Are Blogrolls Hurting Us?

The horse is long dead. I took a swing at the carcass myself, a while back. Now I find reason to revisit it and kick its bones around a bit. This morning I learned that one of my favorite bloggers has gotten rid of her blogroll, or at least removed it from the front page of her blog. Another favorite of mine is considering doing the same. Both came to this point after reading Shelley’s rather impassioned post about the politics of blogrolls and linking, and how it’s contributed to what I see as a kind of bloggers’ caste system. (Clay Shirky takes a more academic approach, but I found I preferred Shelley’s more accessible post.)

I’ve been following the discussion since around the time it came up on Kevin Drum’s blog, and I have to admit that Shelley has a number of good points about how the “A list” only has as much power as the rest of us give it, and how various sites that rank blogs may be doing us more harm than good.

The Technorati Top 100 is too much like Google in that ‘noise’ becomes equated with ‘authority’. Rather than provide a method to expose new voices, your list becomes nothing more than a way for those on top to further cement their positions. More, it can be easily manipulated with just the release of a piece of software.

You have focused on comment spam and you see this as the most harm to this community, all the while providing the weapon that is truly tearing us apart. You are hurting us, Dave.

NZ Bear, you are hurting us. With your Ecosystem, you count links on the front page, which give precedence to blogroll links over links embedded within writings, and then classify people in a system equating mammals and amoeba. Your site serves as nothing more than a way for higher ranked people to feel good about themselves, and lower ranked to feel discouraged. There is no discovery inherent in your system — no way of encouraging new voices to be heard. So NZ, you are, also, hurting us.

I’ve never checked the Technorati top 100, because I’ve never expected to find myself on it, or even near being on it. I did sign-up to get my blog the Ecosystem, and I have checked my standing, obsessively at times, to see where I am in relation to others. I admit I’ve coveted the status of “A-list” bloggers. I’ve probably spent too much time wondering how to get there, that I could have spent  cultivating my own little niche of the blogosphere. So to some extent I realize I’ve fallen into the “more is better” mindset, definitely. More inbound links are better than less. More traffic is better than less. More comments is better than less. Metrics, metrics, metrics.

Quantity, which doesn’t always mean quality, rules the day. It’s true, if you take a look at how the “outside world” views us residents of Blogistan. It’s all about who’s got the “most,” and those with the “most” (visits, links, etc.) get noticed. The field is so crowded now that if you weren’t there first and/or there with the most, it’s harder to break through or make a name for yourself, unless you somehow manage to break news or make news. Then there’s the “trickle-down effect” of the blogosphere, in which getting a link from an “A-list” blogger is a bit like winning the blog traffic lottery, and can even boost a lesser-known blogger a little higher up the totem pole. I’ve seen it happen. (No, not to me.)

As one blogger pointed out, “big media” prefers to deal with “top tier” bloggers. So, A-list status is somewhat self-perpetuating. They’re the bloggers you see on television, or read about in the paper, which reinforces their traffic and link status, thus reinforcing “top tier” status. The more people link to you, the more popular you are, and the more popular you are the more people link to you, or put you in their Bloglines whether they actually read you or not. I’m guilty of it myself, which is why the author’s next point kind of stings a little.

In fact, to every weblogger who has a blogroll: you are hurting all of us.

Rarely do people discover new webloggers through blogrolls; most discovery comes when you reference another weblogger in your writings. But blogrolls are a way of persisting links to sites, forming a barrier to new voices who may write wonderful things — but how they possibly be heard through the static, which is the inflexible, immutable, blogroll?

So for all of you who have a blogroll, you are also hurting us.

