The things you miss when you’ve got your head down, putting together lengthy blog posts about various issues. I mentioned in the previous post that I’ve blogged a lot in the past about blogrolls, the politics of linking in, and how links are a kind of currency that follow the same rules as currency in any other economy: those who have the most tend to get the most, tend to keep it, and tend exchange it mostly among themselves.
It’s been a long time since I’ve focused on the subject at length; that’s mostly because I’ve found it has little to no effect, and partly because I got the sense that people were tired off reading about it. Most of all, I finally realized a few things: the topics I blog about and the kind of blogging I do will never attract a huge audience, and if attracting a huge audience would most likely mean changing what I blog about and how I blog. I’ve decided against the latter.
I’m not one of those people, and I’ll never be one of those people, because I’m not willing to change what I’d need to change to be one of those people. I don’t hang with them, I don’t roll with them, and I’ve pretty much stop listening or participating in their conversations. Kos and Atrios don’t know me from Adam. And that’s fine.
Dave Neiwert’s holding a fundraiser at his blog Orcinus. Like many, he’s suffered the ill effects of the great blogroll purge, which is a shame because he is, bar none, one of the best writers on the intertubes. He covers a topic in depth that few in the mainstream media even acknowledge, the rise of right wing extremism and its effects on our society. Not only that, but his coverage of that subject is as deep in its analysis as it is broad in scope.
Two things. One, I’ve got to start reading Orcinus regularly. Sounds like my kind of bloggger. Second, “blogroll purge”? There was a blogroll purge and I missed it? Where have I been? What have I been doing? And how did I miss it?
Problem is — and it’s not really a problem — I wasn’t paying attention. Or, more to the point, I wasn’t looking in the right direction so I didn’t know what was happening. Like I said in a previous post:
Blogging sometimes reminds me of the old scenario where someone’s walking down a street, and suddenly sees a group of people standing in one spot, their necks craned as they all apparently stare up at the same thing. The instinct is to stop and look, even if you don’t know what everyone’s looking at or if it’s worth looking at in the first place. it’s one more way to draw at least a few eyes away from the usual suspects and maybe get a few people to look at some of the great blogs that reside further down the Long Tail.
… And in the context of the scenario above, you might find something wonderful that you wouldn’t have seen if you were looking where everyone else is looking because that’s where everyone else is looking.
I wasn’t looking, in part, because I kind of had my own “blogroll purge” back in 2005, when I pruned from my blogroll every “A-List” blog that had never linked to me. And when I made the switch over to Google Reader, number of those same blogs got pruned from my newsfeeds. I don’t, for example, subscribe to the main feed for DailyKos any more. Instead I subscribe to the feeds for the tags I’m interested in, and read the diaries in those categories. By the same token, I don’t subscribe to Americablog’s feed anymore either. Instead I subscribe to the feeds from a few custom searches at Google’s Blog Search. As a result, see a variety of posts on those topics.
And I also dropped Atrios, so I missed Blogroll Amnesty Day. Apparently, for a brief shining moment I and the rest of the bloggers slogging away in the darkness of hte Long Tail had the opportunity for a spot on the blogroll of one of the biggest liberal bloggers in the blogosphere. Probably for the best, because I would have somewhat tempted to suck up for blogroll links, though I like to think I’d have ultimately resisted. Especially since it seemed to reinforce an already twisted relationship between the various tiers of the blogosphere. it was an odd sort of amnesty.
This past weekend Atrios, the proprietor of Eschaton, declared a Blogroll Amnesty Day, saying, “one of the big complaints by new bloggers is that it’s impossible to get onto blogrolls because established bloggers tend not to add them.” I thought that adding new lesser-known blogs to his blogroll would be a wonderful idea. Although for some inexplicable reason that I am at pains to discover, Atrios has never seen fit to link to me, I, nevertheless added Eschaton to my own blogroll and introduced myself to Atrios with a sincerely sycophantic email, since he is after all a blogging pioneer who deserves our respect.
