The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Bloggingheads on the Blogroll Purge

Unbelievably, the discussion of the blogroll purge continues far beyond anything I expected when I wrote my initial post. Yesterday evening I came across this interesting exchange on Bloggingheads.tv between Bill Scher of Liberal Oasis and Conn Carroll of the Blogometer. It’s an interesting conversation that left me thinking about a few things I read before and after my initial post.

The first was came about halfway through the clip, when Bill Scher talks about how blogroll links don’t drive as much traffic as when a popular blogger links to a second or third tier blogger in a blog post. My experience is that he’s pretty much right about that, but that doesn’t quite deal with the question of google ranking, though skippy pointed out that Google ranking may not be all it’s cracked up to be. But the point about linking to other blog in posts being more effective brings up something that’s alluded to in the conversation between Sher and Caroll and which Clay Shirky addressed a long time ago.

At the head will be webloggers who join the mainstream media (a phrase which seems to mean “media we’ve gotten used to.”) The transformation here is simple – as a blogger’s audience grows large, more people read her work than she can possibly read, she can’t link to everyone who wants her attention, and she can’t answer all her incoming mail or follow up to the comments on her site. The result of these pressures is that she becomes a broadcast outlet, distributing material without participating in conversations about it.

There are echos of the above in Scher’s comments as well as Carroll’s. When I talking to people about blogging always tell them it takes time, or at least a certain kind of blogging takes time: time to read, time to write, and time to think. Even as a self-described mid-level blogger Scher says he finds it challenging to read a diversity of blogs, link to them where relevant, and still get his own thoughts out as well. (The tug of war between remaining a content producer and becoming an aggregator is apparently universal.) I find myself essentially dealing with the same thing, occasionally needing a jolt to remind me to read more diversely.

Add that difficulty the ever-expanding nature of the blogosphere, and you have a scenario much like the one Shirky mentions above; more blogs than you can possibly read, more links than you can possibly reciprocate, more requests for links than you can possibly fulfill, more comments than you can possibly respond to, etc. We should all have such problems, right?

I’m not entirely unsympathetic. In fact, I think Shirky leaves out one other development from the scenario he brings up: the blogger in question narrows her reading to a select few blogs that occupy the same space as her on the blogosphere and/or have interests and concerns in common. Blogs that aren’t in that circle aren’t going to get linked from her often, unless someone in that circle links to them first. And if the other bloggers in that set face the same pressures, the likelihood of that happening are small, unless someone ventures beyond their comfort zone.

And even the effort may turn out to to be a thankless one, After all, there are always going to be more blogs than our theoretical blogger can read or link to, and some of those bloggers will probably feel slighted. So, in some ways, it’s probably easier not to. and thus you end up with charts like this one from New York Magazine, which illustrates how the top 50 blogs at the time were crosslinked to each other.

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Or this one, from which Chris Bowers linked to back in January, from a Blogpulse paper (PDF) about linking the linking patters of progressive and conservative blogs during the 2004 election which prompted a commenter at Political Animal to point out that the progressive blogosphere seemed to be made up of two “mutually-linking spheres”‘ the emphasis here being on “mutually-linking, the point being “like links to like,” for the most part.

Blogosphere

I’ve said before, that’s all probably a function of human nature and human limitations: having a finite amount of time to read an infinite number of blogs, and the natural tendency to gravitate towards others like who are like us in some way (socially, ethnically, ideologically, etc.). There isn’t much any one individual can do about how any other individual chooses to respond to the intersection of those two realities, which is why I made the point again that instead of trying to change what other people are doing the rest of us need to build our own spheres.

That actually leads me to something that came up in the latter half of the Bloggingheads clip; the question of how much posting a diary on Daily Kos or similar online communities actually benefits someone who also has his or her own blog. It’s a question I’ve tossed back and forth in my mind because I’ve maintain a diary on Kos for a while now, and some entries have been well received and appeared in the daily diary rescues or even been recommended diaries. I can only think of one time, though, that my own blog has been linked on the front page a Daily Kos.

