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. 

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.

Twitter ing about business plans for Twitter

I’m not sure I follow all the Twitter blog postage over at Techmeme today, but it appears to boil down to Center Networks speculating that Twitter may fail because it does not have a clear revenue plan and Jason Calcanis suggesting that Twitter does not really need one yet because, as Silicon Valley players, they’ll get funding just because they have demonstrated past success and far more important than a business plan is simply getting to be a bigger player in the social networking space.

I’m certainly more with Jason on this than the (foolish and demonstrably false) notion that success springs from solid business plans.  Sure, it sounds right to suggest planning works, and biz consultants love to see plans because they are 1) a good way to get paid for consulting and 2) it helps people cover their asses in lawsuits and such.   But if you look at the huge and profound success stories in technology you don’t see business plans, you see innovation, risk, and sheer LUCK!    (e.g.  Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Apple, YouTube, Myspace, Facebook etc, etc).

I think you’d be hard pressed to show *any* relationship between a business plans and success in the Tech sector, and probably other biz areas as well.   This is not to say common sense and business sense are not important – they are probably in good measure in most success stories.  But formal planning and business “rules” pale in importance compared to other factors.  

I still think business in Tech, especially in Silicon Valley, is more an evolutionary survival process where companies work *away* from failing rather than towards success.   In fact I’ll be betting on that.

TechMeme still Rulez!

[Following is this is a revision of a post I did over at WebGuild.org – the Silicon Valley social networking and tech education group] . 

For bloggers, Gabe Rivera’s TechMeme has become a top technology watering hole, ranking and finding great blog posts and tracking the discussions that form around them.

Fred Wilson, a New York Venture Capitalist and great blogger, is lamenting the good old days when he thinks TechMeme had more of the stuff he wants to read – more of the old guard tech bloggers and fewer popular newspaper articles.

Unlike Fred, I’m happy with what I see as a diversification of the early TechMeme post universe. I’ve never been comfortable with the idea that the “old guard” does all the best blogging, and TechMeme does a great job of unearthing new voices for me.    Frankly, I’d like to see even more new voices.   As I’ve noted here before we need a blogging revolution (hmmm – I guess I’m too lazy to lead it?!   I was supposed to get Scoble a list of “great new voices” and have not done that yet, though it’s on “The List”).     My criticism of TechMeme is more along the lines that by design it will become too focused on the insider rumor mill rather than the most significant technology news stories.    But I appreciate the fact that you want “most significant story” to be defined by objective processes rather than a handful of editors.  TechMeme is doing a great job of that so far.

In general I find I prefer the new fresh voices to the old ones.  Fred wrote that he likes new voices too but appears to be tired of TechMeme’s increasing number of legacy media stories about tech issues.  I agree the old schoolf folks often miss the big picture, but they are driving much of the national debate on these issues so I want their take as well as the insiders angle from well-connected bloggers.    I also appreciate that legacy media folks check their spelling, usage, and their facts – a point that should not be lost on many bloggers including this one.    (But the spell checking takes an extra 30 seconds …. I have no time for THAT inconvenience!)

Thanks to TechMeme I find a lot quickly, and I also have the site doing some of the human filtering for me because I know Gabe won’t run lousy blogs.   Are people writing specifically to TechMeme to get links there, as Fred notes?   Sure they are, but this just creates the challenge we get with all news media – a sort of echo chamber where all the insiders are talking about the same stuff.   That challenge is not really TechMeme’s fault – the solution for that is more good bloggers which will diversify the conversations even more and get people talking about things and linking to things they had not though about before.  

[groaning] after I wrote the post above, TechMeme managed to have one of it’s dumbest top stories in some time – a clear indication of how insulated our silly tech community can become from real world issues. 

TechMeme Secrets

TechMeme has rapidly become one of the key techno watering holes in the blogosphere thanks to how it helps sift through tech blogs and posts to winnow out those getting maximum buzz.     Todd recently suggested he thinks a lot of SEO firms  are gaming techmeme, especially by post plants from A list bloggers – the implication is that they are paid for this.

He’s largely wrong about this and has given *way* too much credence to the always inflated claims of SEO companies (his inspiration for the post was a small SEO firm in Honolulu).

Of course Tech blogging, and most of the web for that matter, and much of the offline world, have been “damaged” with respect to objective quality content by various tactics that come about as the inevitable result of content monetizing.

But take a look at the prominent TechMeme posts tonight – it’s clear that these are generally spawned from sincere interests and not “planted” as part of advanced SEO tactics. Do any plants happen? A few, but in SEO you have to balance the chance you’ll “sneak in” a good plant against the greater chance that you’ll permanently tarnish the blogger’s reputation cause a scandal (Wal Mart’s Edelman fiasco), or simply spend a lot of time and money for a marginal result. The best SEO strategies rely more than ever on getting legitimate content and placements.

