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More thoughts on the status quo of the A-List

Based on some comments I’ve received, I just wanted to elaborate on how I arrived at two of my conclusions from my previous post ‘Why are *we* the bottom feeders?’.

The Status Quo of the A-List

Nick Carr had originally advised some bloggers at a conference that the best way to seek the attention of an A-List blogger was to link to him/her.

Assuming that you are mainly defining ‘A-List’ by the number of incoming links a blog has (that’s how the Technorati 100 works) then actually this advice is actually very interesting.

Very interesting because it will probably work (I think everyone runs vanity subscriptions with the blog search engines for references to their blog and name) – and thus you might get that desired post back.  But in the process you have not really taken a step towards coming closer to being part of the A-List, or at least decreasing the gap between you.

Sure you moved closer to the A-List when you got that link back, but then you also gave them one in the first place.  Net result = no change.

Ok, maybe you get some extra traffic and some extra links from other bloggers.  Fortunately sites like Technorati just measure the total number of incoming links, and not who they are from (unlike Google Pagerank, for example) – so you’re quids in.

But don’t forget about all the other links people have made to the A-List blogger that haven’t resulted in a link back.  So the A-List blogger is now x steps ahead of you.

Secondly if the A-List blogger has linked back to you but also written something vaguely interesting to accompany that link, chances are the rest of the blogosphere will link to them rather than you – the original poster.

Even if you remove ‘incoming link’s’ as a value model and replace it with a different metric – be it quantitive or qualitive.  I still believe that the above scenarios continue to support a status quo in most circumstances.

My Bash of BoingBoing

So look, I find the thought of subscribing to BoingBoing really odd.

I find it an extremely odd propositions in that we (the audience) are being asked to value the aggregation decisions of fairly arbitrary and otherwise insignificant (in the wider context) group of people.

I literally think in the back of my mind “why do I care what three people called Xeni Jardine, Cory Doctrow and Mark Frauenfelder think is witty, amusing, clever or important”?

I’d actually much rather value a list of what my friends think is cool and a list of the overall most interesting on the entire Internet via ‘wisdom of crowd’/etc.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve met Cory a few times and he’s a nice guy with some interesting things to say.  But the fact that he reckons some ultra violet remake of a Charlie Brown and Peanuts cartoon is important holds little value to me.

Now if my friends James, Leo or Lawrence or my wife Sofia or my parents thought it was funny I’d be far more interested.  I value their opinion more than I do Cory’s (on general link goodness anyway).

And if it was the most popular link on the Internet at the moment then equally I’d be far more interested.

The point is we have the mechanisms to facilitate this, but we instead still continue to consider BoingBoing – the link decisions off three arbitrary people – to be more important.

Or, as I was saying my previous post – I actually don’t think we do.  I think it’s the status quo we’ve found ourselves in and the flawed measuring techniques we use to track this data that has said otherwise.

Published in Thoughts and Rants


  1. A transparent — and liquid — market for the ad spaces on single-creator media solves the problem, as adbitrageurs will profit from identifying and helping to popularize undervalued blogs…

  2. Ben —

    ‘I’d actually much rather value a list of what my friends think is cool and a list of the overall most interesting on the entire Internet via ‘wisdom of crowd’/etc.’

    If you have a few friends writing pages, this is pretty easily done. describes it:

    ‘SpicyLinks is an automated link-blog summariser. It reads other people’s link-blogs, so you don’t have to, and reports the stuff that prove popular in your personal collection of sources.

    It’s similar to Populicious, but that really misses the point, in my opinion. I don’t particularly want to know what _everyone_ is pointing at; I want to know what a selected set of trusted sources, with good taste, are pointing at.’

  3. I really think Nick Carr has – and by extension I think you have too – completely missed the whole point of the ‘getting a link of an A-lister’ comment. The point is, we all have limits on how much we can look at in a day, and we’re all interested in following conversations that we’ve been a part of. So we check to see what people have said about the stuff we’ve done or we follow conversations we’ve found interesting out in the wild, and we write about those things. You want a link on someone’s site? Respond on your site to something they’ve said on theirs. That’s not just true of ‘A-listers’, that’s true of everyone! If you don’t want to inflate the importance of the A-listers, why not not read them! Why not read people who have similar interests to you and talk about the stuff they’re talking about and maybe get a link on their sites? If you do that a fair amount, then you’ll get a reputation within a group of people and that will result in more traffic to your site. This isn’t rocket-science surely?

    I’ve been sort of frustrated for years about the surprise with which people greet the existence of a ‘most popular’ set of webloggers – as if it could actually be any other way, any list ordered by a metric has one fat end and one thin end – and also with the assertions that they make that this A-list is large and intractable. In my experience it’s anything but. If you don’t post for a couple of months you might as well have died. Even the creators of Blogger who still have weblogs don’t get the traffic they used to get in the day, because they don’t post as much. And there are weblogs created seven years ago that never got any traffic because they were personal or just not very interesting, so it’s not just that people who were there early win. They may have an advantage, but they still have to write consistently to maintain it. You only have to look at the rise and fall of the warbloggers to see the shifts that happen in this space. The whole ecology was overthrown by people like Glenn Reynolds four years ago and yet a great number of the highly popular punditry sites have just evaporated since. There’s movement here, you can fall from grace pretty rapidly.

