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May 17, 2003

Working It Out

Posted by Mike on May 17, 2003 1:51 AM

More from Doc:

"Here's a thought. What would happen if the archives of all the print publications out there were open to the Web, linkable by anybody, and crawlable by Google's bots? Would the density of blogs 'above the fold' (on page one) of Google searches go down while hard copy sources go up? I'll betcha it would.

My point: Maybe this isn't about 'gaming' algorithms, but rather about a situation where one particular type of highly numerous journal has entirely exposed archives while less common (though perhaps on the whole more authoritative) others do not."

That's a good point on the technical side. I know of a popular commercial site that jumped up its page views by double after reengineering the way it presented pages and making them more spider friendly.

And I don't mean to make it sound like I think there's some fantastic conspiracy at work to subvert Google, or that we're yoked with a tyrannical cabal of A-listers out to trick everyone into listening to them first.

The question, I guess, is more about what the outcome of the "blog noise" effect is, and whether Google should feel any responsibility about it. I'd be relieved if I had less blogs to track through on my way to sources. I love the commentary some blogs provide, but I prefer to read the wire copy before reading a reaction and deconstruction of that copy, no matter how qualified the blogger, unless he/she happened to interview the same people on the same day, or (I know, I know, unlike Jayson Blair) was at the scene of the story, too.

It seems like Google moving to emphasize the source instead of the person pointing at the source will result in removing some of the privilege (within the context of Google) those pointers enjoy. Ed pointed out a few days ago that I'm asking for perfection in a non-perfectible system . . . that Google's inability to distinguish pointer/pointee is genetic. In that case, providing a blog tab, and a "-blog" switch that whacks out 75% of the noise seems equitable enough, without Google going down the dangerous road of deciding (as it shouldn't) that personal pages (not just blogs) are undeserving of attention because they aren't institutional or corporate.

And to move past that point and provide a little more closure on this spate of posts:

It seems that ultimately, what Bill Thompson was going after is the idea that when you step into the blogosphere, you're on a substantially different ride from the one you might be used to in other forms of media. Anyone who reads more than a few a day knows what it's like to sit down with some time to kill and end up traversing huge chunks of the Web, following along with the back-and-forth of conversing bloggers. It's not the same as a news portal or a traditional news site. It's not a linear, "point a to point b" experience. But consuming a blog is still like consuming any media . . . the reader illiterate in its subtexts and underlying meanings is intensely vulnerable, not to some sort of sinister manipulation, but to the simple way blogs present and view the world, favoring that which can be linked, and favoring, as with most forms of human communication, that with which the author agrees, or can easily refute.

Because blogs are often intense personal expressions, it's a little problematic to argue for a media literacy approach to reading them: the underlying skepticism required to be a literate blog consumer will seem like an affront to the blog author, who more likely than not is doing little more than relaying the world as it appears through their perceptual filters, and certainly not (usually) deliberately lying, distorting, or deceiving.

But as a blogs grow in popularity as a format, they'll require vigorous deconstruction all the same: understanding how, why, and by whom a media outlet is produced is key to assessing its ultimate worth as a tool for shaping a world view, or even an opinion on a single matter. How well an individual blogger tolerates the scrutiny key to determining the worth of his/her output will provide even more comment on the voice behind the blog.

Thompson and Orlowski have taken a hard, bare-knuckled approach a few times, but they're part of the process. Bloggers who can't deal with scrutiny, or being questioned about their motives or credibility, should probably hang it up: they're no more immune to questioning than NBC or the New York Times.