Again, guilty as charged. I have a blogroll, and it’s a pretty long one. Maybe too long to really be of use on the blog. A quick examination of my blogroll reveals links to several A-list bloggers. So I’m already helping perpetuate the existing hierarchy, by being one of thousands who link to them (though I actually do read the A-listers I link to).  When I switched over to WordPress, I broke it out into separate blogrolls, creating a new list for blogs I discover are linking to mine;  kind of as a means of returning the favor, never forgetting that the more links I have, the higher I go up on whatever ranking mechanisms are out there. Again, perpetuating a system that’s clearly less than idea, if you see a lack of diversity at the top as less than ideal.

So, is the answer to take down our blogrolls, and instead link to people when think they have something interesting to say? Blogrolls are, for the most part, static. Blogs are added more often than removed from most blogrolls. I’ve seen a few bloggers subverting the dominant linking paradigm by regularly linking to other blog posts they’ve found interesting, and I think it’s a good idea. It’s something I should probably do more of myself. In fact, I’ll just come right out and say it: let’s see more of this.

The no-blogroll discussion reminds of something a favorite writer of mine once said, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” But do things get better if blogrolls go away? Do we want to dismantle the house? Or do we just want a bit more room in it? My guess is the latter, since it doesn’t really belong to any one person or group of persons. It’s our house. Besides, it can’t really be torn down anyway. If the technology is there to create blogrolls, then there will be blogrolls. If the technology to count links and rank blogs by them is available, links will be counted and blogs will be ranked by the number of others linking to them. Quite simply, the genie does not go back into the bottle.

However, I think the answer lies somewhere between yanking down the blogrolls and “subverting the dominant linking paradigm.” Blog rankings aren’t going to go away, and neither are the people at the top of them (unless they suddenly stop writing for some reason), but there is something the rest of us can do to change that. Stop pointing to them. Stop linking to them in our blogrolls, and instead link to their posts only when they have something interesting to say. Do this while linking back to and commenting on blog posts you’ve found interesting regardless of the blogger’s “rank.”

If you can’t (or don’t want to) get rid of your blogroll, don’t. Just prune it a little, and more often. It’s not so much having a blogroll that’s the problem. It’s having it and ignoring it. Like everything else, a blogroll needs attention if it’s going to stay interesting.

I don’t think I’ll get rid of my blogroll entirely, but I think I’ll spend some time pruning it of people who probably won’t miss my inbound link to them anyway, because they already have so many. That doesn’t mean I won’t still read them, but maybe I’ll only link to them when they say something of interest to me. In other words, since link ranking isn’t going to change, change how you link, to whom you link, and why you link. In time, if enough of us do it, we might not just subvert the dominant linking paradigm. We just might overthrow it.

About Terrance

Black. Gay. Father. Buddhist. Vegetarian. Liberal.
This entry was posted in Gay Rights, Race, Weblogs. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Are Blogrolls Hurting Us?

  1. Eric says:

    I frankly don’t care enough about this whole blog ranking system – my sense of self is secure without having to be #1 on anyone’s list except my own. I’ve only really checked my blogshares value once or twice – and did so just now to see where I’m at, over $11K or something stupid like that.
    In my experience, I think a well organized blogroll is a great way to discover different writers, different interesting things – and to contribute to the blog world around me. I’ve met most of my blog-friends through one blogroll or another – including yours, T. 🙂
    I’m not about to listen to what someone else wants me to do – its my blog and I’ll roll if I want to.

  2. Dawn says:

    I haven’t taken down my blogroll because I have a friend who surfs from it but I no longer update it or use it myself. I use bloglines to read people and I do sometimes think that if people don’t know about bloglines, they wouldn’t know that I’m reading. I try to comment when I can but don’t comment on every blog I read (I can barely *read* every blog I read).

  3. sQurl says:

    Well, I came here via a blogroll, so I must say its not all bad. People blog roll each other for different reasons. In general, mine is a list of things I want to remember to read which goes up and down in length. When i find someone with interesting things to say, I normally check out their blogroll just to see who else has interesting views, since a lot of times I am actually looking to broaden my perspective on an issue, and interlinked people often do share similar topics.

