time, many of these ownership correlations have been difficult to confirm.

Match Content With Profiles

You wrote it, it’s yours. Let the search spider know a little bit more about yourself. Make sure you include your full name and, if possible, the email address matching your Google+ Profile.

Google provides additional G+ linking styles, here:

Adopt the Rich Snippet Authorship Markup

Among your own material, Google now supports an authorship markup method. From articles you’ve published to your website, begin linking back to your primary author profile page, with:

<a rel=”author” href=”/leadership/patrick-danial”>Patrick Danial</a>

When publishing your material on 3rd party websites, follow the same process, just link to your author profile within that website. Also, be sure to include a reciprocal link between your primary and 3rd party author bio pages with the following format:

<a rel=”me” href=””>More by Patrick Danial</a>

Lastly, it’s important to include a link to your Google Plus profile from all of your author bio pages like so:

<a rel=”me” href=””>Patrick Danial on Google+</a>

This completes the circle and allows Google to see that the same author is the creator of articles across multiple websites.

Keep in mind the value of your referenced authorship from 3rd party sites reproducing your material. These authorship mentions are very likely considered when determining your authorship rank. The stronger the mentioning source, the more value you’ll inherent. This will also likely boost an immediate level of inherent value in future work.

Just as a mention from a strong and authoritative source carries more weight in determining authorship rank, so too does the strength of the author’s Google Plus profile. Be sure to add all of your personal and professional connections to your circles, and encourage others to add you to theirs. This is one of the strongest signals that Google is currently using in deciding what authors will be granted enhanced listings in SERPs.

XML Markup /

Google, and other search engines, have rallied in support of a standard XML markup syntax to provide deeper semantic understanding around published content. The available attributes to begin templating into your future articles, and site at large, can be found here:

The number of available properties is an ever-growing list and are likely being examined among the various relevancy and semantic attributes within the social-graph. Meaning, Google will not only establish proper ownership of the creative work, but more effectively categorize its meaning for recommendations within the SERPs and social interest circles within Google+.

The web is fickle and, unfortunately, still too easy to game. However, it’s not worth chasing nearsighted techniques inevitably landing you on Google’s short-list. Instead, by analyzing quality-control and value-scoring methods proven within limited, controlled, environments (e.g. Wikipedia, Google Maps), you can begin to anticipate where the broader indexing community will look for improvement. While striving for quality in what you publish is a given, don’t be shy in laying claim to your work; use everything available to help automated systems begin correlating who you are, who knows you, and what you’re talking about. From there, it’s about amplifying the discussion.

As for Kirk Douglas, his fate was likely still destined had he acknowledged himself that day among the slaves; perhaps then, though, he’d have saved a few more lives before martyrdom.

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