Four Takeaways From Matt Cutts In Dublin For Web Analytics, Social Media And Media Writing

Last May, I spent a few hours in Dublin’s Googleplex to hear Matt Cutts‘ take on “How Google Works”, and took away four thoughts that I will add to the Web Analytics, Social Media and Media Writing modules at Tipperary Institute where I work as a lecturer.

The Dublin Chamber of Commerce arranged the well-attended event and Matt Cutts did the assembled group a big favour by bringing the warmest day of the year to Dublin during his visit. That personal feat also earned Matt a Dublin sunburn, something many Irish yearn to obtain.

First Takeaway: Reset page/post titles in the URL. With some blogging programmes, it is important to note that what appears in the URL can be quite different to your headline. But you may have the opportunity to write your own headline separate from the URL of the written page and it is something you should pay attention to. It’s relatively easy to do with WordPress and I’ve occasionally edited a Typepad post to get a more powerful URL for a blog post. If you write for a newspaper or broadcaster, you should ensure your software can produce URLs with hyphenated post syntax.

Second Takeaway: Write often. A frequently updated site attracts regular crawling by Googlebots and that could result in higher quality being awarded to the site which means a higher page ranking. This is because ping services can notify the Googlebots of any updates you make. This has clearly beneficial advantages over the bots coming around at scheduled intervals. Matt did not explain how to configure a page to show activity through new comments. If that’s your workaround for producing new content, you need to read SEO boards to ensure your comment streams are truly producing new and discoverable content on your site.

Third Takeaway: Build a reputation. Matt cited this incentive because if you have a good rep, people will cite your work and link to it. Since, none of these tactics will enhance a website’s standing unless established sites point to the target site, the emphasis remains on producing content that others value. So in addition to your main message, Matt suggested performing a useful service, offering tutorials, establishing a creative niche, giving away code, doing live blogging, making interesting lists, creating controversy, socialising in real events, or making (compelling or viral) videos… And so on.


Takeaway: Use cool tools. Deep dive into Google Analytics, open up Feedburner’s tools, and subscribe to Google’s Webmaster Video Channel – these are great places to start.

SMXQ: Mark Cahill

Over the last 13 years, Mark has worked with major corporations such as Dell, Airtricity, Trinity Biotech and Johnson & Johnson. Mark is one of the founding organisers and speakers at Bizcamp Limerick. He is also a member of Engineers Ireland (IEI), the Irish Internet Association (IIA) and the MBA Association of Ireland (MBAAI). Mark is also a guest lecturer in the University of Limerick, Ireland, in entrepreneurship and marketing, with a focus on social networks and social media. Mark is also a co-founder of Social Bits, an Ireland-based consultancy firm specialising in the application of social media and Semantic Web technologies. You can follow him on Twitter at @markcahill.

1. Could you tell us about your background (where you’re from, what you’ve done)?

My background is in engineering and information technology. I have a BEng in Computer Engineering, and I have always had an interest in anything computer related. I worked with Dell for over 11 years before leaving to work for myself. Before leaving Dell, I commenced my Masters degree in Business Administration (MBA) which I completed in 2008.

2. What was your route into social media?

As part of my MBA, my thesis was titled “To what extent have online social networks changed business to consumer marketing”, so it looked at how the marketing landscape has been disrupted by online social networks. I had already started to use Twitter in January 2008 and I was fascinated with how you could communicate with so many “like-minded” people. 

3. Tell us a little bit (if you can) about what you’re interested in or working on right now.

Late last year we started Social Bits, which is going from strength to strength, and I also lecture to university undergraduate and postgraduate marketing students, as well as MBA students in the field of marketing via online social networks.

4. What social media services do you use regularly and why?

Twitter is probably my top one. The reason I use it is to stay informed. The real-time nature of Twitter is incredible, when something happens you usually hear about it on Twitter first. If there is an event worth going to you hear about it on Twitter. If there is an event you can’t make it to you can usually “listen” to the live tweets to get an idea of what is important.

