Wednesday 30/10/2002"Are you e-fluential?" asks the email from a friend.

Wednesday 30/10/2002
"Are you e-fluential?" asks the email from a friend. Market research company Burson Marsteller has decided that there's a group of people out there who spend so much time contributing to online discussions, hanging out in chat rooms, forwarding information to pals and generally being online bigmouths that they must be influencing other people. You can do a little test on to find out if you qualify. I do the test and yes, I am effluent, or whatever the noun is. I think this is a solid idea, although the test on that Web site is woefully inadequate to detect such people. Humans like finding people to trust when looking for information; that coveted word-of-mouth marketing that so delights Hollywood works just as well online -- word of mouse? -- and with a much wider audience. But instead of relying on such people to identify themselves, the truly enlightened market research company should go out and find them. Something similar to Google should do the job. Google ranks Web pages by their content and by how many different sites point to them: likewise, influential online people can be spotted by finding out how many replies their postings in forums generate, how many times their names are mentioned online and how many times their names get out of the Usenet/Yahoo! Groups/UBB discussion areas and onto other Web pages. The way the Web generates hierarchies of trust and context among Web pages mirrors the way we do it to each other as humans -- it's how we think and organise ourselves, after all. What to do with these trendsetters once they're found? Again, previous experience is our guide. Lionise them. Give them TV shows, magazines and other pulpits. Pay them lots of money to carry on doing whatever it is they're doing, and generate commercial success by understanding what they're telling you. It can't result in a more annoying crop of celebrity pundits that the ones we have at the moment. Even finding the golden children among the hoards online could make a decent TV show. Forget Fame Academy, we're going for Anorak Poly! Get me my agent. At once.