Now, Robert Scoble has a great video post today that is a lot more interesting because he’s trying to reverse engineer TechMeme, something a lot of people in tech are interested in for several reasons.   Robert also manages to feed the new little Scoble during his impromptu 2am advanced tech blogging lecture, which is really a fun statement about how far social networking and life/work integration has come in the past few years.

I hope Gabe responds to Robert to clear up some confusion though he may want to keep the TechMeme algorithm top secret, following in Google’s footsteps.

Some key points by Robert as he speculated about the TechMeme algorithm:
Tech blog database of perhaps 10,000 blogs.
Blog rankings (see TechMeme leaderboard) used to reflect their authority and thus “weight” the power of outbound links from  those blogs.
Reciprocal linking is not as heavily weighted as one directional outbound linking.

Robert suggests an experiment to test some of his ideas and I hope he does it, though Gabe may simply shut down that post or (if he wants to mess with his TechMeme folks) manually override the algorithm so it does funny things that lead to wrong conclusions.  Scoble’s Breeeport experiment was fun a few years ago, and this stuff can be a great way to bring more transparency to the mysteries of content ranking.

TechMeme River of Tech news with a river of comments …

I could not resist this.   I’m taking a day of TechMeme stories and links and then commenting on all of them.   Partly because I *always* have something to say and partly because I just want to see how this is processed as TM commentary.    If this seems to annoying to some of you great folks that read the blog …. just skip this post, OK?

The Register: California court tilts towards mandating web accessibility
Could be interesting.  If accessibility is mandated it may push some smaller sites and even small companies off the web.   Or, it may launch a revolution in overpriced accessibility software.   Either way, consumers will probably lose.

Washington Post: Shadowy Russian Firm Seen as Conduit for Cybercrime
Spooky.  Sometimes you just want them to bring back the good old USSR.    There was the mean KGB, but they NEVER went after your credit card! 

Read/WriteWeb: New York Times Puts Reader Comments on Main Page – Good Idea?  Of course it’s a good idea.  Only old school journalists think regular folks have nothing important to say.   It’s the other way around in fact – regular folks in Darfur, Inner City, and all over the world are, literally, dying to have their say while journalists keep harping on sensational garbage, Britney Spears, and …. Britney Spears.  Quality Journalism is as close to an oxymoron as you can get.

Telegraph: Could the time be ripe to pick off Apple?
Yes, it could.   The iPhone was Apple’s final brilliancy, and it’ll be heavily copied.  Sell AAPL now or face the consequences.

New York Times: The New Advertising Outlet: Your Life
It’s all about marketing.   People say they hate ads and sales, but that’s what makes the President and feeds your kids if you run or work for a business.   Or even a public sector because they are run with taxes and taxes come from business which runs off advertising.  Don’t like it?   Tough.

TechCrunch: Facebook Has LinkedIn In Their Crosshairs
..and everybody else too.   Yes they are overhyped but yes they could win it all.   However I think there is room for both unless Facebook can really do a better job with biz social networking rather than “fun” social networking.

Silicon Alley Insider: Radiohead: 1.3 Mil Downloads! (But Big Music Not Dead)
Fred Wilson likes them so they must be good.

New York Times: A Site Warhol Would Relish
I think Andy Warhol was hugely overrated.   Elite Art people are for the most part silly and hypocritical, as demonstrated by tests that show art “experts” often can’t even tell expert art.   You are lucky you are grant funded by rich people, dudes. 

CrunchGear: ‘Sneaker Pimps’ pimped out NES sneaker
I prefer the term “Tennis Shoe”

Voidstar: blog: Anouncing Twype.exe — I’ve been playing around with posting … Not going to try this one out.   I’m suffering from Social Network fatigue. 

Rough Type: The case for Google — As investors push Google’s stock ever higher …  Like Nick, I did not buy Google when I should.   I stupidly bought put options because I knew they were overhyped.   Nick’s thinking they may not be overhyped anymore.  They are, and contrary to his quote of ?, you can short a mania.

NewTeeVee: Announcing the NewTeeVee Live Schedule
Is this a TechMeme sponsor post?  I don’t really care.

internetnews.com: Skype Co-Founder Admits Expectations Were Too High
… in the running for 10th place “understatement of the year” in tech biz, 2007

law & Life: Patent Troll Fire First Volley at Open Source
Ha -I would NOT mess with Open Source people.  They are some of the toughest, meanest, nothing-to-losiest people in tech.  They’ll kill you for just *complimenting* the Vista color scheme, so this could mean war.