5. If you could only keep one service or tool, what would it be, and why have you chosen it?

Twitter again, but this is cheating, because Twitter is linked to so many other services such as Plancast. It is hard to separate Twitter (or most other social media tools for that matter) as they are all interrelated to some extent.

6. Including your own area of expertise, what developments in social media do you think are particularly important?

I think the development of location-based social networks are very important. Location-based social networks enable brick and mortar businesses to build customer loyalty in a new and exciting way. It is also a good way for someone who is a stranger to a town or city to locate what they need to find, whether it is just a coffee or some type of service. I can also see the relevance of layering the Semantic Web on top of, or integrating it with online social networks, as context gives more accurate information: this is good news for marketers and good news for customers.

7. What can you do now that you couldn’t do before the arrival of social media?

Talk to lots of like-minded people.
8. What issues, either technical or social, do you see with social media?

Privacy it the big one. Because you are not paying for the use of social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter to name a few, you don’t have real control over what is put out there. The best rule is, if you don’t want anyone to know, then don’t put it out there.

9. What one piece of advice would you give to someone entering the social media world?

Learn about the social media tools, and start to listen, observe and lurk, once you feel comfortable with the conversations, then jump in and participate. Like learning a new language, the best way is to immerse yourself in the language and the culture, therefore you need to immerse yourself in the language and culture of “social media”.

10. How do you see social media helping and improving things for us in the future?

  • More transparency.
  • More accurate advertising.
  • Better internal communication within businesses, and better communication between businesses and their customers.
  • Better communication between people.

Privacy Versus Consent, And How It Applies To Social Media And The Web

Facebook is engaged in another legal fracas in Germany. But that won’t date this article as I am sure Facebook and other social media services like them will continue to be hauled before the courts until they wake up and realize what the real issue is here. It is not about privacy. It is about consent.

If someone takes something without permission, it’s not inconsiderate, it is stealing. Taking other people’s information is not about whether it is private or not. It is about acting in a non-consensual manner, very much in the way of tin-pot dictators and other assorted bully boys throughout the ages.

One argument goes that because anything you put on the Internet is public or is assumed to be public, even if protected, then it is somehow fair game. We know this isn’t true because if you libel or defame someone on the Web, you face the same legal consequences as you would if you had done it any other medium.

However, there is the assumption considered by many that how one behaves online is to be somehow different then how one behaves in real life, and therefore by some mysterious process, different social rules should apply. Looking at the awful, trollish, neanderthal-like comments on some popular sites such as YouTube, it is hard not to feel deeply concerned that the person who made them may be sitting next to you on the bus.

While cyberworlds with rules unto themselves may exist on the Internet, they still do not have the status of an alternative universe. It is more of a hugely fascinating extension of the world we inhabit, away from the smartphone and computer.

When President Clinton passed a bill making e-mails legal documents, it was an explicit acknowledgement that the Internet is a part of our world without a separate existence of its own. Despite the original opportunity of creating a Brave New World from scratch, we ended up with our own world digitised and presented back to us. It’s a world run by those lucky enough to live in free societies where adults are empowered with the ability to agree and consent (or not) as circumstances and personal choices dictate.

When people walk down the street, they are not fair game for hindrance or abuse. People can’t be obstructed from going about their lawful business without good reason. There are proprieties to be observed. While there is not much to be done if you get caught in the frame of someone else’s happy snap, there are laws against people’s images being taken and used in advertising campaigns without permission. Acme Corporation can’t put up an identifiable picture of you walking down the street minding your business to advertise its wares without first obtaining your consent. It is different for news reporting as it serves a different function. But even then, television crews cannot do whatever they like. Children in educational establishments in certain circumstances need to be anonymised, and so on. Despite how it may look, it is not a free for all.

When you sign up for any of the current social media services, there may be all sorts of rights you are signing away, but the law itself cannot be breached. A bank could not possibly hold you to any agreement that implied that you waived your legal rights under the Data Protection Act. No one can sign away their lives. What would be the point of having laws on the statute books if every organisation or corporation could go around writing their own ones? All there is are terms and conditions that you either agree to or not.

