Friday, March 30, 2007

Or Of The Blog(roll)

An interesting discussion at Republic of T (via Faux Real) on the issue of blogrolls and blogroll "purges" (where big bloggers take a knife to their 'rolls and eliminate sites they don't read frequently).

As a smaller but not entirely unknown blogger, this discussion of blog network dynamics obviously effects me. I don't think I will ever become an A-lister (I'm not even sure I'd want to be), but I certainly wouldn't turn down a bit more attention. I'm surprised how depressed I've been over a recent slump in my traffic over the past two months (a little under 6,000 hits in February, and probably less than that this month). Of course, if links are currency, then my blog-economy is entirely tied to The Moderate Voice, where I have the opportunity to feed myself traffic indefinitely. But regardless, there are also psychological benefits from being blogrolled. It is nice to know the bloggers you read and respect feel the same way about you, enough to put you on their roll at least (Faux Real, Slant Truth, Pseudo-Polymath). Getting on the list of a relatively larger blog is still a thrill (I think Balloon Juice would be the largest I'm on now). Of course, even a single link by a true a-list blog can distort my traffic charts for an entire month (I got a link from Powerline on July 4th once, that was a massive deluge). But I really would trade those one-shotters for a more persistent relationship with fellow midrange bloggers.

This isn't meant to be a whine--I don't do the things bloggers are supposed to do to grab more traffic. I almost never send emails plugging my own posts. I hate participating in comment threads (I'm not even really a lurker--I rarely, if ever, read them, and tend to get infuriated the rare occasions I do). I do trackback, but it seems that more and more sites are pulling the option (spam trackbacks are really obnoxious). Ultimately, I link to a wide array of blogs, but don't do much more to promote myself on top of that.

For my part, I do feel I have an obligation to try and draw attention to bloggers lower on the totem pole than I--how else will people find them? I only knew about the now-defunct Armchair Capitalists because one of the writers was the ex-boyfriend of a camp friend of mine. I'm not sure if Law and Letters is smaller than me anymore, but it certainly deserves all the lavish praise it can get from the law blawgger world. I firmly believe people should take it upon themselves to seek out and elevate the smaller bloggers they think have talent--and the more influence you have, the greater the obligation to give back from whence you came.

It's tough being a small-to-middle-sized blogger. You streak after elusive crumbs from the big boys and girls, but never really can break to the top. That's not so bad--I don't think I'd want the stress of becoming a big time blogger. But I wish there was more horizontal linkage among the middle range. The way it seems to work is a hub and spoke system: Someone, large or small, picks up a story, eventually a big blog links to it (if they didn't initiate it themselves), and then a community of smaller blogs all chat about the story with reference to, at most, the originator and the big blog. However, it's rare to see the small-blog discussants trade links among themselves. Partially, that's because they can be tough to find--technorati is a hassle, and trackbacks seem to be falling out the vogue. But even still, it makes community building difficult, and has the effect of stopping the conversation at just a few disconnected voices.

There is an opportunity for the blogosphere to become a lot richer, not necessarily by expanding our blogrolls or RSS feeds, but by progressing organically from individual posts we find interesting to see all the range of commentary being forwarded on the subject. I think that the way to get the most out of the blogosphere isn't necessarily to rely on the gatekeepers at the top (as useful as they are), but to harness the power of the b-list--blogs that are not at the top but can be relied upon to provide top-notch commentary on their areas of interest and expertise. It takes a bit more effort, but if blogs which can move traffic start working on this, I think we can really change this medium for the better, both in terms of our own intellectual stimulation, as well as revitalizing the more egalitarian and meritocratic blogosphere instincts that have begun to wane of late.


Libby Spencer said...

Expanding on my thougts at your TMV post, I was just thinking today that I'm remiss in putting links to the personal blogs of my co-bloggers at the Reaction and you guys at the TMV.

I don't I think I even realized until this week, that most of you kept your own blogs as well.

In any event, I plan to rectify that this weekend.

Jon Swift said...

I thought I had you on my blogroll but realize I didn't, so I have added you.

I have had a "liberal" blogroll policy for a long time--that is, I will blogroll anyone who blogrolls me regardless of ideology. When I wrote this piece after Atrios had his so-called Blogroll Amnesty Day, in which he purged his blogroll to make it even more narrow and elitist than it already was, I was shocked by how many people actually thought this was a good idea and how no one was challenging it until skippy also took up the fight. I am grateful to all the A-List bloggers who have linked to me, but especially to Joe Gandelman at Moderate Voice because he was the first major blogger to link to me. As I said in my piece his oppenness to new bloggers and different voices is a good thing for the blogosphere that should be emulated by more people. As my blog has gotten more successful I have tried to help out others with less trafficked blogs by blogrolling them and linking to them in my pieces. It baffles me that many major bloggers do not see how important it is to nourish new and smaller blogs by throwing links their way and how such little effort on their part can make a big difference.

Anonymous said...

I like being little... :)

mw said...

I never really thought about the blogroll except as a glorified bookmark, until I was included in a Jon Swift hosted Carnival, and read his blogroll policy. "How odd." I thought. "Why would anyone need a blogroll policy". After re-reading it several times searching for any hint of the signature satire, I was struck with an epihinous blinding flash of the obvious - "Well yeah. Why wouldn't everbody do it that way." Which I have ever since.

