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.