Fear and Loathing in the Blogosphere

First my old buddy Mathew Ingram links to me, and then goes back and removes the link.  Even though I challenge you to find anyone who took a more even-handed approach than I did to the Federated Media/Microsoft discussion.

Now, Louis Gray (who I have linked to at least six times in the past month)  calls me a cheater.  Says I and those like me are ruining Technorati’s credibility by participating in viral tag link arounds.  He says my Technorati count is bogus.  Implies that I am a fraud who engages in a sultry practice.  He suggests that I lead by example and renounce my wicked ways.

Those are pretty strong words, particularly since Louis doesn’t know the first thing about me, including how to spell my name.  Apparently he doesn’t know much about the blogosphere either.

The blogsphere is not a level playing field.  Louis said as much the other day.  We’ve been talking about the gatekeeper thing for years.  There are a hundred theories about the cause, but there is only one effect: that there are those on the inside, where the blogosphere is all warm and chummy, and there are those on the outside looking in.  Personally, I think a lot of it boils down to three factors: (1) people blog for a lot of different reasons and blogs often have cross-purposes; (2) those who have proximity in career or geography can more easily create relationships that transcend the blogosphere, resulting in more shared attention; and (3) human nature.  It’s the human nature part that creates the walls that are the hardest to scale.

In other words, the walls may be naturally formed without malice.  But there are walls.

Those on the outside looking in can either accept it and move on (thus the high rate of blog attrition), pander to the A-Listers (take a look at Louis’s blog roll on the right side of his blog page for a great example of that) and hope you’ll one day get invited to the club (with the chance of success being roughly equal to the chance a high school basketball player has of making the NBA), or take the blogosphere for what it is and play the game with everyone else.  I have tried the first two and found them lacking.  I have tried the latter exactly twice.  Once here, which generated virtually no links, and once here, which generated quite a few.

Do those posts add value for the reader?  Of course not.  Do the ads we suffer through in feeds and on blog pages add value for the reader, of course not.  The latter are designed to line the pockets of those who see the blogosphere as a way to make money.  For me, the former is a small attempt to end run around the fact that, despite writing hard for years, I simply cannot get many of the popular bloggers to allow me into the conversation.  If bloggers like Dave Winer, Fred Wilson, Guy Kawasaki, Om Malik, Steve Rubel and others won’t let me join their conversations, what am I do to?  If waiting patiently doesn’t work?  If giving blogging up isn’t appealing?  If I am truly the hardest working man in the blogosphere and have so little to show for it, what is left?

I could write away in obscurity and support the machine for the benefit of the empowered.  I could establish some artificial moral standard that no one would know or care about- that would only apply to me, since almost everyone else is gaming the system in one way (ads, products or services to sell) or another (linking mostly to those in their circle of friends).  Or I could keep writing hard every day and try to find another way up blogger’s hill.  Try, as in two posts out of 1,262 posts.  That’s .002%.  I get far more “bogus” content than that every single day when I see all the ads my feeds.

The viral tag links are not nearly as meaningful as a link from a blogger engaging in cross-blog conversation with me.  But are they that different from the hordes of links Scoble and others get when they post about arm farting and whatnot?  Is a link from some other blogger via viral tags that much worse than all those upstream “I agree” or “look at me, please” links from some pandering wannabe?  I think not.  At most, they are equally worthless.  So don’t condemn one unless you’re willing to condemn both.  Those who live in glass houses, and all that.

If ads designed to separate readers from their cash are perfectly OK.  If partial feeds are OK.  If undisclosed conflicts of interest are conveniently ignored…how can sharing links be the great evil that needs to be exposed and eradicated?  And if sharing links for the sake of links is a sin, why didn’t Louis call me a cheater and a fraud when I did this?  Or this?

Dave Sifry, who knows a little about Technorati, says that “in this new world of conversation, the hyperlink is becoming a new form of social gesture between people.  It’s something akin to a tap on the shoulder.”  Maybe these viral tags are the blogosphere equivalent of the mosh pit where the disenfranchised jump around wildly to the horror of the ruling class.  Maybe they’re the Boston Tea Party where terrorists-cum-revolutionaries toss the highly taxed authority count into the sea.  Whatever they are, those who engage in them do not deserve the condemnation that Louis espouses.

The blogosphere isn’t a perfect place, but it’s the only one we have.  Bloggers aren’t perfect either.  As Louis will tell you over and over, I’m not either.

But if we’re going change the nature of the blogosphere, then there are a lot better places to start than calling me out as the poster child for bad behavior.

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