    I make a lot more prolific use of links/trackbacks in posts than I do in blogrolling tho, since its the easiest way to follow the train of thought back to what influenced it.

  4. Brad says:

    When I first moved from Blurty to the “real” blogosphere, I paid close attention to things like my TTLB ecosystem ranking and so forth. I think it gave me a goal to work towards. But as time passed, I realized the whole thing was futile and just focused on my content and my loyal readership (all two dozen or so of them).

    I definately think there’s a vicious cycle that keeps the “big” blogs on top: They get featured in the MSM and so they get a lot of traffic, which gets them noticed by other sources, which brings more attention from the MSM. Meanwhile those same blogs tend to ally with each other, fight amongst each other, gossip about each other, etc. and so they share in each other’s success, even those that feature opposing viewpoints. The end result is a “blogosphere” of only one or two hundred blogs getting the vast majority of the attention of the press.

    Personally, when I want to know what the blogosphere is really talking about, I turn to resources like Bloglines Top Links and Blogpulse Top Links, which give equal weight to all blogs in their rankings of what the real buzz is in the blogosphere (and both can be syndicated via RSS). It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot more democratic than just reading what the “cool kids” have to say.

  5. Melissa says:

    Good points so far. I don’t think blogrolls hurt bloggers as much as things like “Blog Explosion” do, for the simple fact that the sites like BE focus on clicking through blogs to get points, rather than getting to know authors.

    My blogrolls is the group of blogs I currently read (including this site). Since I do some reading from both home and work, it’s honestly for my use to keep web addresses handy to go surfing for new entries, since I’m not an RSS person as of yet.

    That being said– I’ve always linked directly to diarists when they’ve had something that inspires me to write. I consider it a credit-given-where-credit-is-due.

    Who really cares about who’s #1 in blogs, anyway? Gods know that mine is nowhere in that caliber. I write what I feel like writing. If someone reads, cool. If not, that’s cool, too.

  6. Jim Burroway says:

    I use my blogroll for my own serfing for the most part, but I don’t have it on my main page. I keep it segregated on a links page, which I’m sure screws with the whole Ecobear thing (or whatever it’s called).

    I do like the idea of making the effort to link to whatever I find interesting or amusing. That, after all, is how “web logging” got started. It’s odd that somehow that should be considered novel.

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  8. Houston says:

    I use my blogroll for my own daily reading. I link to people I find interesting so I’ll remember to check in on them on a regular basis. I depend on the blog rolls of others to expand my reading. I have no idea who the big guns are in blogging, but I like certain people who probably are in that category. Sometimes I link to people as a reciprocal courtesy, and I’m always flattered when someone I admire interacts with me on some level–whether by comments, email, or linking. I do take people off my roll. If they don’t write regularly enough, or if they prove to be less interesting after I get to know them. I removed one person because he always wrote in hysterical hyperbole and that just annoyed me, even if I often agreed with him. Most of my first time visitors come from search engines, though, and not from blogroll referrals. The second greatest source is people checking you out after a comment on someone else’s blog. So my blogroll is staying.

  9. I have a very limited blogroll and most on it (including this one) I discovered through another blogroll. I am very reluctant to add names to the roll though, partly in fear that someone may feel the need to reciprocate when my blog is utterly of no interest to them. So I read and I lurk, and if they become an invaluable part of my regimen, I add them to the roll – thus providing me with the necessary links when I’m away from my home computer.

  10. Zach says:

    A lot of times tings of this nature seem “much ado about nothing” to me. I think the blogging community spends way to much time thinking about what it is and what it wants to be and forming itself to fit this box. One time I saw a news segment about video blogs on a major network. They were taping a weekly meeting a group of local bloggers have and trying to get an insight into it. During the meeting there were 3 people doing all the talking and about 7 people typing away and not adding anything to the conversation. They were blogging about the meeting in real time. I had to sit back and laugh. Too many people are blogging for blogging sake instead of living their lives and capturing it for this medium.

