Let’s talk about me: authorship and authority in the digital age

In the boring old real ‘analogue’ world, ideas of authorship and authority naturally sit together. Over time we work out who is talking sense and who is full of hot air.

While I can work on simple hypotheses like ‘if this is written by Melanie Phillips it is almost certainly ghastly rubbish’, a search engine like Google has to calculate authority through a dense mix of keyword density, social cues, link quality, time on page, speed of hitting the back button, etc, etc.

That’s hard work – which is why Google is now starting to account for authorship in its algorithm. It is identifying content by author, and is starting to calculate the authority of different authors. So all things being equal, if Delia Smith and Jamie Oliver are both writing about breakfast, the author with the highest authority will rank higher and (cue drumroll) bring home the bacon.

You have to go through a few hoops to get Google to recognise you as an author – and at this point I should pause to acknowledge the long-suffering natural search team at Harvest who have patiently answered my endless questions on this subject.

The path is hard, but the rewards are great. Here’s what you get:

1. A lovely email from Google welcoming you to ‘Google Authorship’.

Screen-Shot-2012-10-02-at-08.36.472. Your very own photo now features in Google’s search results, terrifying small children and kittens who may happen across it.

Screen-Shot-2012-10-02-at-08.38.543. Best of all, buried in the hyper-geeky labs section of Google Webmaster Tools, you now have access to your very own author statistics across all the web properties that take your work.

Screen-Shot-2012-10-02-at-08.40.53So how unbelievably cool is all that??

We’re entering a world where freelance journalists can argue up their fees based on their established authority – because higher authority means better search ranking, which ultimately means more page views and ad revenue for the publisher.

Of course it’s also a world where your employees can leave you and take their author authority with them.

So here’s my final point. The manager of Village People is meant to have had one of the easiest jobs in the music business. In any dispute with ’the talent’, he knew he could always replace the fireman or the red Indian with someone else in fancy dress and no one would be any the wiser.

Compare that with the miserable job of the manager of a ego-filled supergroup like the appalling Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Any one of the stars could flounce off leaving the brand irreparably damaged.

As I read it, the Village People model is now the one to avoid. Where authority is vested in authors, agencies and clients will need to recruit and retain their own experts – and perhaps work to promote their employees individual brands.

And ironically we have a model for exactly this kind of business in the ego-fuelled advertising agencies of yesteryear with their convoluted surname-rich names. Saatchi & Saatchi, Doyle Dane Bernbach, Ogilvy and Mather, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, Abbott Mead Vickers – you are not dinosaurs from another era, you are instead THE FUTURE!

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