I just started reading Naked Conversations (the book) on the recommendation of a friend, and on its companion blog (?), found this interesting thread about bloggers who become obsessed with ratings and rankings, stats and traffic, to the exclusion of all else.
It strikes me as odd, putting the cart before the horse, in a community, an ecosystem, that professes to be more interested in what one has to say than who one is.
Has there been a shift? Has the blogosphere lost its sense of direction and gone the way of endless "tail-wagging-dog" pursuit of traffic and links, what used to be called (it's politically incorrect, of course) being a "blog slut" or a "blog whore?"
I sometimes see it as an obnoxious extension of high school, where far too many sheep are willing to ape and cluster around the "cool kids" and forget who they are in the process. In the blogosphere, it's the so-called "A-listers" (of course, each major community has its own A-listers, and crossing from business blogs to political blogs to tech blogs, you'll find the different A-listers don't even know other A-lists exist).
I'm like, dude, that is SO 2002! OK, so it's not, but 2002 was when I sort of fell into my own blog ratings obsession loop, back on Radio Userland. I was bored with it by 2003 and ready to write for myself instead of endlessly prostrating myself before a clique of A-listers.
I mean, I'm somebody who likes poetry, and literary non-fiction, and reading Harpers. Why wouldn't I be more interested in creating or linking to content that has a more timeless value, rather than content that only exists to ping Technorati at frequent intervals?
The whole frequent posting in a desperate quest to be able to say, along with Sally Field at the Oscars, "You link to me! You really link to me!" reminds me more of a famous psychological experiment with rats.
The rats have three control groups (if I remember correctly), one where pressing a bar delivers a bit of food, another where pressing a bar doesn't deliver food, and one where pressing the bar sometimes delivers food and sometimes doesn't. It's sort of like a Skinner box "reward and punishment" thing. What it found was that the rats who got or didn't get food behaved in fairly predictable ways, either using or ignoring the bar as suited them.
The rats who got what was called "inconsistent reinforcement" to the bar-pressing behavior drove themselves bonkers, however, pressing the bar madly, frantically, over and over, trying to get food out of it, way more food than the rat really needed to satisfy hunger.
Kinda makes you realize what sort of energy gambling casinos, and especially one-armed bandits, are harnessing.
So go on, y'all, pinging away, pressing your food bar. You can let it drive you crazy if you want. Me, I'm more interested in thinking and writing and linking about things that have more than a momentary value.
In his recent post, Revolting Peasant Metaphor, Sterling Camden at Chip's Quips hits a significant nail on the head of an issue I've written about a few times--over-ranking blog rankings. Beside that, I like his ambiguous use of the word "revolting."
Is he making it a verb or an adjective?
If 50 million bloggers all want to be top-rated, then the blogosphere becomes nothing more than a humongous shouting match. That seems to me, would be a pretty revolting development because it takes attention to the kind of rankings that are used by TV networks, and loses the power of the backyard fence conversation. In the former case, a bunch of slick people in nice suits uses every trick they can cook up to capture your eyeballs. In the latter, two folks build trust, credibility and an enduring relationship through simple, candid conversations.
If you want to be an A-Lister, there's lots you can do. First, enrich me by buying the book. It's filled with rank-boosting tactics: Post often. Be controversial. Link to Scoble, Arrington and someone at BoingBoing. Join every conversation at the top of the Technorati daily list. and at TechMeme.
This sounds pretty phenomenal until you realize all the people, all the people, all over the world who DON'T read either blog. In fact, every day [Scoble] and Arrington probably reach increasingly smaller percentages of the total blogosphere.
Case in point: why should political bloggers involved with Netroots organizing and citizen journalism give a crap about linking to two tech guys that have NOTHING to do with other A-lists?
I know there's some cross-over between these two spheres of the blogosphere, but I'm somewhat of the belief that the true grassroots of the blogosphere is in local (say, Bluestem Prairie, on Minnesota's First Congressional District) to global (like Riverbend, with compelling blogging from Baghdad) blogs about WAY more than the tech/biz/marketing community, and WAY WAY more than cat blogs or teenagers on MySpace.
But here Shel Israel says, "Why isn't EVERYONE reading Scoble? like the very idea begs the question. (I suspect he's saying it tongue-in-cheek, however)
The comments thread attached to Israel's post raises a number of good issues as well, so if you're really thinking about these ideas, go check it out.