Meet the New Gatekeepers


Today’s topic about the new gatekeepers is a close cousin to the guards at the clubhouse door I’ve been talking about for a while. I’m happy to see others thinking about this, even if they approach the issue in a slightly different manner.

Scott Karp has a very interesting post today about one of his posts that got legs yesterday and his efforts to sneak past the guards and into the blogging clubhouse. Like him, I and many others are standing in line waiting for the bouncer to either let us in or get distracted so we can dart past him.

Scott talks about the glut of good bloggers and the transition of the old media onto the web and ultimately wonders if there will be new gatekeepers standing between the non-blogging readership and the content we all keep plugging away writing. He says that in many ways the guard at the clubhouse door plays the gatekeeper role formerly held by the old media that stood between readers and the content. I think that’s right, but I don’t think all of the guards are doing it on purpose. Clearly some are (see my prior rants for more on that). But for many, I think the gatekeeper role is just a function of their early arrival, hard work and resulting popularity. To understand the gatekeeper, you have to know how and why the gate was erected. Sometimes to keep you out. Sometimes it’s just the nature of things.

So how will our readers find us, other than by the grace of the almighty link?

Sites like Technorati (which I love almost as much as Flickr) help, but Scott suspects (as do I) that Technorati is used mainly by, well, the technorati. The challenge for us is to be found by the non-geek readers who vastly out-number the geek ones. As old media becomes new media this question will have to be answered. We need to make sure the answer isn’t another version of the old system.

Scott’s take is that the A-Listers guarding the door may, if we aren’t careful, largely determine what the typical reader sees- via links and whispered cross-blog conversations.

Mathew Ingram has a different take on it, viewing the popular web destinations more as turnstiles than gatekeepers.

I think there’s an element of both gatekeeper and turnstile to it. Gabe Rivera had a stroke of brilliance when he created Memeorandum and let the algorithm determine what appears there. It may indirectly play to the strengths of the A-Listers, who get way more inbound links than the rest of us, but there’s no subjective decision to keep us out. Like Mathew, my posts generally appear there pretty regularly, except for those odd and frustrating 3-4 day periods where my posts seem to disappear from the radar completely, only (so far at least) to return a few days later.

But there is definitely a very real pecking order in the linking activities of the A-List bloggers. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, and I have been fortunate enough to get links from some of them (thank you). This pecking order, as it may and will change over time, however, is what may create a new breed of gatekeepers.

Perhaps gatekeeping is just the inefficient blogosphere market’s way of determining the best blogs. But it is an inefficient market and there is always a very real chance that you can get stuck on the wrong side of the gate.

As you can tell, I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about all of this. On the one hand, I feel sort of good about things, having had some conversations with a lot of really interesting people (including some of those elusive A-Listers). So part of me feels really humbled that I have been allowed to participate. But in other ways, I feel like an outsider looking in- that I could write the most thoughtful and innovative post in the world and it would get passed over in favor of some off-hand comment made by an A-Lister.

That’s why I hope we can minimize the role of any newfangled gatekeepers. Because if the playing field is fairly level and we can’t get where we want to be in the blogosphere, there’s no one to blame but us. We can handle that. But if the playing field is not fairly level, then all we’ve done is knocked down one wall and built another.

No more walls.