Consent is an adult prerogative. The youth-driven culture of a lot of the social media arena suggests that in their enthusiasm for the thrill of the cool, some basic assumptions about appropriate and civil behaviour may have been skipped over in the excitement. But the hope is that they will get over themselves sufficiently soon in the future to avoid the sort of highly restrictive legislation that the email marketing and direct mail marketing vendors have to go through.

The problem when the lawmakers do get involved is that they will handle the debate on the terms of privacy issue alone. The will do that because privacy invasion is what is being complained about most and it is the squeakiest wheel which gets the most oil. Also, it is easy to draw up laws surrounding privacy. Basically, restriction, restriction, restriction, all the way down.

If we end up on the road to prohibition then the first victim will be civilized discourse not the trolls who care nothing about social mores and will still carry on in their poisonous and pointless way. The focus on privacy rather than consent means that instead of concerns being addressed and approached from the point of view of what constitutes agreeable behaviour, we will face a future full of socially-limiting legislation that could well have been avoided if the service providers had behaved in a civil and polite manner in the first place.

Thought Leaders From Facebook, Google, Automattic, Diaspora* Gather In Portland For Federated Social Web Summit

Thought leaders from a variety of social web companies and organisations will converge on Portland, Oregon this Sunday to discuss the “federated social web”: an extension to the current social web, built upon various open web protocols, that will allow social websites to interoperate and better communicate with each other in a decentralised, distributed manner. (More details at the Federated Social Web Summit page.)

People attending the Federated Social Web Summit.

This is the first time that so many of the big players in this area will be in the same room together – Facebook, studiVZ, Google, Automattic, Diaspora*, Vodafone – to name but a few. I’ll also be there representing the SIOC project initiated at DERI, NUI Galway. The event is being organised by Inc., the company whose software powers Identica and many other microblogging services.

Organisations represented at the Federated Social Web Summit.

I thought it would be interesting to detail some of the organisations (orange), projects (yellow) and people (green) involved that will be attending the summit, so as to get an insight into stakeholders in this federated social web. When drafting this list, I was amazed at how closely related some of these projects are and how very similar ideas are evolving in parallel, and realised how great it will be to have all these people in the same room together.

Projects represented at the Federated Social Web Summit.