    My site attracts a lot of people that do not read blogs on a regular basis. I kind of like staying away from the politics of blog rolls. I don’t have a huge number of sites. I have a group for local blogs because it adds a great sense of community. The other blogs I have listed are ones that I read on a regular basis and are there because I want other people to experience things I enjoy.

    This is the best way I can think of to describe it…

    I don’t trust a blog when it seems like they want to win.

  11. trey says:

    I don’t know, i like my blogroll for a lot of reasons.

    1. it is a way i navigate 🙂
    2. i want people to see some blogs i find fascinating and interesting (like yours) and related to mine. I find lots of blogs through blogrolls, more so than through ‘links’.
    3. not sure taking down blogrolls is the answer. Finding blogs of interest would be such a slow and excrutiating process (people rarely link every day, much less every post.

    and lastly

    4. I don’t care about blogroll politics of the a-list. They can take them down for all I care. I’m not in the blogging world to make the a-list or to even find and read a-list people.. but i DO want to see blogs that other blogging neighbors like…. especially those NOT on the a-list.

    so don’t take yours down..

    unless of course you become a-list …then I guess you might need to.

  12. Terrance says:

    This wasn’t something I expected to be writing about when I opened the laptop this morning. Still, the responses are interesting. It me thinking about why I started blogging in the first place. Things have certainly turned out in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I started, and every day something else surprises me. So, I’m always wondering what’s next. Like I said in my post, perhaps I’ve spent time gazing up at the top-tier that I could spend cultivating my niche here.

    My blogroll is staying for now. And I think I’m going to take some of my own advice from this post and do things a little bit differently.

  13. JW Richard says:

    I will concur that my blogroll is my homemade RSS feed for now. It keeps me keep in touch with other like minded people.

    My situation, for right now, in Dallas, TX is knowing how many other queer/gay POC are blogging currently (POC = persons of color) because I want to have that perspective as well. Though I’ve met a fellow blogger, you’d think that this blogging thing was new or something here.

    Once the local blogworld builds around me, then some pruning can take place.

  14. Houston says:

    I thought of this after the fact. I also regard someone’s blogroll as an endorsement, so if someone gets real extreme about something, I remove them from my list. I had to do that just last week.

    Perhaps you do have a niche, Terrance. I’ve met some neat and interesting people through your blogroll. I’m comfortable in doing a random click just to see where I end up. I do that sort of shit all the time.

  15. aslam says:

    Yo! …from one gay POC with non-hyperactive Adult ADD to another…now what was it that I wanted to say? 🙂

    So, yes, A-list bloggers and blogrolls and all that…the question is whether A-list bloggers are effectively keeping people from reading my blog. This is hard to prove. I’d only be concerned if they were, otherwise I’m quite happy with being in a list of any alphabet after A. I _would_ like to be read however and have people comment…

    As for blogrolling, I need to update mine, but I’ll continue to keep one of people whom I do read.

  16. moby says:

    I originally added anyone who linked to me but that got very cluttered very quickly. Now, I only add people who I actually read on a regular basis. If I link to someone, I don’t expect a link in return.

    Some folks on my blogroll have very different viewpoints from me. Which is why I read them. Balance!

    I’ve never cared for the “A-list” crowds of anything and blogging is no exception.

  17. Bill says:

    I do have a blogroll on my site, but I don’t do it for rankings. In my opinion, if you are doing a blogroll for rankings, you are doing it for the wrong reason. If someone links to me in their blogroll, I will put them in my blogroll, as a courtesy (unless it’s some whaco site), and, I will read their site. It’s not to increase the traffic to their site, although that may be an added benefit to them.

