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September 5, 2003

Death to the Blogroll As We Know It! A Modest Proposal

Posted by Mike on September 5, 2003 7:59 PM

It's been a while since I metablogged, too. Seeing as how the only things I'm particularly worked up about lately would involve throwing elbows and hurting feelings I don't want to hurt, here's an entry. (And don't forget that you can always bookmark the blog-free pudding flavor if you hate this stuff.):

In late July, Doc Searls considered the issue of his dated and useless blogroll. He didn't say "dated and useless," he just said it's not current or useful.

My belated response? Dump your blogroll, Doc. You're spreading your love like a thimble of jelly on texas toast, and the damn thing's impenetrable to a casual surfer anyhow.

I've already fretted about my own place on Doc's blogroll:
". . . last December I wrote an angry "open letter" directed at uber-blogger Doc Searls [...] He took the screed in stride and stuck me in his blog roll (a link list, presumably to blogs Doc thinks you should read), where I've resided ever since. Now, as a "first mover" in the modern blog world. Doc is so widely linked that Google's search algorithms give him some "weight" as a source of information. Google's designers are democratically minded people who built a prejudice in favor of people who get linked to a lot when they worked out what makes certain search results "good." Some weight also accrues to people who get linked by people who get linked to a lot. In the Googleverse, Doc is like King Kong or Grape Ape or a well-loved and widely worshipped Norse pundit deity, and anyone on whom he confers a link gets some of his magical pixie search dust on themselves."

There's no denying I've benefitted from that magical pixie dust since. A vanity search on Google has even got me ranking above "Anthony Michael Hall," something I was never able to accomplish on my own, even when I was the editor of the best Linux news crawl on the web. Doc's musings even drove Ed to fret about his own endangered juice should I end up getting cleaned out in a fit of blogroll purification.

I didn't think much more about the whole thing until today, when I read an article in the Columbia Journalism Review about the influence of weblogs on independent media. I followed a few of the links a panelist in the article mentioned, and found myself confronted by the same sort of massive blogrolls Doc sports. They managed, as such massive link lists do, to be completely useless to a casual viewer. They were organized with pithy headings implying some sort of ideological taxonomy, but were otherwise impenetrable and impersonal.

My past opinions on the issue of Google juice and blogs still stand. Google's a great resource, but blogrolling creates an echo chamber we could do without. Rather than mumbling any more about it, here's a list of what I've had to say in the past:

And all of that leads me to believe that the best solution to Doc's quandary is to dump the blogroll as he knows it. We're not much of a paragon here (we have a blogroll of 13 links), but we keep things limited to two criteria: people we know ("known quantities"), and people/pubs we regularly read ("favored stops"). Anything more would represent a sort of "backatcha" bonhomie I don't particularly feel, and it would make our outbound links less useful since any "juice" we'd be conferring would be diluted by social obligation instead of merit. The juice I'm talking about here isn't Google Juice . . . it's attention span juice. We're humble well-below-c-list bloggers here. Someone coming across our doorstep is probably here from a Google search (according to the logs) or the rare link from another blogger. We've got a few seconds to make our case (or recommend much of anyone) before the visitor flits off to some other site. A blogroll of 100+ links doesn't do them any good. It's not a good collection of useful information.

For people we know (and by that I mean know, not "know of," we'll risk a little dilution. And we'll "vote with our links" for people we depend on to help us order our thoughts on issues that matter to us (either because we trust them or because they're predictable). For everyone else, we'll vote with our links on an item-by-item basis. We just don't want to spread the love too thin.