CainIV - 7:41 am on Dec 10, 2010 (gmt 0)
Unlinked citations are citations.
Along with the recent 'brand update' in Google, it wouldn't be a stretch to consider that Google has added in better ways to determine brand.
And ways to determine brand might include social mentions local and national link-less citations. One noticeable change during that update was the improvement for brands for their core offering keywords. I monitored at least 4 major brands and found movements in the SERPs that could not be correlated to longer term inbound link increases or other viral / burst links.
I believe this is already happening, and we see it in effect most at the local level.
Let's face it, the biggest nemesis for Google has been the issues caused by detection of, and ability to be manipulated by, paid links.
If I were Google, I would be working hard on developing a system of determining link-less citations so that I had to rely less on link text being such a large factor in rankings
-Reviews + Sentiment analysis
-Business listings, local and national
-FB / Twitter / Social Media
-Google Instant Previews
-Images (and the potential ability in the near future for Google to read images)