The Inefficient Blogosphere

Shelley Powers has a thoughtful post in response to my question and other comments on her Techmeme post.


She makes some good points, and I agree that popularity as a proxy for authority is flawed. The problem is that, at the moment, there is not a better mousetrap.

I would also note that the substitution of popularity for authority is not limited to the blogosphere. The number of celebrity endorsements in TV and print ads is evidence of that. More and more, we see the flaws and inefficiencies of society at large manifest themselves in the blogosphere.

While I look to Techmeme for the sort of blogosphere headlines that it generally delivers, the substitution of popularity for authority creates an inefficient blogosphere that is not conducive to conversational blogging.

Take the Technorati rankings for example. Your ranking depends on the number of distinct blogs that link to you in a rolling 6 month period. This rewards those who are popular (more people linking to them) over those who engage in regular cross-blog conversations with a regular group of people. For example, Newsome.Org has over 1,600 inbound links, yet it has links from only 275 distinct blogs in the past 6 months. To make matters worse, 6 month old links fall out of the equation every day, making the climb up the Technorati ladder seem more like an encounter with George Jetson’s Astro-treadmill. In other words, if you want to climb up the Technorati ladder, you must choose quantity of interaction over quality. That seems backwards.

And the Technorati ladder is only one of many aspects of the blogosphere that favors popularity over most other attributes.

This system leads to link baiting, manufactured blogospats and other engineered writing. And it discourages the sort of interaction that leads to interesting dialog and meaningful relationships. It also reinforces the artificial standing of popularity in the blogosphere- since a one-off link from a blogger with lots of readers is given greater currency than a series of links from a blogger with less traffic.

And all of this propagates the chasm between the so-called haves and the so-called have nots. It’s the wanting to be over there that keeps us over here. It’s hard to have a conversation with someone who constantly glances at the popular group across the room, hoping they’ll waive him over

That’s the ironic part. To an extent, we are held captive by our own weaknesses. If a group of bloggers with similar goals decided to band together and support each other, they could easily reach critical mass and almost float up blogger’s hill. But that takes commitment, hard work and discipline. It seems easier to keep linking to the popular bloggers and hope they will reach down, take you in their hands and hold you to their breasts. This, I think, is part of what Shelley is getting at. While I don’t direct this argument at Techmeme, I completely get it with respect to the larger blogosphere.

But I still believe you can get there through hard work and patience.

The blogosphere is an imperfect place, frustrating at times.

But it’s the only one we have, so far.

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