Blog Revolution Needed?

I think I’m too lazy to start the blog revolution some of us were carping about last year, but I hope somebody else does it.

Update: Jim Kukral says the Revolution is over!    I think he’s way too optimistic.

Marshall has a thoughful post about some of the issues surrounding tech blogging and the challenges of surfacing new voices within a system that increasingly seems to center on a handful of good blogs again and again rather than helping bring more attention to the *best* writing on a given topic.

Here’s his take on this.

I replied over there:

Marshall thanks for a thoughtful post. Although I think “A list” blogs are generally very good, I think ranking and commercial issues are keeping a *lot* of quality writing from surfacing. Huge search engine advantages are enjoyed by blogs with extensive incoming links.

Links can be a pretty good and democratic measure of what users want, but with so many A list blogs using very strategic linking, combined with so many “wannabe” blogs linking to existing A lists, combined with A listers rarely linking to even the best writing of others for competitive and commercial reasons, the system is probably no longer working well to bring new voices into the mix.

Solutions? Aggregators like FriendFeed should surface more new writers and content proactively rather than defaulting as they have. A listers should commit to featuring new voices much more regularly, and new voices should find a way to band together so the best writing – rather than the best linking and strategy and commercial cleverness – tends to prevail.

No VC for you! Zero IPOs in Q2 2008

The New York Times is noting that there have been no VC funded IPOs in this second quarter of 2008, which appears to be the first time that has happened since 1978. I haven’t done enough research to suggest this is a huge anomaly but I think it is another mildly ominous happening in the world of US business economics. Last night on Charlie Rose a key guy a Llyods of London Insurance was suggesting that in his view the mortgage crisis here in the USA is not at all over, and also noted how business things are blooming and booming in Asia and India while they appear to be wilting here in the USA and Europe.

In my opinion the best we an hope for is a fairly soft landing as China, India, Vietnam, and other parts of the developing world take their (rightful) place as players in the global economy. We’ve had it pretty easy for the past 60 years after WWII reconstruction rescued many economies from post-war ruin. Unfortunately that beneficence has been long forgotten (and it helped our economy along anyway).

So tighten up that belt and start spending less, because business isn’t what it used to be and it’s not going to be back anytime soon – perhaps forever.

Blog Revolution Note XXIV

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  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.

Why do blogs suck? A Blogging Revolution Needed?

Wait, no, I love blogs and blogging!   

However several folks in the  blog echo-chamber are suggesting correctly that there are problems with this  echo-chamber and problems with the many “me too” posts out there by people who want to be in TechMeme or otherwise get linked.     I actually think TechMeme’s got it close to right because creator Gabe Rivera has facilited the conversation algorithmically rather than allowing only the “insiders” to decide who is linked to and thus who gets to participate most actively in the tech buzz of the day. 

Tech blogging has become something of a mess even though there are advantages to having tech themes discussed ad nauseum in that I’d argue you can shake out the BS faster that way.  

Mark Evans has a thoughful post about why he thinks original blog thinking is so rare.    I don’t agree that original thinking is hard for most bloggers who tend to be a pretty thoughtful gang, but agree we don’t find enough good thinking on blogs.   Why?   Because we have created a problematic blog ecosystem that relies on human frailties and short attention spans.     I think it’s kind of a “welcome to the human race” thing and is not fixable.

 I wrote over there:

I don’t think original thought is all that difficult for many bloggers, rather most people tend to read a combination of groupthink and antagnostic dialog.  Thus the most read posts and blogs are not the most thoughtful.

I find that when I venture away from the major tech blogs I find the far more thoughtful posts – yours right here for example.

Ideally there would be a new blog revolution that would aggressively work to reconnect the thousands of new bloggers based on merit and thoughtfulness rather than old links from old sites with old thinking.  Sort of a human and algorithmic “revoting” for the best blogs.  I wonder how well the old “A list” would fare in that revote?  

Blog fight, blog fight!

Nothing livens up a Saturday like a spirited round of personal insulting and counterbashing all caused by a mild critique on a trivial issue combined with a personal attack response.   TechMeme‘s close to making this the top story, which frankly is a defect as these personal battles will get far more coverage than “real” news.    Same problem with network news – people want the prurient garbage more than the significant stuff, and as a profit entity the peoples get what the peoples want.  

Matt’s got the scoop and the correct analysis.   Duncan’s approach to all this is one of the reasons blogging is both more interesting than traditional journalism but also more suspect. 

Journablogger Battle Dome 2008

Blogging people love a heated argument and Mike Arrington always aims to please, so he nailed Fred Wilson for a few inconsistencies in his otherwise very reasonable post suggesting the obvious – that blogs tend to have lower standards of accuracy than mainsteam journal articles.   I don’t think this can be reasonably disputed though I think on balance I’d rather have the fast paced, up to the minute blog coverage that is sometimes inaccurate than the next-day-fact-checked-cold-news that we sometimes see with mainstream technology coverage. 

Of course I hope the Journablogging does not upset Fred too much because I predict things will get *much* worse before they get better.   Monetizing is increasingly dependent on article output, and blogs like TechCrunch are pumping out articles faster than you can click on an RSS feed, and systems like TechMeme encourage mass postings to increase the chance you’ll be seen.    The flood of blogged tech news has only just begun, and accuracy is already one of the first casualties.

Matt explains all this wisely.  He’s pretty smart for a real journalist..

TechMeme, Twitter, and Pownce

For some time my working hypothesis about new niche tech sites is that they appear to have explosive early growth followed by traffic stability or only slight traffic increases as all the early adopter tech enthusiasts sign on, and other people show little interest.     The following Alexa data really supports this hypothesis:

Alexa Graph

TechMeme is one of my very favorite sites and I know this is true for many others.   I’m surprised TechMeme’s growth seemed to have tapered off so early, but in some ways this makes sense because there are only so many people – a small percentage of all onliners – who are heavily absorbed with the latest buzz from the technology world.    Twitter would have broader interest and appears to be growing still, yet I’m skeptical enough people have time to play the Twitter game to make this a mainstream application.   Pownce is a great application but I think people are unlikely to abandon Twitter for Pownce, and thus Pownce will struggle to grow from an entirely new set of social networking non-twitterers.