For the most part, I’ve seen mixed results traffic-wise. Most of my diaries don’t generate a lot of traffic to this blog, unless they show up on the recommended list, or get rescued. And then, it only drives traffic if I’ve linked copiously to previous posts on this blog (which I do habitually). Still, it has helped get a few more people to take a look who might not have otherwise seen anything I posted, and that’s led to some other opportunities. (Though I like to think the writing I’ve done here, that didn’t get diaried somewhere else, helped too.) Most recently, I’ve been fortunate enough to be invited to crosspost to the front pages at Pam’s House Blend and Boomans Tribune.

But the discussion of diaries reminded me of what Conceptual Gorilla had to say.

So what’s wrong with the DKos infrastructure? Depending on your point of view, the answer may well be “nothing.” I doubt seriously that Markos is much complaining about those 4 million visits a week. I certainly wouldn’t complain, if I were him. How does he get them? Here is where understanding infrastructure comes in. His success is a direct function of his platform. Don’t get me wrong, the writers at DKos — including Kos himself — are first rate. On the other hand, there are first rate writers all over the internet — including many no one has ever heard of. Both Digby and his partner Poputonian offer consistently solid offerings everyday, and they have well earned their popularity. But they don’t get 4 million visits a week. No single writer or even a small group of writers earns that kind of traffic.

But Kos isn’t a “small group of writers” is it? DKos is a HUGE group of writers. It is community so big, one could almost call it a “sub-blogosphere.” You don’t really need to go anywhere else — the operative word being “need.” Everything going on the realm of politics, policy, economics, and international events is covered, usually fairly quickly. Not only that, it is covered adequately, in the sense that you can learn the important facts, and the obviously conclusions to be drawn from them. In some cases, it is covered superlatively. Kos doesn’t cover all that stuff by himself, nor do his front pagers. That’s way too big a job. Instead, the legion of diarists cover pretty much everything there is to cover. All you have to do is hang around, and watch the “recent diaries.” But you’d better be quick, and you’d better not stay away too long, because that recent diary you’re interested in won’t be on the front page for long. My experience has been two hours, and it’s gone. Sometimes they hang around for three, sometimes they’re gone in 90 minutes. In other words, it is very easy to visit Daily Kos, never leave and never go anywhere else.

So? Is that bad? What’s wrong with “one stop shopping?” Since you don’t have to go anywhere else, Daily Kos offers something to writers like me that at first blush is very attractive. With four million visits a week, Daily Kos becomes the place for a writer to offer his wares — something I do on a regular basis. This adds to the “stickiness” of the place. Because if a writer like me — and there are legions of us hanging around the DKos community — wants to rise above the background noise of the “recent diaries” list, we’ve got work to do. We’ve got to post everyday or close to it. We’ve got to cultivate our readers — including a fair amount of good old fashioned “back scratching.” All of that promotional effort of course, yields a bigger audience. When you add several dozen, or several hundred, diarists clamoring for a share of the audience, you get a lot of activity to the tune of — there’s that number again — four million visits a week. Unfortunately, for the diarist, it is somewhat time consuming.

…Here’s the “so what?” There is very little room at the top. There is room for eight recommended diaries — in a system so crowded your “recent diary” is gone in two hours. In fact, the system is so crowded, and the “recommended” category so full of established diarists, the site’s management has come up with a “fix” in the form of the “diary rescue.” Why not expand the “recommended” list, double it say. Why not create an intermediate level, that is more sticky than “recent,” but not as sticky as “recommended?” Why do that? To broaden the range of viewpoint available. With eight spots, a handful of voices dominate the community. That is not to suggest that this elite, as it were, have not earned their popularity. I regularly read many of them myself. But with four million visits, and well over hundred thousand registered users, 20 or so voices is not representative of the entire community, I don’t care how good they are.

And over at My Left Wing liberal American takes it one step further in terms of just how much an independent blogger benefits from having a diary on a site like Daily Kos.