StatusNet are the creators of an open-source microblogging platform that powers Identica amongst other microblogging websites.
OStatus is an open standard for distributed status updates that allows different messaging hubs to route status updates between users in near real time.
Evan Prodromou is the founder and CEO of StatusNet Inc., and has been developing open-source software for over 10 years.
Jon Phillips is a developer for StatusNet, creator of Fabricatorz, and long-time open-source and free-culture advocate.
Brion Vibber is senior architect at StatusNet, and was previously lead developer for MediaWiki, the software that powers the Wikipedia.
Zach Copley is a senior software developer at StatusNet, and is also manages developer relations for the company.
James Walker works at StatusNet as a software services architect, and is a long-time Drupal developer.
Automattic is the blog software company behind, BuddyPress, Gravatar, PollDaddy and more.
Beau Lebens works with Automattic Inc., and previously created FeedBlendr feed remixer and the MyBabyOurBaby online scrapbook.
FooCorp is the company behind, a music sharing service for freely-licensed material, and daisychain, a spatial social network.
GNU Social
GNU Social is a decentralised free software social networking system, written in PHP.
Matt Lee is the founder of FooCorp, creators of the music sharing service, and developer of GNU Social.
Rob Myers is communications officer with FooCorp, a member of the GNU Social team, and chief voluntary webmaster for the
Google is a multinational Internet search and advertising technologies corporation.
Chris Messina works as open web advocate with Google, and is known for co-creating BarCamp and the Spread Firefox campaign.
Joseph Smarr is a social web engineer with Google, former CTO of Plaxo, and co-author of the "Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web".
Brett Slatkin is a software engineer on the Google App Engine team and is co-creator of the PubSubHubbub protocol.
Diaspora* is a forthcoming open-source personal web system intended to be part of a distributed, decentralised social networking architecture.
Daniel Grippi is a computer science student at New York University and a member of the Diaspora* project team.
Maxwell Salzberg is a student at New York University and a member of the Diaspora* project team.
Raphael Sofaer is a student at New York University and a member of the Diaspora* project team.
Ilya Zhitomirskiy is a maths student at New York University and a member of the Diaspora* project team.
Noserub is a decentralised social network that allows users to own their own data and that can act as a profile aggregation service.
No representative available.
Yahoo! is a computer software and web search engine company founded in 1995.
No representative available.
DiSo is a initiative to build a distributed social network architecture using microformats, OpenID, OAuth and other building blocks.
Steve Ivy, Chris Messina and Tantek Çelik are also members of this project.
Elgg is an open-source social networking engine that was initially aimed at educational and learning groups, but has now entered general use.
No representative available.
Appleseed is an effort to create open-source social networking software that is based on a distributed model.
Michael Chisari is an open-source developer and has been lead developer for the Appleseed project since 2004.
Crabgrass is a free web application designed for social networking, group collaboration and network organising.
Elijah Saxon is a member of the Riseup Collective and is co-manager of the Crabgrass project.
AROUNDme from Barnraiser is an open-source collaboration server system for creating collaborative social spaces on the Web.
No representative available.
Webfinger is a protocol for sharing information about people and discovering things about friends, without having to remember various URLs.
Blaine Cook is a member of Osmosoft, co-creator of Webfinger, and former lead developer with Twitter.
Vodafone is a multinational telecommunications operator that provides both landline and mobile services.
OneSocialWeb is a free and open decentralised social networking platform, based on XMPP, and developed by the Vodafone R&D group.
Daniel Appelquist works with Vodafone R&D, is co-chair of the W3C Social Web Incubator Group, and is a member of the W3C TAG.
Dreamwidth Studios
Dreamwidth Studios is an open-source social networking, content management and personal publishing platform that was forked from LiveJournal.
Mark Smith is co-founder and chief technologist with Dreamwidth Studios, and previously worked as a developer with LiveJournal and Six Apart.
Facebook is the world’s largest social networking site with over 400 million active users.
Open Graph Protocol
Open Graph Protocol enables any web page to become a rich object in the Facebook social graph.
Dave Recordon works at Facebook, where he developed the Open Graph Protocol, and he previously co-developed OpenID and worked with Six Apart.
FOAF, or Friend of a Friend, is a Semantic Web vocabulary for describing people’s profiles and their social connections.
No representative available.
Twitter is a social networking and microblogging service that enables its users to send and read other user messages called tweets.
No representative available.
OpenMicroBlogger is an implementation of the specification for site-to-site microblogging.
Brian Hendrickson is the creator of OpenMicroBlogger, the Structal PHP framework, and runs the Megapump consultancy company.
XMPP is a standards foundation that supports the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol for presence, messaging, and real-time collaboration and communications.
No representative available.
Six Apart
Six Apart is the creator of the Movable Type blog system, the TypePad blog hosting service, Vox, and is the former owner of LiveJournal.
Martin Atkins is a software engineer at Six Apart, and is co-author of the specification.