CenterNetworks: What About a Random Twitter and/or Twitter Gallery?
Probably a good thing to do first and ask questions about later.    Personally, I don’t really care.  Twitter is for those of us who have too much online time on our hands and don’t want to work on complicated projects.   

Ars Technica: UK to look for ever-elusive link between WiFi and health problems.    It’s elusive because it’s not there.  What is *wrong* with smart people that makes them consistently exaggerate trivial health risks?   Science based skeptic Shermer discusses this in his excellent  book “Why People Believe Weird Things”.  The short answer:  We are stupid.   Singularity, hurry the heck up!

the::unwired: INNOVATION: Microsoft receives Patent for a new User Interface for Mobile Devices I could read what this is, but unless I’m way off this is NOT going to be a significant new interface.   Seems to me that the killer ap for mobile would be much better voice control of all data applications.  

Computerworld: Why Skype and Vonage must die
Die early adopters!   Long live VOIP!    These are brilliant companies that are way ahead of their time.   Contrary to the stupid notion that you must be first in a space to succeed, I think in 90% of all spaces you *cannot* be first in the space and succeed.   Steamboats, for example.  Or Fax Machines.  Or VOIP.    Coca Cola?   Hey, maybe an exception there?

Inside AdSense: Getting more quality inventory for publishers
C’mon, all those “Buy links here” advertisements are totally relevant for blogs discussing Google’s tendency to penalize commercial links while promoting their sale like crazy via adwords PPC.   Even I’m confused now.

New York Times: Imitating the Web, for the Busy Reader
Imitation is the sincereist form of flattery.    Hey NYT, I can imitate Tom Friedman because I believe the earth is flat, too.

The Jason Calacanis Weblog: Why TechMeme is great and the haters hate (the *official* …  Right on Jason.  TechMeme is great!    Also it’s so refreshing to read a post by you that does not try to hype your Mahalo! project.   Aloha.

Andy Beal’s Marketing Pilgrim: Costco.com Hits the Billion Dollar Sales Mark
Great Costco data except for the “half online” error.   Based on this data I calculated they make about $4-5 profit per incoming click assuming those clicks are as good as regular traffic.  Not a good assumption probably, because $4-5 seems way too high.

paidContent.org: Interview: Henry Copeland, CEO, Founder of BlogAds: To Make Money … reduce exposure of your online audience to your comments.   But that, of course, totally sucks because comments are already relegated to relative obscurity.   This is why TechMeme is so great – if people blog instead of comment, and then get listed along with the story, “we” the users can read new voices and get more diversity of opinion.   Journalists are allowed, but not really favored.   That’s good.  Unless you are a journalist.   Maybe.   I actually think journalists are great, but journalism is crappy.   We have commercialized journalism into irrelevance.   FOX News is a great example.  Some of those folks are actually excellent *journalists*, but commercial considerations and political ones at FOX mean they’ll talk nonsense about nothing to keep the job and keep the profits rolling.   

TechMeme on … TechMeme

Gabe Rivera’s TechMeme is a favorite info destination for thousands of technology enthusiasts and news junkies all over the world.   However Bobbie Johnson over at the Guardian  has taken a mini-swipe at TechMeme, suggesting that the relative low traffic from the site shows that people are overrating TechMeme’s importance in the scheme of things technological.    

Robert Scoble, in response, has a  great  summary of how he gets very different traffic depending on the source.     Although he does not focus on the *topic*, clearly that matters a lot as well.    Scoble’s blog is influential enough that it would often send more traffic to a linked site than TechMeme.     I’ll have to check my own stats to be sure but I the times I’ve had links from “A list” bloggers like Robert Scoble, Jeremy Zawodny or Matt Cutts  it has sent more traffic than my frequent links at TechMeme – though I have never had a post be a “headliner” at TechMeme.    In fact I don’t think Gabe’s algorithm would allow his “second tier” sites to have featured posts.   My (wild) guess is that TechMeme has at least two lists of blogs/sites, and only sites and blogs on his top tier list can have the posts featured prominently – others are relegated to the comments section even if it’s a more detailed, more linked, or better post.  

I think this “small stable of premier technology sites” may be a potential defect at TechMeme that keeps the Tech echo chamber very loud but not very diverse, though Gabe may have learned that this helps keep irrelevant posts out of the mix.     At SES I was talking with Matt Cutts about how the TechMeme algorithm might work, and how it might be applied to a broader set of blogs as a ranking mechanism.  

Nick Carr jumped on this TechMeme traffic bashing bandwagon suggesting “juicelessness” which is a  cleverly coined phrase but  misleading because TechMeme clearly reaches a lot of key technology folks and that’s a juicier kind of audience in terms of advertising and influence than, say, 16 year old Diggers.  

So, I’m sticking with TechMeme and redict it’ll get bigger and better.