Anyone who works on the Web knows about Google's PageRank system, the proprietary -- and highly secret -- method the search engine uses to identify good Web sites.
Essentially, Google assigns a numeric score (the maximum is 10) to every page it crawls. The score is based, among other factors, upon how many other sites link to that page as well as the PageRanks of those sites. And it strongly influences how high the page appears among a set of search results.
The effectiveness of the PageRank system -- which Google says shows whether "other people on the Web consider a page to be [from] a high-quality site" -- is one reason Google rose to become the dominant search tool.
You can even use PageRank to compare sites. For example, at press time InfoWorld happened to score No. 2 among all computer and technology publications, behind only our friends at Wired. We have yet to figure out how to take that good reputation to the bank, but it's nice to know. (To see the PageRank of any page, simply download the Google toolbar.)
Now suppose there were a Google PageRank equivalent for people.
Exactly how this PeopleRank would work will be up to the theoreticians and entrepreneurs. But it might consider who you are, what you do, where you live or work, whom you know, what they think of you, and so forth.
After the system was in place, it would be an incredibly powerful social tool. When you send e-mail to a stranger, it would come with your PeopleRank attached -- hopefully establishing you as someone worth attention. Given human nature, a high score would probably mean better seats at the restaurant or ballpark. And it would definitely help business dealings: If the other company's management has a low number, steer clear. (Of course, there'd also be abuses -- like the "Urgent Financial Proposal" that arrives from the wife of the late president of Uganda, signed with a bogus score of 10!)
This is just fantasy, but the proliferation of social Web sites such as Friendster, Tribe Networks, and LinkedIn suggests something of the sort is coming. And if you don't see any relevance to the corporation, check out Jon Udell's fascinating "The New Social Enterprise." It will boost your social software awareness -- and, someday, your PeopleRank score too!
Speaking of rankings, don't miss the chance to submit your nominee(s) for the 2004 InfoWorld Innovators awards. Each year, we honor 10 people whose creations are changing technology; past winners include Java creator James Gosling and World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee. But act fast. The nomination form will close April 16, 2004.