Steve Ivy is a web developer and standards advocate with Six Apart, and co-founded the DiSo project. is a format for syndicating social activities around the Web.
Martin Atkins, Dave Recordon and Chris Messina are also members of this project.
Cliqset is a stream-reading tool that amalgamates content from multiple social websites.
Darren Bounds is CEO and co-founder of Cliqset, and is an open web advocate.
BuddyCloud is a social location service with a variety of open-source clients for bookmarking places automatically once they’ve been visited previously.
Tuomas Koski is a developer with the BuddyCloud project and is a member of the XMPP standards foundation.
Simon Tennant is founder and CEO of BuddyCloud, and has interests in mobile location sharing and reputation systems in social applications.
Social Jargon
Social Jargon is an initiative that will enable people to be casually precise in a world where we want to write less but mean more.
Ward Cunningham is CTO with AboutUs, devised the first wiki, and is a pioneer in design patterns and extreme programming.
Superfeedr provides real-time feed parsing in the cloud for web developers.
No representative available.
Mozilla is an open-source project providing web browsers, e-mail clients, chat systems and more.
Dan Mills is a member of the Mozilla project and was lead engineer of Weave, now Firefox Sync.
Paul Osman is a senior web developer with the Mozilla foundation and is an open web advocate.
Austin King is a web developer with Mozilla, and has worked with and RealNetworks.
Tumblr is a publishing platform that allows sharing of posts, multimedia, etc., and enables the reblogging of interesting items.
No representative available.
Posterous is a blogging platform that allows sites to be created by simply e-mailing content items to a single address.
No representative available.
Falcon is a personal publishing, syndicating, tweeting and updating web application, with an algorithmically reversible personal URL shortener called Whistle.
Tantek Çelik is a key advocate of microformats, was chief technologist with Technorati, and has edited many CSS specifications.
Personal Data Store
Personal Data Store is a set of software components which provides a personal data store and modular personal applications.
Joseph Boyle works on the Personal Data Store project and co-organised the recent Big Data Workshop.
Kaliya Hamlin works on open standards for user-centric identity, and co-founded the Internet Identity Workshop series.
SMOB is a Semantic Web application for semantic microblogging, that combines a distributed hub-based architecture with a tag-to-concept mapping assistant.
John Breslin is a member of this project.
NUI Galway
NUI Galway is a university in Ireland that is home to DERI, the world’s largest Semantic Web research institute.
SIOC is a framework for interlinking online community sites using Semantic Web technologies, by defining structures common to most social websites.
John Breslin is a lecturer at NUI Galway, researching SIOC and the Social Semantic Web, and is co-founder of the forum community site. is a free domain and website service for storing your content and managing your personal identity.
No representative available.
Geoloqi is an open-source website and mobile application for securely sharing location data with GPS and SMS.
Aaron Parecki is the co-founder of Geoloqi, and is also CIO at, a real-estate solutions website.
Don Park is a developer with Geoloqi, and has written a variety of social networking utilities for FOAF and XFN.
Naver is Korea’s main search portal, operated by NHN Corporation.
Soon-Son Kwon is a general manager at NHN, and founder of KDLP, Korea’s main open source community.
Echo allows publishers to quickly embed real-time streams of Digg bookmarks, Facebook updates, tweets, comments and more.
No representative available.
versionvega is a peer-to-peer general purpose network for applications far beyond file sharing.
Markus Sabadello is the creator of @versionvega, and has interests in identity, privacy and peer-to-peer networks.
Lorea is a project to create secure social cybernetic systems, in which human networks will be simultaneously represented in a virtual shared world.
No representative available.
Microsoft is a multinational corporation that develops, manufactures, licenses, and supports a variety of computing products and services.
Rob Dolin is a program manager for Windows Live at Microsoft, and owner of Wuxx Events, a calendar of local Seattle events.
studiVZ is a German social networking platform for students, in particular for college and university students in Europe.
Sebastian Galonska is a senior platform developer with studiVZ, and developer advocate with VZnet Netzwerke.
Rapportive is a browser extension that replaces ads in Gmail with photos, biographic data and social media links, for whoever you’re corresponding with.
No representative available.
Social Hive
Social Hives are the creators of the Hivemaps and Community ID projects for supporting NGOs and green initiatives.
Joe Johnston is the founder of Social Hive and has interests in the democratisation of information and the greater movement of social evolution through technology.
Janrain provides a user management platform for the social web, allowing users to navigate through multiple web properties using their signon mechanism of choice.
Ivan Pulleyn is a software engineer with Janrain, and previously worked at a variety of companies including Alexa and
Cordance is a developer and provider of digital addressing technology, enabling a layer of trusted identity and data sharing services.
Drummond Reed is co-founder and director of Cordance, a founding board member of OpenID, and co-chairs the XRI and XDI technical committees for OASIS.
Clearspring is a provider of social distribution services connecting online publishers and advertisers to audiences on the social web.
No representative available.
AddThis is a popular bookmarking and sharing widget used on over a million websites.
No representative available.

