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.

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.

Another shot in the Blog Revolution? Few links if by land and none if by sea.

Louis Gray is rightfully pissed off at the way Mashable, a major tech blog, did not properly handle some stories written by Gray.   Basically they under-attributed Gray’s reporting of Robert Scoble’s PodTech departure.   I’m not familiar enough with Mashable to know if Gray is reasonable to suggest that they’ve built the whole site on this type of secondary reporting, but I certainly agree that blogs are now doing what mainstream media has done for decades – sacrificing good quality reporting in the interest of monetization.   Also I think the great and thoughful voices of several big blogs have been largely replaced by marginal writers and writing as those sites struggle to become “media companies”.  

Another defect of the new web is that linking practices and linking strategy have become very critical to success – A list sites simply don’t link out appropriately because they (correctly) view their links as valuable and (incorrectly) choose not to give that value away.   

Matt’s got a good post on this story, noting how attribution is a cornerstone of good journalism and Mashable and others should do a better job of attribution, though I’m not clear if Matt would agree that insufficient linking is part of opportunistic linking strategies more than journalistic oversight:

I wrote over there: 

…. but monetization is trumping journalism all over the place and I think the blog community should think about this a lot more than we do.

I don’t know about Mashable’s practices, but often it is marginally paid and marginally talented writers who feed the big blogs that originally had really thoughtful voices.

Also, natural linking has effectively become a “web currency” and many “A list” sites are very reluctant to link to sites outside of their frames of reference – I believe they see it as too big of a favor where even 5 years back it would have been done without a second thought.

I see this as a growing problem with many large, heavily monetized tech blogs. They are (slowly) trading profit concerns for journalism and web concerns. An inevitable thing, but a bad one