Let’s turn the tables and talk about equality. Suppose YOUR site just happens to have a good post, will it ever see the light of day on kos? Of course not, that is unless you sign on to be a “diarist.” That’s why reciprocity is important. If you list the kos site, even though he won’t list yours, he makes money. And you? You are as much a sucker as someone playing the slots in a casino.

… Now this is where the economics gets positively Darwinian. kos has somehow convinced a significant number of people to post “diaries” on his site. There is nothing wrong with blog communities who have lots of diaries. For those who post at kos this seems like a good deal. There is no charge for this and since the site is the 14th ranked in the country being part of it is sort of like writing for The New York Times–or is it?

The more diaries you have, the chances are most of those diaries will be read only by a few people, friends, the few who stumble across them, and others. BUT every one of those diaries read reads gets counted as a read for the kos site. So let’s assume kos has 500 diaries and each has ten readers–all of a sudden HIS SITE has 5,000 readers.

Skippy carried the ball a few yards further.

the point of this diary is to remind all of you to please not think of this place as a community. it is not, your individual voice matters here as much as it does in washington, and you are expendable if you dare to challenge the status quo. daily kos is a business, there is nothing wrong with that standing alone, but like all businesses its single function is to make money. there is no community policing underway, that’s a ruse, but there are police. the purpose of the police isn’t to keep trolls away, but to keep the blog mainstream enough to generate more revenue.

Demetrius, a commenter at My Left Wing took it from there.

The blogroll purge is indicative of a larger phenomenon. The Big Box Blogs have accreted the kind of critical mass that allows them to be Players on the national level. And, as such, there is a vested self interest in protecting ad revenues over promoting the kind of free speech the internet has as it’s raison d’etre in politics. (We wouldn’t want links to some little blog that is going to be a potential embarrassment for politicians who want to come and post and pay $9000 a week for ads.) Once they get to be about maintaining acceptability to the other Players they stop being leaders in the Progressive movement.

Blogs are not a “personal thing” if they are built/promoted as a community effort. If purveyors want to run them like their own businesses (and screen content to suit their bottom line) they should pay contributors and be treated like any other MSM outlet. Yes. That *is* a fine line to walk.

DKos (for instance) has built it’s critical mass on the labors of all the little diarists who have contributed. It was a community effort. But, it is clear that the larger community should not expect a fair benefit from their contribution. If they are lucky they have been able to reach an audience with their message. But, they don’t share those ad revenues. They don’t share the fame. They don’t share in a democratic decision making process. They are just bits of “space junk” sucked into the gravity well of a massive “star”. The purge was the supernova ejection and the “dense core” left behind has collapsed to the singularity of Kos’ fame and fortune. We shouldn’t be surprised that less and less light will escape that Black Hole.

Phyrro, also at My Left Wing, then carried it home.

DailyKos is a business. When I claim not to hate it, I’m told I really do (e.g. by cookiebear). To me there is some level of emotional dysfunction in that accusation because in my world I am not EVEN ASKED to be “loyal” to PRIVATE BUSINESSES.

My relationship with private businesses is not like my relationship with my family, my nation, my species. If I’m working for that company, I do have a great deal of loyalty, but EVEN THEN, not the sort one has to a nation or cause.

I like dailykos, I think it’s still quite useful business, but it’s impossible for me to have political loyalty to an organization in which I HAVE NO SAY.

And I think that’s the crux of it. It’s not unusual to work for a business in which one has no say. People do it every day, clock out, collect their paychecks and go home to their lives.

But is there such a thing as a community in which one has no say, or a community one works for without much benefit? Is there really any such thing as a movement with these qualities? (And you can say that the degree to which Kos can help get Democrats elected is a benefit to everyone, but I ask again “What kind of Democrats?”)

When I first started my diary at Kos, and was enamored of the idea of building a huge readership, I griped a bit about it both here and there. I remember getting a comment on Daily Kos to that basically said, “Why bother with trying to support your own blog? It’s all really over here, and it’s easy. Just come join us.”

For a lot of reasons, many of them elaborated above, I’m glad I did.

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