But the more I learned about this Amnesty Day, the more I realized that it was a very strange amnesty indeed. The amnesty he granted turned out to be amnesty for himself. He wanted to assuage himself of the guilt he might feel at kicking blogs off his blogroll instead of granting amnesty to others to swarm across the border into his domain. “Everyone feels a wee bit guilty about removing blogs from their blogroll, so they’re hesitant to add new ones to an ever-expanding list,” he explained. So Atrios deleted his entire blogroll and disappointingly repopulated it for the most part with the usual suspects. Then others in the liberal blogosphere followed his example, including Jesus’ General and PZ Myers at Pharyngula, who already takes a very Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest approach to blogrolling. Then Markos at Daily Kos joined this ruthless bloodletting. “It sucks and it feels bad,” he said, daubing the tears from his eyes as he typed. So the end result of Atrios’ Amnesty Day was to make some blogrolls smaller and even more exclusive than they already were.
Maybe hindsight is 20/20, but the whole idea of “Blogroll Amnesty” day seems unsustainable to me from the “get-go.” It’s obvious, or should have been, that blogger like Kos and Atrios would get way more requests to be linked than their blogrolls could accommodate without becoming so long as to be unreadable and useless. But that flood of requests, if heeded, would then give nearly perfect cover for deleting their existing blogrolls and starting all over again. After all, yielding to so many requests to be blogrolled left them with unwieldy, useless blogrolls.
It’s kind of amazing to me, because I always figured the “A-List” — say the top 100 to 200 political blogs — was the “A-list.” Come to find out, the “A-List” has it’s own “A-List.” It’s just that you’d have to be a part of the former to even know about the latter, or the fallout when people on the former discover they’re not on the latter.
And boy, was there fallout. When Kos cleared his blogroll, people like Skippy felt the pain.
dude, i’m not just a snarky anti-capitalist. my blog holds an important place in blogtopia, and yes, i coined that phrase. even putting aside the fact our traffic meter comes no where close to yours, we happily link to dozens of other blogs with even less traffic…and thusly, when you cut skippy off your blogroll, you by extension cut the path off for the smaller blogs to get readers surfing their way thru blogtopia (y! ictp!).
sure, i wasn’t surprised when duncan dumped me off echaton’s roll. he was pretty snotty to me at ykos in person, and hasn’t given me a link in his daily work for more than a year.
… do i need the traffic from your blog? well, it couldn’t hurt, i suppose. and, yes, there are other blogs out there with much bigger numbers in terms of readers. but even without your (and atrios’) link in the past few days, i’ve maintained my regular 1000-1500 hits, which i’ve maintained for the past 3 years. so somebody’s reading my stuff, even if it ain’t you and duncan.
And Skippy wasn’t the only one. Renee of My Left Wing felt the sting as well.
He’s the guy who got the ball rolling by declaring “Blogroll Amnesty Day” early in February. Other big sites followed suit. I doubt that anyone needed an excuse. But when one of the Big Boys of Blogging declared that February 3 was the day that one was free to dump links off their blogrolls without feeling even a twinge of guilt… well, why the hell not? Especially if you’re already kind of a jerk. So that was one of the rare times Atrios occupied any significant portion of my brainspace.
Until just a couple days ago, when I saw comments about his recent entry, “Why your blog sucks.” Damn, he’s got a lot of nerve. He cuts all these links from his blogroll, damaging the traffic levels and rankings of those “lesser blogs,” and now he’s got the nerve to start opining about how these other bloggers can “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” I refuse to link to Mr. Blogging Elite, but if you want to read what he had to say, I’ve made the url of that post the alt text for this image.
… The thing is, just like in the “real world”, it is easier to make money when you already have money, Atrios and other big blogs get people linking to them automatically, simply because everyone else links to them. Recently I looked at the DNC blog, and some of the candidate blogs (the ones that actually have blogrolls), and his site was linked on all of them. Does he have to suck up and ingratiate himself for that honor? Somehow I doubt it. People who work for these campaigns most likely link to Atrios and Kos and a few others because “everybody reads them.”
