Authority Machine

Let’s say you’re researching something related to a legal matter. As a lawyer, you probably do this all the time. You research case law and statutes. Depending on the task, you might turn to another lawyer you hold in high-esteem. You might refer to a treatise on the subject. You might hire a subject-matter expert to provide an opinion.

And in performing this research, you’ll make judgments about their relevance to your investigation, as well as, how much weight, authority or credibility should be afforded to each of them.

You might even sort these sources of information based upon how you perceive their relevance and authority.

Now let’s say you are trying to build a machine that does this.

The very purpose of this machine would be to sort the relevant and reliable, from the irrelevant and unreliable. And in order to accomplish this task, the machine would need to know who the reliable authorities are on a particular subject and what they’ve said and written on the subject.

And so, you’d need ways to connect information with its author. And you might give preference to information that comes from a verified source. You might say something like this:

“Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.”

- Eric Schmidt

And you might ask questions like these:

What makes someone authoritative versus popular? Is there a difference? If so, how would you go about separating the two?

How do you map the decline of authority? Of someone who is no longer really an expert and just mailing it in? Can you identify this even if they remain popular? How can you tell if someone is endorsing content based on merit or friendship? Is it what you know or who you know?

Furthermore, you could find that one was popular for the wrong reasons. Would you want to rank someone highly who simply fanned the flames of dissent and created controversy? The tone and type of interaction will be important so sentiment analysis and other processes will need to determine how to use social interaction as a reliable signal.

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And how does influence fit into this equation? One can be influential without being popular, but clearly being popular gives you a better chance of being influential just by sheer reach. Can you be influential without being an authority? I think so. Just look at Jenny McCarthy and her influence within the anti-vaccine movement.

Becoming an Authority

Now let’s flip things around. Instead of being the builder of the machine, let’s say that meeting your business goals depends, in some part, upon how authoritative you appear to people who use the machine.

In other words, you’re the expert and whether or not you get hired depends upon whether users of the machine are able to find you, as well as, whether the machine recognizes you as an expert.

What types of things might you do?

Might you brainstorm ways that you could feed your knowledge, skill and experience into the authority machine?

Might you communicate what you know on a subject via the written word?

Might you speak publicly at relevant seminars and meetings of other experts on the subject?

Might you engage in discussions and debates with other subject-matter experts?

Might you want to be sure that what you’re writing and saying is being properly attributed to you?

And by doing these things, wouldn’t others begin to suggest that you are knowledgeable on the subject?

Might they begin to source and cite what you have written?

Might they begin to tell others about your knowledge you posses?

Might they also to begin to feed information about your knowledge into the machine?