So...WTF - everybody in this comment thread is rolled. - mw

That said, DS, since you are whining about 6k visitors per month, please understand that I will have to hit you in the unlikely event that we ever meet. Nothing personal.

Sage said...

I just trust the organic one-by-one inclusiveness of the smaller blogs. I'm not on any A-list blogroll, but still manage a few comments to each post. To me, it's not about being read as much as it's about generating discussion in comments. I don't learn well without disagreement to further me along.

I have a lengthy blogroll because I'm amazed at the quality of writing on the internet. But I only link people who I actually read. I've never thought of just linking everyone I meet to help others out. Then I might end up wasting my time clicking on the next person on the list and the next and the next to find they're talking about cats/babies/recipes again. (Not that there's anything wrong with that - just not my cup of tea.)

13909 Antiques said...


I read your post on TMV and came over here ... Great discussion ...

I started blogging to, basically, get back in the groove of writing every day ... After two-years, I am still a small, obscure blog (as I have the added bonus of treading in, exclusively, satire), yet have had some peaks (and mostly valleys) as to getting linked and noticed ...

I am surprised to some extent the number or requests I get to link - from people who are strictly lookin g for links, to build up their blogroll ...

From the beginning, my Link List has been that of blogs I read and enjoy, some of which has reciprocated and linked me ...

In sum, I choose to put my energies in good writing first, then, as time allows, I work on the issue of getting more exposure ...

Again, great post and discussion

J.Thomas Duffy
The Garlic: All The Cloves Fit To Peel

belledame222 said...

What Sage said, except I get greedy and end up just not being able to read them all. but i figure better to have them there than not, regardless.

PG said...

That said, DS, since you are whining about 6k visitors per month, please understand that I will have to hit you in the unlikely event that we ever meet. Nothing personal.

Ditto ;-)

David Schraub said...

Oh please, PG. There is no way that at least one of your 67 blogs doesn't get more hits than that.

A Jacksonian said...

When I started blogging I truly did not set out to be part of a community , just a place to store those few thoughts that were in danger due to what was happening in my life. When one is not assured of *any* continuing mental capacity, the few vital things that might help others comes paramount and those, I felt, needed to be recorded so that others, in case of need, could examine the things they saw in a different light. That was a duty that, as a Citizen, I owed to the rest of the Citizenry and th e Nation. I had no expectation or want of readership... just a place to store a few ideas for those in need.

That also helped me to begin that long road back to regaining myself from the problems I suffer. And as I did, long ways, the thoughts began to change to see what could and should be done with this medium of many-to-many communication. My views took me elsewise to the direction of what I saw about me in the Nation, and that instead of community the idea of division roamed free to disunite, discourage, disenfranchise and dispirit all that should be held in common. Being member of no community, yet having been through a number of communities online, I thought on what I had seen and what it meant to our common future as a people, a Nation. I know my contrary ways and that I am the least able to *form* community or *join* community, due to that irascible mind that I have always had. So, as is the right handed to me as an individual I make a political party of One: "One man with courage makes a majority." - Andrew Jackson

As there is no law against being a one man religion, there is none similar for a political party. And for that there must be starting structure, and that sort of thing I am somewhat good at, thus put forward the concept of common ideas to draw people together and work them together, and to agree to disagree on those things not held in common. That structure I put forward on how to make a political party, but serves, as well, in other realms, but it is based wholly in this realm of thought in which it is relatively simple to note what one does and does not agree with and *why*. Those seeds are the *links* that hold people together to work together and yet have no one individual dictate downwards or upwards, but to spread ideas and see what coalesces from them.

Some of this I drew from the 1632 community of people who cross all bounds of specialization to work together in appreciation on a common project and outlook. Baen books offers that in the standard forum areas in the Baen Bar. That older forum concept is helpful for message *threads* but is limited to individuals inside the community and hard to do outside association with. Thus a networking of ideas and people working in common must not be member restricted, but must have commonality between them for what is and is not acceptable to them. At blogs this is a thing known as commentary policy, of which it is good to have a link to those posted for those sites that have such. Mine is basic, but serves to remind people that I respect those that respect me, that acting like children does not help, and that if I am wrong or you and realize it, then it is time to apologize. And if you would not say it in front of your mother or whoever taught you manners, then do not say it. If you need to say harsh things, then ask excuse *first* so that readers know they might be offended, then have your say.

Conceptually these things cross into the Tim Berners-Lee 'semantic web' concept, which is very difficult to build atop existing infrastructure. It also crosses with the James Burke 'pinball effect of history' in allowing ad hoc cross-referencing of ideas so as to find and build new and better ones.

Web linking can be a part of that, which is good.

Idea linking is something not done nor structure given to, and we are bereft without a way to associate ourselves with what we agree with and explain *why* so that broader community scope can be found. From the early days of usergroups and listservs this has devolved discussion downwards to pettiness and placing emotion before thought, which is dividing peoples. It is noted that one of the first Laws of Discussion on the internet is Godwin's Law, and shows how readily people moved downwards into name calling to attack others, instead of addressing the ideas involved.

Those are just my thoughts, strange as they may be, for that is what I do.