And everyone reads them because “everyone reads them,” thus the cycle is perpetuated and upper tier becomes more stratified, much to the consternation of the strivers just below the top tier. In a monetary economy, those with the most gold have the power. In a linking economy like the one that exists in the blogosphere, those with the most links — the most currency — have the power. And they pretty much wield it as they wish.
In a blog economy where links are currency – especially from a site like DailyKos — there is power in bestowing them and taking them away; but it is only power over those who have or would like to have more of that currency. I’ve probably fallen into that latter category on some occasions, but lately I find myself appreciating my somewhat unique position in the progressive blogging universe.
… There’s a certain freedom in not being the kind of insider that Stirling describes in his second post. It means that most of the time it doesn’t matter whether I jump on the latest lefty bloggers’ bandwagon, because most of the time nobody at insider level Stirling describes is going to care whether I do or not. And if I’m not coveting the link-currency that comes with that attention, then I only have to consider what I want to post about and what interests the folks who do read this blog. And if the big kids happen to look down here every once in a while and spotlight something I’ve blogged, well that’s just gravy.
There is a definite freedom in not being on the blogrolls of any of the major blogs. I can’t be cut from blogrolls I’m not on, and I can’t miss traffic that I never got from them in the first place. (I was on the Fire Dog Lake blogroll for a while, but got cut from it at some point though I can’t determine when that was.) So, this whole clash of the titans breaks out just over my head and I miss it.
And there’s a strange kind of schizophrenia this inspires among those at the top of the list. On the one hand, they seem to be fully aware of the power of their blogrolls, when guys like Aravosis, Atrios, Kos and Bowers hold forth at length about why they aren’t going to link to some blogs. On the other they seem to deny that they hold any such power, like Kos’ claim that he’s not a gatekeeper (though Skippy says Kos is a gatecrasher who’s closing the gate behind him), though the “blogroll purge” is kind of like closing the gate.
Sure the blogs that were cut can still be found, but they won’t be getting the kind of traffic that comes from having a link on Kos’ blogroll. And that’s partially because many of the readers at Kos at other major blogs are like the people I mentioned in the scenario above: they’re looking where everyone else is looking, because everyone else is looking there, and everyone else can’t be wrong. By extension, if there was something worth looking at somewhere else, then everyone would be looking at it already. And if they look at anything else, it will probably be what the “authorities” (to borrow a concept from Technorati) tell them to look at, in the form of a link.
The power law is dominant because of a quirk of human behavior: When we are asked to decide among a dizzying array of options, we do not act like dispassionate decision-makers, weighing each option on its own merits. Movie producers pick stars who have already been employed by other producers. Investors give money to entrepreneurs who are already loaded with cash. Popularity breeds popularity.
“It’s not about moral failings or any sort of psychological thing. People aren’t lazy—they just base their decisions on what other people are doing,” Shirky says. “It’s just social physics. It’s like gravity, one of those forces.”
The other I attempted to describe in an earlier post.
When you have a fairly static system, again like the economic model mentioned above, where it’s in the interest of those at the top to keep things the way they are, you have to find a way to keep the unrest of the “have nots” down to a managable level. One of the ways you do that is to (a) convince them that the peak is reachable by almost anyone and (b) make them feel better about where they are. Make the middle sound better, look better, and reward them a little bit and you’ve created a “middle class” that’s satisfied enough to act as a buffer between the top and the bottom. Do it will enough and they’ll continue to admire those at the top, and probably even link to them.
And of course, the entire system itself must never be spoken of and it’s existance should be denied. The articles states that “[t]he very subject of the A-list is so toxic” that none of the big-timers mentioned in the article would agree to be interviewed for it.
Then there’s Atrios’ claim, echoed by Renee, that the bloggers cut from his blogroll can “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” which somehow mots the reality that, boots or no boots, the hill has has gotten a lot steeper since he climbed it. Kos seem to either not realize or not care that he was effectively “pulling up the ladder” by purging his blogroll.