    And If you do post consistently interesting things or engage effectively with a community then you just do get more traffic. You might not make it into the top one thousand, but again – is anyone shocked by this – if there are fifty million people who are writing things, they can’t all be in the top thousand. And most people don’t even want to be – most people don’t even think of writing their weblogs as popularity contests – they’re using them to keep in touch with their grans or show off pictures of their holidays or to find a bunch of people who also like dressing up in drag or watching Star Trek.

    I’m not denying the existence of popular and influential weblogs – that would be absurd – but I’m unclear what we should be doing about it. It’s far more – far more – fluid and open than pretty much any other media environment before. Anyone can write, and engage in discussions and get a few thousand readers if they’ve got the time and something to talk about. That’s never happened before. Some people will have advantages in this space. Not a shock.

    I’m always suspicious of some of these reactions as well. It’s too easy to say that the people who complain most are the ones who feel hard done-by that they’re not A-listers, but that doesn’t mean there’s not an element of truth to it. Nick’s basically said as much – he can’t get any traffic and it’s everyone else’s fault. I just don’t really buy it. His site’s fine and everything, but it’s no better than mine or ten thousand other people’s. I don’t see what he was expecting. The irony of this whole situation being – of course – that he’s now got precisely the attention he said he couldn’t get, simply by writing something interesting.

    It’s just a shame it had to be a bit trollish – old timers like me are increasingly smart to people’s attempts to get linked to by being controversial or picking a fight. We tend to not link to the posts nowadays on the basis that they give the person we disagree with credibility – and specifically traffic – that they generally don’t deserve.

  4. I disagree that Boing Boing is just an aggregator. While it’s most certainly not on my “most read” folder, it’s a site I go to fairly regularly, or look at the output through my feedreader.

    This is despite the link and no comment articles, not because of them. I first discovered the site when a friend linked toa review Cory had written (Mirrormask IIRC), and much prefer their homegrown stuff. Cory in particular does reviews, and even the odd bit of nvestigative/campaigning journalism.

    Blogging, in its very nature, creates networks. I started through Livejournal, but now have a readership elsewhere completely independent of that. Sure, most of my readers are also people who blog about similar topics, or my actual personal friends. But in, for example, political blogging, the UK has a small number of A listers; Dale, Guido, Bloggerheads, Chicken Yoghurt. When starting up, I got noticed by all, simply by contributing. I never meant to take blogging that seriously, and still don’t, but I enjoy it, and am very happy with the way my writing and analyitical skills have improved because of it.

    Sure, the a-list of mainstream blogs exists, but that’s because they’re actually good and well read. If they decline in quality or someoen else starts doing it better, then some of them will decline from top sites. And yes, I’m much more interested in what my friends like and link to (that’s why I still like and use Livejournal a lot), but who knows who my friends are?

    Cory et al aggregate the very cool stuff and give it a wider audience, in the same way that Slashdot does. I’m happy with my traffic, adn I’m happy with the way the site is building up; I know that when I make the swtich to my own domain, traffic will increase and more attention will develope. That’s because I’ve used the network, made the links, established friendships, etc.

    Blogging about blogging can beinteresting, but can also be offputting. I do it, we’re all prone to, but at the end of the day, write a decent article that people like, you’ll get attention. Navel gazing doesn’t get attention, but it can make for interesting discussions.

    Building up readership through contacts with others, constuctive contributions and network/community building is far more important than being linked to/read by an a-lister.

    Better several links over a course of time by mid-range blogs than one once only link from Cory. Although that link from Cory will be good for the ego.

  5. TomC:
    “Anyone can write, and engage in discussions and get a few thousand readers if they’ve got the time and something to talk about. That’s never happened before.”

    You miss out a valuable step in the chain: the need to ensure that an audience (if that’s what you’re going for) can find you. For this, Google is useless: you’ll start off at the bottom of rankings. What gets you traffic is being linked to by something that already has lots of readers, who are likely to follow the link – and hopefully return.

    And it’s that “return” process that lifts you. Only one in ten of the people who come for a single post will bother to read anything else. Of them, fewer still will subscribe to your RSS feed. I’ve been linked to by BoingBoing and other so-called A-Listers, and the effect is actually pretty minimal over time. You say a single day’s spike in traffic that, possibly, lasts a second day – then you’re back to the same-old numbers.

  6. Ben:

    “I find it an extremely odd propositions in that we (the audience) are being asked to value the aggregation decisions of fairly arbitrary and otherwise insignificant (in the wider context) group of people.”

    It’s called “editorialising”, and it’s what people have shown they want for several hundred years. Why do you think people would want something different? 🙂

    The editorial process has always been about pulling together an audience by picking stuff that you think a particular group of people will like. It’s a process that is incredibly well understood by the traditional publishing world (AKA “main stream media”). That’s why it makes me laugh when new media people talk about “community building” as if it was something they’d discovered: magazines, newspapers and even TV channels have been in the business of finding and creating communities for decades.

    As a magazine editor, you always have in mind who the audience is. You can even go to the extent of imagining an archetypal reader and writing specifically for him/her. It’s about getting them to want to think of themselves as “a Wired reader”, to make it part of their identity – to give them a sense of belonging to a tribe.

    And the neat thing is that you can belong to many tribes. You can belong to the Mac using tribe, the Wired tribe – and yes, the BoingBoing tribe. And by perpetuating itself by taking stuff direct from its readership, BoingBoing reinforces this tribal feeling.

    Most successful niche publishing efforts start off by “doing something for your mates” – that is, you create something for people like yourself, because there isn’t anything. But the process is the same: you edit, you choose from the vast range of stuff that’s out there according to your tastes and what you think your readers will like. They come back to you because they identify with your tastes.

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