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Why are *we* the bottom feeders?

Nick Carr has caused a bit of a storm on the blogosphere with his latest post The Great Unread.

Nick writes(/rants in places) about the age-old issue of the A-list blogging set vs. the rest.  His points boil down as follows:

  • That we’re kidding ourselves that the bloggosphere is open and egalitarian.
  • That the A-Listers have just filled the position of the very mainstream media the blogosphere was trying to take on
  • That the A-Listers have gained all the control both in terms of audience and link ‘power’.

Finally he suggests that:

The best way, by far, to get a link from an A List blogger is to provide a link to the A List blogger

A lot of people – many of them, ahem, A-List bloggers have taken issue with Nick’s post.

I do agree that the ‘power of the A-Lister’ is definitely self-perpetuating, especially in the face of (probably accurate advice) about linking to the A-List in order to get attention.  It’s the Technorati in-bound links measurement that so many use to define who is A, B or otherwise.

However the general observation and frustration that I would like to throw into the mix is that so many of the considered A-List of bloging, podcasting and vloging are those who simply ‘aggregate’ other people’s content.

For example:

BoingBoing (blog) – the most popular English-language blog out there is merely a repository of links.  They even ask contributors to write suggested content to accompany the link.  In reality, I feel Cory, Xeni, Mark and Co add very little value to proposition other than to sort through their inbox and post up what tickles their fancy or has been built by their mates.

Daily Source Code (podcast) – Adam ‘Pod Father’ Curry’s near daily podcast has traditionally consisted of a segment on news about PodShow (Adam’s business venture) followed by links, promotions etc for other podcasts.  Of course, this helps support the ecosystem that Adam is working in and was important when it was a fledgling medium… but what value does it really offer now?  If it was the only podcast I listened to I’d be listening to zero ‘real content’ whatsoever.

Rocketboom (vlog) – I’ve not really watched a lot of Rocketboom myself but it’s generally a daily round up of links, clips, etc from around the Internet, bloggosphere, podsphere and vlogsphere.  And that’s the most popular Vlog by far (both in terms of eyeballs and profitability)

The point is that all three (and many others) are A-List sites that rely on content from other people (generally B, C or Z listers) to provide them with their bread-and-butter.  They’re relying on the bottom feeders to do the work, to make the content whilst they yield the power and influence – and the regular traffic (and thus the advertising dollars that come with it).

Sure, in all three cases I’ve given they have been the first movers who have seen an opportunity and taken it.  And I’m not knocking that.

But overtime if the long tail, wisdom of crowds, Digg, TechMeme, TailRank (congrats by the way Kevin), etc and other mechanisms are to believed then the popularity (or should that be value?) of these nodes should have normalised overtime. 

They haven’t, and we need to remember that the mechanisms (both technical and cognitive) that are used to determine the value of these sites suffer massive bias by the self perpetuating linkage back to these sites from the bottom-feeders in their ever on-going quest to receive some of the scraps from the table.

Why de we continue to value the aggregative choices of a few people when the tools to discover a far wider aggregate result are on offer?

I would put it to you that an ‘ideal A-List’ set (and yes, we’re always going to have a ‘head of the long tail’ somewhere) should consist of bloggers who were influential for their own merits and not because of the number of people who want to see where they will link to next.  It would also consist of people who write well about their subject matter – be it informatively, entertaingly, whatever.

How you measure that with software is very difficult, but that’s part of the reason why we’re here now.  The A-list is mostly defined by what’s possible as a software solution, and not by human values.

I can’t agree with Nick about the issue of having an influential A-List at all – it’s unavoidable as far as I can see.  But I do agree that a stale and somewhat nasty status quo has set in which is self-perpetuating, self-referencing and preventing any dynamism or change in who’s ‘A-List’ and who isn’t.

(I’ve written some more up about how arrived at some of these conclusions in my next post)

Published in News 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. “Why de we continue to value the aggregative choices of a few people when the tools to discover a far wider aggregate result are on offer?”

    Because we like the tastes of those few people. It’s the classic editorial process, and no amount of Digg-style voting will ever replace it.

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