    I also have no interest WHAT SO EVER in increasing my “ratings”. In my opinion, if you are blogging to increase your ratings, you are blogging FOR THE WRONG REASONS! I blog because I have something to say. If people want to hear what I have to say, they will read it. If not, they won’t. I don’t care. What I do care about are people like the 16 year old boy that decided not to commit suicide after reading one of my articles. He wrote me a letter and quoted from the article – an article that I had put out there a year before, and had completely forgotten about. Words are power – don’t ever forget that. I was going to stop blogging because I thought that it didn’t make anything better – it didn’t make a difference. Then, I got that letter.

    For my site, I did buy a standard $49 search engine submission program. I could tell Google and other search engines about my site manually or have them discover it on their own, but I probably wouldn’t tell 3,000 search engines and sources about my site in a matter of minutes, the way it does. The results: last month I received just over one million hits to my site from 30 different countries (and a LOT from the US Military). And many are repeating readers.

    As for Technorati and other ranking engines, I couldn’t care less if they say I am “A-1” class or “crapper” class. Doesn’t matter to me because I don’t waste time of day wondering if they like me or not. I blog for my readers and myself – NOT THEM! I only go to Technorati to find out who is linking to me.

    And I’ve always wondered… I know you read my site, but you have never blogrolled me. Something about me?? Hummm???? 😉

  18. Sean Hurley says:

    All this navel-gazing… sigh.

    The internet is about connectivity. We should link to things that we want to be connected to (even if we don’t necessarily agree with whatever it is being linked).

    As the internet becomes more and more mindless (i.e.: all of the new spam-blogs on blogspot, which are essentially nonsense non-human methods of trying to jam google), it is important that we become more and more mindful. Perhaps by focusing on thoughtfulness, on distinctive voices.

    Blogrolls are a tool. Use them wisely. But don’t think of them as use-less.


  19. shmrri says:

    The following is a repeat of my comments on blogrolls that I posted on several other blogs that were discussing the topic, but heck, it says what I have to say on the subject.

    I don’t blog, probably never will, but I like to read blogs. The main way I find new or different blogs is by blogrolls.

    I don’t bookmark blogs because I use several different computers, with several different users and the bookmarks are limited to the sites we all use. I suspect that people who use truly public computers, as for example, someone who accesses the web from a library computer would have the same problem.

    I don’t pay much attention to who is an ‘A list’ blogger or whatever. I read some blogs that interest me, some that I mostly agree with the opinions, some that I don’t. But almost all the ones I read regularly I’ve found through a blogroll, not a reference in a post. No blogroll=lost reader, at least as far as this reader.

  20. Mary says:

    lol…Ironically, I came accross this post as I was cleaning up my blogroll links. I got fed up with my page loading slow with too many links and server side scripts (i.e. Ecosystem, Technorati, PBA, etc.). I also decided to get rid of those who don’t link to me, although I made exceptions for those that are in a class of their own…I never was much of a clique schmoozer anyway. I really don’t care anymore about my Google rating, Ecosystem status, Technorati cosmos array, or who does or doesn’t like my blog—I ‘m loving the quicker page loading and enjoying my regular visitors. Ah, the sanity of simplicity at last! BTW, I noticed that you weren’t linked to my blog, but after reading this post, I decided to keep you on board anyway….

  21. My summary.

    1. I like to be read by people who like the things I discuss (not much this week) or the things I have to say about them.

    2. My only blogroll is my way of seeing who else writes the things I like to discuss, and a way of pointing other readers to the similar perspectives.

    3. I am at best curious about shares, ratings, etc. In general, I am apathetic. I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about A-list bloggers (or becoming one, or entering the race) any more than I care about the A-list anything (vapid houseparties at Rehoboth, you name it). Maybe critics could charge this apathy is because I could not win such a competition. But then, I don’t find my life lacking or deficient for not succeeding in that arena.

    So, I have one blogroll as a useful resource. I don’t lose sleep over it. If people find me through it, yay! If I have something that someone is meant to hear, they’ll get to it eventually, blogroll or not.

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