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Cast your mind back to the origins of the mainstream web circa 1996 to 2000, and recall that it was very much a static place (my favourite piece of childhood nostalgia that is still live on the internet today is the original Warner Brothers Space Jam website.)
Back in those days, you could go online to look at webpages which were put up by organisations who had teams to do it, or by individuals who were really tech savvy for the time, and create a website was a lot less user friendly than signing up for a free WordPress sub-domain blog.
However due to the rise of social networks and social media in the early 2000’s, the internet completely changed to a place where now the vast majority of content we interact with is put up by average users, such as Youtube videos, product reviews, blogs, social media posts and updates.
Additionally, the web has become a much more interactive place where people don’t just passively consume content presented to them on a page (i.e. reading) – they’re commenting, sharing and otherwise interactive with other people. Therefore, social networks have provided a gateway of access to people online who have very little technical skill. In other words, a democratisation of content creation.
In the pre social network era of the net, average users would not have a voice in determining the popularity of of web entities – not only regular webpages but the multitude of other internet entities which now populate our search results such as videos, images, knowledge graph information and other rich media.
Therefore, it is only logical for search engines to utilise social signals, where accessible, to reflect the more mainstream access average users have in publishing content online and signalling popularity, relevance and utility.