At SoundBiteBlog I stumbled (or rather twitter-comment-followed) an excellent post about how much the poisonous / ranting writing styles of many blogs help them succeed. The author wonders if nice blogs can finish first …
The short answer is “sure”. A good example is Matt Cutts at Google who rarely has a bad word to say about anybody at his blog yet has one of the most read technical resources on the internet for Google search issues. Fred Wilson’s A VC is also a blog with heavy readership and a friendly tone. Marc Andreessen at blog.pmarca.com is another and there are many, many more.
However I think the key blogging success issue is ranking, and there are many ranking problems in blogging paradise. Blogs that rank well will be read more often and in turn will confer more rank via linking, so the *linking style* of most of the old timer blogs has really inhibited the broader conversation. The best posts about any given topic are rarely by A list blogs anymore but these posts are rarely seen because the ranking structure favors older, more linked blogs over those with less Google authority.
The old authority models work much better for websites – where high ranks for a general category make sense – than for blogging where authors tend to cover a lot of topics. TechCrunch will appear with a higher rank than almost any other blog if a technology topic is covered even if their coverage is weak, wrong, or misguided. A thoughtful and well researched post about a critical topic is unlikely to surface if it is written by an “outsider” and escapes the RSS feed of somebody prominent, or sometimes even if linking to that post is seen by the “A lister” as giving a potential competitor too much free juice. Note how “up and coming” tech blogs like Mathew Ingram link generously while most A list blog writers – who are now often hired writers, paid to be seen as a key breaking source of news – are far less likely to cite other blogs. Ironically I think success has really diminished some formerly great blogs. John Battelle is one of the most thoughtful writers on the web but now he’s way too busy with Federated Media to keep Searchblog as lively as it once was.
Google and other aggregators (like TechMeme) in part use metrics similar to Google pagerank to define TechCrunch as more reliable because they have more incoming links, more history on the topic, and more commenting activity. This is not a *bad* way to rank sites but it tends to miss many high quality, reflective articles from sources who do not actively work the system.
Solutions? I still think a blog revolution is needed more than ever to re-align quality writing and new bloggers with the current problematic ranking systems.
In terms of the ranking algorithms I’m not sure how to fix things, though I think Gabe should use more manual intervention to surface good stuff rather than just have TechCrunch dominate TechMeme even when their coverage is spotty and weird. I’m increasingly skeptical that TechMeme is surfacing the best articles on a topic - rather it seems to give too much authority to a handful of prominent but superficial stories. As others link and discuss those stories we have only the echo of a smart conversation.
I don’t spend enough time searching Technorati to know if they are missing the mark or not, but I like the fact they are very inclusive. However like Google and I think Techmeme, Technorati has trouble surfacing content that is highly relevant and high quality but not “authoritative”.
For their part, Google needs to do more to bring blog content into the web search results. Last year at SES Matt Cutts was explaining to me that they are doing more of this than ever and I’m sympathetic to the fact that fresh content into the SERPS will lead to spamming problems, but I’m finding that I often get more relevant results from a blog search at Google than a regular search. This is more the case for breaking news or recent events but it has even happened for research topics where the blog search has led me to expertise I don’t find in the web listings.