Three of the stated goals of the conference were to better enable “exposure, education, and community.” There were tons of education sessions (typically multiple ones running in parallel). The face-to-face aspect of the community gelled immediately at the dinner on Friday night, and only accelerated throughout the weekend. Education? Check. Community? Check.
That leaves the “exposure” goal.
The argument has been made that “the number one rule to getting traffic to any site is content.” (Of course, the implication is the converse: if you’re not getting traffic, your content must be poor.) This is only partially true, and only to a point. To get readers to return to a blog, the content must be there, must be good, and must be relevant. That’s not the problem. The problem is getting a getting discovered by a critical mass of readers in the first place.
There’s a lot of discussion going on today on this topic, as a result of BlogHer. Jarvis (who disses the “A-list” and them embraces it in the next sentence) says “It’s not the list that makes me happy. It’s the links.” Nick Douglas asks “Why do people bitch and moan about lists of popular bloggers, then grumble ‘but you have to do what they say’?“
Roots Of The Problem
This problem has deep roots, and a number of them. How did it come to pass that “number of links” became a surrogate for “quality?” It’s a result of a number of factors that lie in the technical underpinnings of how we currently “discover” new things online, namely PageRank and related algorithms. If a lot of people link to something it must be good, right? Well…sort of. The concept of “a link is a vote” is a blunt instrument.
A comment was made in the discussion at BlogHer regarding various types of relationships and connections: “weak ties” are those numerous, yet not strong, versus “strong ties” such as those that we have with family, freinds, and our close community. PageRank, the “Technorati 100, TruthLaidBear and other “TOP x” lists are based on number of links, which are based on weak ties. In the current infrastructure, quantity IS quality, based on how these systems have been implemented.
There is a second problem as well that’s even more slippery. When venturing out into blog-land, there are two tools that most of us use, our blogroll and our aggregator. And, strangely enough, these contribute to the echo-chamber problem as well. Blogrolls, once set up, are largely “set and forget.” Similarly, each of us only has so much time in the day to go through our aggregator to read what’s out there. Once our initial list is set up, it takes an increasing amount of energy to add someone new to our list of daily reads (“I don’t have the time!” we cry). And, additionally and oftentimes, the sites that DO make it onto the list are others that agree with our viewpoint, or at least cover a similar set of topics as ourselves. We may be hard-wired to read reflections of ourselves. We all contribute to the echo chamber. Beth Kanter calls them “reading ruts.”
Inertia is a bitch.
Ok, there’s a problem. Stop talking. Do something.
With the tools available today, there are steps we can each take to give more exposure to those we think are deserving. (Of course, this presupposes that “more exposure is better,” and I did hear a number of comments over the weekend that took issue with this point. There were a number of attendees who write purely for themselves, or purely for a small community.)
The first thing is…we need to make an effort to actively find new people to bring into the conversation. Staying head-down in aggregator or blogroll will NOT find as many new voices to bring to the conversation as getting out of the comfort zone and getting outside our normal haunts.
The second this is…as long as the infrastructure continues to reward links, and equates link quantity with content quality, it is exceedingly difficult to increase exposure without links. As such, actively linking to the new voices that you discover (and, mind you, quality voices as Ethan discusses, not doing it for the sake of the appearance of “being inclusive”) is something we all can do to highlight those who impress us. It’s not just lip service. It’s doing something. Scoble does it (and does it again and again and again…right on, Robert). Others seem to have a more difficult time (“Interesting that I find it easier to read and point to a man’s account of the conference.”) C’mon, Dave…there were damn near THREE HUNDRED bloggers there. You can’t find a solitary one that makes you feel “comfortable” to link to aside from Jay? (n.b. Jay’s post IS spot on, and is worth a read.) (UPDATE: Dave now has a link to Lisa Williams as well.)
Two other other things we can do are to use the tools that are there to find new voices, as well as create new tools that take into account other mechanisms to get to the subtleties of the implications of what links mean (check the comments here). Mary Hodder is doing a lot of thinking on how other “social gestures” and measures can be used to better capture the complexity of relationships, above and beyond the link. Mary writes:
I pointed out to them that 4 or so years ago.. when there were only 100k blogs, that a relatively small group of people all linked to each other in blogrolls, and so those blogroll links are sometimes old and the networks dense, for A listers, and yet, Technorati doesn’t do anything to express a blogroll link that is years old from a current blogroll link. They simply scrape the front page of a blog, and treat all links, old or new blogroll links, and current post links, as the same and then count them, for their rankings.
Mary, sign me up to help.
Stream-of-consciousness snippets and freerange mollifications from the weekend…
Was captured in an interview of “BlogHims” by Beth Kanter on Friday night at the pre-event dinner. Definitely contains one of the more, um, interesting quotes I’ve ever given…
Starting off Saturday at some barely-caffeinated hour working shoulder-to-shoulder (literally) with Nancy White, who was signing folks up for the various Birds of a Feather sessions while I was helping to check folks in and get them badged. Close quarters behind the check-in table, they were. Nancy, you rock…
The Identity Blogging panel (“How to Be Naked“) was standing-room-only, and then some. The epitome of “unconference” sessions…although there were three folks with mics in front of them, it was a real, civil, thoughtful conversation between and within a roomful of people. Awesome. Thanks Heather, Ronni, Koan for leading it, and leading it well…
Getting a bunch of opportunities to connect and chat with Staci Kramer throughout the weekend. Trouper…
The mommyblogging panel was awesome, and had a great conversation afterwards…How does one separate the various facets of one’s personality? Where do you draw boundaries about what gets revealed in online, offline, business, and personal situations? How do you balance personal and professional, without destroying either while feeding the needs of both?…