Don’t you have a responsibility as a big site to help other blogs get attention?
No. I don’t. Just like no one else has any responsibility to help Daily Kos. Think about it — with tens of thousands (if not more) liberal blogs out there, there’s no way I (or anyone else) could possibly do justice to the medium. Any attempt to put together a “best of the web” list would by default insult a great number of great bloggers. So rather than try the impossible, I’ll focus on the sites that I’m currently focused on.
But that doesn’t mean the rest of the blogs are SOL. And here’s where people-power comes in — people must take the responsibility of promoting their own sites and those of their favorite bloggers. The best tool, by far, to promote individual blogs is to include a link to your blog on your sig file. That’s allowed and encouraged. Daily Kos now features individual blogrolls on every user page and their diary pages as well.
Nobody has a responsibility to help Daily Kos, true. But how much help does Daily Kos need? Yes, the blogrolls on user pages seem like it would help. But, Skippy notes, that “gate” is already closed, as the “blogrolls” on user pages don’t effect the ranking of any blogs listed on those pages. That’s how the pages are coded.
on each of the diary pages, there is a link labeled “blogroll” that points to a page on the main dailykos site. these blogrolls aren’t on the dairy site subdomains, so they aren’t separate blogrolls for each of the diary sites, but rather pages that would be considered by google to be part of the main dailykos site. but…
if you look at the robots.txt file for the dailykos.com site, you’ll see that the user pages are disallowed for a number of robots (http://www.dailykos.com/robots.txt).
… the diary owner’s blogrolls are being disallowed to googlebot by the robots.txt files. the url structure of the diary owners’ blogrolls is like this:
because of this line in the robots.txt file – “disallow: /user” – google isn’t allowed to visit those diary users’ blogroll pages, and index them, and follow the links upon them. in terms of ranking value for these user blogrolls, there is none, because google isn’t allowed to visit those pages.
Kos, Atrios, and others seem to operate under the assumption that the world hasn’t changed since they started blogging, and thus anyone who wants to or is “good enough” can make it just like they did. But the world has changed. That’s something at least Dave Sifry kind of acknowledged in New York Magazine even as he touted the Huffington Post as an example of how “anyone can break into the ‘A-List.”
Yet the rapid rise of the Huffington Post represents a sort of death knell for the traditional blogger. The Post wasn’t some site thrown up by a smart, bored Williamsburg hipster who just happened to hit a cultural nerve. It was the product of a corporation—carefully planned, launched, and promoted. This is now the model for success: Of Technorati’s top ten blogs, nearly half were created in the same corporate fashion, part of the twin blog empires of Jason Calacanis and Nick Denton.
“The good news is that it’s still possible to create a top-ranked blog,” says Shirky. “The bad news is, the way to get into the top ten now seems to be public relations.” Just posting witty entries and hoping for traffic won’t do it. You have to actively seek out attention from the press. “That’s how they’re jump-starting the links structure. It’s not organic.”
Gone are the days of someone starting a blog on a whim, only to suddenly find themselves among the top ranked. You either have to have the PR muscle of a corporate entity behind you, or the cache of an already established celebrity like Arianna Huffington (with a bevy of celebrity friends to help keep the content flowing and the readers coming to see what those famous names have to say.)
There is perhaps one other path out of blog oblivion; there’s the possibility that you’ll be favored by a blogger further up the curve and, if they link to you often enough, find yourself finally “one of them.”
Among bloggers, few things provoke more rancor than the subject of the A-list. Much as in high school, C-listers quickly suspect the deck is stacked against them, and the bitterness flows like cheap wine.
… If the star system rankles the C-listers, it is partly because they have such a weirdly submissive relationship with A-listers. They envy them, but they need them, too, because one of the quickest ways for an unknown blog to acquire traffic is to feed scoops to an A-lister, in the hopes that the editors there will use the tip and include a thank-you link pointing back to the tipster. Even better is becoming so well loved that an A-lister puts you on his “blogroll,” a permanent list of favorite sites—the blog equivalent of Best Friends Forever.