Augmented Spaces And Leveraging Our Data Overspills

(Our new Technology Voice office.)

Through our very being and moving on this planet we create data. A lot of it is easy to see: how far it is to somewhere, how long it takes for something to do, how much energy is consumed for a given action, and so on. But there has been additional data – data overspill – that is also being created and that up until recently has either lacked the means to be quantified or the collation has just been too expensive.

Most of us have music collections, and while the albums and CDs were on our shelves, the only way to assess the quality and range of a given collection was by physically browsing the items. It was the only way to form what could only be an ad-hoc impression of the music owner’s tastes and proclivities. Who knows how many great relationships have foundered on the too-early discovery of one or two of the ‘good idea at the time’ but nevertheless extremely dodgy recordings we all possess? (I feel strangely better now the truth is out.)

But as our collections move to our phones, iPods and other automatic list-making devices, this previously-inaccessible data becomes very accessible for manipulation and expression. Not only will we able to supply others with an infographic or some other representation of our data, we can also (if we trust them enough) supply them with our music collection data and they can interpret our listening pleasure according to their own criteria. Previously hard to get at or redundant information is now cheap to obtain and is more relevant and more sharable.

Music collections are a fun place to start with this idea, but in building and designing the ability to access and manage what up until now could have been called data overspill is adding new dimensions to what it is possible to construct. We are entering the era of the augmented space. This handling of excess information – the data overspill – is taking on more and more significance beyond the instant compatibility check of a music collection (which is important enough.)

Linda Carroll, an interior architecture student at the Sligo Institute, says: “Engineers create the space, the people moving through the space create the data, and the data can be interpreted by artists… In the future, you will have your space but you will also have this intermediate space, this augmented space. You walk around and you have yourself going on and then you have yourself with the building going on as well.”

We are constantly creating increasingly-accessible data as we move around and go about our business. Useful data like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What may seem as of little or no consequence to an engineer might well be truly inspiring to an artist. There is nothing natural about living in little boxes. Most of the buildings we inhabit for work or rest are based on convenient design and construction templates left over from the sudden expansion of towns and cities during the industrial revolution.

Our buildings don’t have to be the way they are, but finding out how people really live has been very expensive and confined and stratified by the narrow metrics of the conventional professions tasked with constructing our environment. As Linda points out: “If you look at urban design, you can’t design a city or a space if you don’t know anything about the people who are going to use that space. A lot of the reason the built environment now is such a mess is that they didn’t take a look at the people who were going to live there.”

How we live our lives in the future may not be determined by the narrow outlook of a particular professional discipline such as architecture. The reason they got to say how we lived is because they controlled the information. But that is no longer true. Linda again: “It’s only when you get electronic engineers together plus artists plus someone in digital design, even sociology, that’s when you really get a result from it.”

The ‘it’ in question is the data that was always being generated but that we now have access to. We now have houses that tweet their energy use, and technologies exists for buildings that reflect the movements of the people inside out to the wider world through light displays on the outside of the building.

The opportunity is here to get away from having our lives determined by a narrow and crude set of metrics – power consumption, water meters, click counts and so on – to a place where the information from our data overspill can be used, not just by the technocrats of our society, but by artists, psycholologists, sociologists and whomever is interested and can contribute to having a much-more rounded look and deeper understanding at how we really live.

We can now access so much quality information about how we really behave so easily and cheaply that while it may still be hard to see how things will change it isn’t hard to see that change will come and things will be different.

Social Media Ltd. Gets An Office

I’m happy to announce that Social Media Ltd., the company behind Technology Voice, has a new home at NUI Galway’s Business Innovation Centre. It’s exciting when you make the move from being a virtual organisation to having an office and a desk, and Tom has already checked into the Technology Voice HQ on Foursquare.

We’d like to thank everyone at the NUI Galway Technology Transfer Office for their help in getting set up. The TTO are also well represented social media-wise, on Twitter as @nuigalwaytto and on YouTube as nuigalwaytto.

The New Pepsi Challenge: Social Media Strategies Versus Superbowl Advertising

Back at the end of last year, Pepsi decided that they would use the $20 million they had originally budgeted for Superbowl advertising and invest that money in the social media space instead. Advertising during the Superbowl is the major opportunity of the year to get one’s brand in front of at least 100 million viewers at a cost of $3 million dollars for a 30 second slot. For the major companies that can afford the rates, it is the ultimate chest-thumping alpha-male king-of-the-jungle announcement to the world that we are big because we are here and we are here because we are big.

This is not without foundation. Few would argue that Apple’s 1984 advert for the Macintosh had anything less than a profound affect on the sales of the computer. It also helped that the ad was a world-class piece of production as well. Interestingly it was Steve Jobs and not Ridley Scott (as I had long assumed) that came up with the concept.

For a company like Pepsi to make the leap into the social media field was a major break with tradition, but also with the way things had worked up until then. Unfortunately, I was unable to interview anyone from Pepsi to ascertain what their thinking was about the worth of conventional advertising against the relatively untried and unexplored social media space. So I have no insight into the decision-making process to offer. But the fact they put their entire $20 million dollar budget and moved it from the safe and known into the uncertain and unsure shows a commitment to the new that we rarely see with large-scale corporations.

The strategy that they settled on was to build up on the already running Pepsi Refresh Everything project and infuse it with social media capability. HUGE were tasked with this and you can read more details of how they went about it here. Essentially, the most powerful force in the social media world – engagement – was harnessed by having participants nominate and vote for that $20 million dollar spend to good causes which come from the community that surrounds the brand.

The results for Pepsi can only be seen as an unqualified success. In the first month, the site had 2.5 million visitors. In the following months, each of the 1,000 monthly slots allotted for projects had filled within minutes: an indication of keen engagement. Also, their number of Facebook fans grew by half a million.

One of the great mysteries of investing in social media is how to measure return on investment (ROI). In the social media world, there is no single metric that can safely account for a given action producing a given result. One has to assume that all results are corollary in nature and are intrinsically subjective. What you have to do is weigh the results with common sense, experience and a pinch of salt.

However, by measuring engagement and monitoring what is being said about a given brand, product or person, we can certainly come to have a good idea about the state of the reputation of a given enterprise. And through this assessment of how the brand, person or product is being perceived, we can attach some idea of value.

Pepsi’s massive leap from lying 16th in the Forbes table of America’s most reputable companies in 2009 to 5th this year can in a very large degree be attributed to their move to a more committed social media strategy.

On that level, Pepsi’s bold decision to break into pastures new seems to have paid off very well and will surely give other blue chip companies pause for thought. But social media is more than a buzzword and it is not a technology. It is a world, like the everyday world, made up of human beings all with their own preferences, agendas and opinions. Once you start objectifying the space in the sense that it is a thing to be managed and manipulated (like objects in real life), you can run into trouble.

Pepsi also tried to rent a page at ScienceBlogs to provide nutritional information. Carl Zimmer describes the debacle very nicely in this post at Discover Magazine. Bloggers abandoned ScienceBlogs because many believed in some way that credibility cannot be purchased or even granted by association. To have independent analysis alongside sponsored analysis – no matter how open and transparent the sponsor’s position – was always going to be a problem.

A philosophical view from the Pepsi position could be that you win some, you lose some. But the lessons to be learned are important. It is possible to benefit from being present in the social media space. While it may seem and feel nebulous and amorphous, contained within are distinct spaces in which people have their own methods of engaging with each other. The fund-raising, community-involving space of the Refresh Everything project is not the same space as the pedagogical and data-centered space of ScienceBlogs.

With Pepsi having led the way, we can expect to see more of the bigger companies taking up larger and larger positions in the social media space. Looks like there is going to be some interesting times ahead.