… Yet one can understand why the tiny blogs are so hungry for approval. A single mention from an A-lister can provoke “firehoses of traffic”—as John Battelle describes it—that can help pluck a neophyte blog out of obscurity. (This has even happened to me. I run a small science blog—avowedly C-list, a pure vanity project—and the times that Boing Boing or Gizmodo have linked to me, my traffic has exploded.) When Gawker linked recently to a posting at Blogebrity, it nearly tripled the smaller site’s traffic, from 1,200 visitors a day to 3,500. Even a link from a smaller, B-list blog can help a struggling newcomer. In his first two years blogging, Trent Vanegas—the 31-year-old creator of the gossip site Pink Is the New Blog—barely rated 200 visitors a day. Then in January 2005, a few medium-size New York blogs—including Ultragrrl and Thighswideshut—gave him a shout-out, and his traffic doubled. The virtuous cycle began, and today he has 1 million page views a month, VH1 is calling to use him as a commentator, and he’s fielding job offers from E! and Bravo.
“It’s crazy,” he says, laughing. “After a point, you’re like, Where are all these people coming from?”
Where are they coming from? They’re coming from those “firehoses of traffic” wielded by the “big” bloggers. When those hoses get turned off, things tend to dry up. Like revenue. For some bloggers, there’s money involved if they carry advertising. Because advertising is driven by traffic, and the more traffic you have the more you can charge for advertising.
This has been going on for a long, long time. I took a swing at the politics of linking back in 2005. And another blogger voiced his frustration with the blogs at the bottom of the curve, rather than those at the top.
Fuck it. I give up. No one wants to listen. No one wants to organize.
I am removing every blog from my roll that has never linked to me.
And you know what that will mean?
Mostly B-to-Z-list blogs will be affected. I have been linked in the past by most of the A-list blogs at least once (including 4 times in the last 2 weeks) so the Eschatons and Americablogs will remain linked but it’s the smaller bloggers that aren’t doing their fair share of the load (the 4 posts I wrote that were big enough and important enough to earn A-list links last week got hardly any linkage from the littler blogs).
By having such an enormous blogroll I have hurt my blog because it takes longer for my site to load and my Google ranking is affected by smaller blogs pulling it down (my 6 might turn into a 7 when I finish the purge).
I plan to visit each link once before I remove it. And if I accidently cut off someone who’s linked to me…leave a comment or send me an email.
One day the left will learn the importance of links. One day.
The irony in reading that comment now is that at the time I would have been inclined to think that anyone who was getting regularly linked by the “A-List” probably didn’t need a link from my humble little blog, or the trickle of traffic it might provide. A blogger who has the support of Kos, Atrios and others, and has all those “firehoses of traffic” aimed at them doesn’t need any help from us denizens of the Long Tail, any more than Kos, Atrios or the rest of them do.
Well, maybe now they do, now that they’re clearly not “one of them.”
But it still won’t be worth nearly as much as those “links from above.”
Update: I’m kinda surprised that this post generated much interested, since I figured I was rather late to the discussion. For what it’s worth, my various blogrolls are on the links & blogrolls page. Now that I think about it, they could probably stand to be updated. I know there are some blogs linking to this one that I haven’t added yet. Sounds like a project for the weekend!
I also remembered something I wanted to reference earlier, but forgot. It’s from a New York Times article about the psychology of wealth that several of the Science Blogs were referencing a while back. And there’s one part that fits in with the “links-as-currency” and “linking economy” theme in this post.
Professor Carroll says maybe they love money, not for what it can buy but just for its own sake. Perhaps they get something different from having money — clout, power, the ability to dominate an industry. Or perhaps these are just competitive people who care about their position compared with other people on the list.
They accumulate more so they can lord it over the other families who have less — a bit like having enough nuclear weapons to blow up the world several times but making more to stay ahead of the other guy.
I meant to include it in the post, but was in such a hurry to get it published that I forgot. Still, I think it makes sense in the context of blogs and links.