Tuesday, August 02, 2005

“I link to things I like”

The Technorati Top 100 List again came under fire as an “good old boys network” at last weekend’s BlogHer conference. Robert Scoble discusses and defends it:

How do you change this? I have some ideas. But, they require you to put in the work. I blog every day from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. and on weekends. And that’s after putting in a day’s work doing a video blog for Microsoft and answering email and doing a bunch of networking.

If you’re willing to put in the work day after day after day for five years you’ll find yourself in the good old boys network too.
Scoble: hardest working man in the blog business. You’re not getting on that list, gals, because you’re just not working hard enough.

He treads similar ground in his response to Renee Blodget’s suggestions for a female speakers list:

Renee, we already have that list. It’s called Google (or MSN or Yahoo, they all pretty much work similar).


Here’s a hint: you can get on those lists. Just blog and blog well.

So the real trick isn’t to make some sort of new list. It’s to teach people how search engines work and how to get other people to notice that they have expertise in a certain area.
That’s right, gals: you’re not getting on the list because you don’t understand how Google works.


Nothing’s changed since Shelley Powers wrote Guys Don’t Link, has it? Women aren’t missing from the Top 100 because they’re not working hard, or because they’re not working the system, or even because—as these statements seem to be carefully avoiding saying directly—they’re simply not good enough. They’re missing from the Top 100 because the good old boys aren’t linking to them.

As if to prove his critics wrong, Robert threw out links to three women on Sunday. That’s nice. But it’d be nicer if one of them—Dori Smith, of whom Robert says “I’m permanently in her debt”—hadn’t previously had sand kicked in her face:

I see that Dori Smith is insisting that she’s invisible again. I don’t get that. Dori, have you ever thought that we don’t link to you because you’re talking about Diet drinks and things to do in California’s wine country instead of geeky stuff?
Dori’s response to that was restrained, but angry:

Okay, let’s do a count of posts that’ll be on this page after this goes up:
  • Posts by Tom about diet drinks: 1
  • Posts by Dori about Healdsburg: 1
  • Posts by Dori about geeky topics, or stuff that at least started out as geeky topics: 9
So, what can we take from this? Robert noticed only two posts: one that I didn’t write, and one (out of ten) that I did write that was on a non-geeky topic. And while he disagrees about my perception that I’m invisible, I think that he just did an excellent job of proving my point.
Zing. There’s more good stuff in her comments, too. But back to Robert’s original post, which included something I found boggling:

I totally disagree that a link doesn’t mean something. When I link to something I KNOW I’m voting for it. So, I don’t link to things I don’t want to go up the search engines. I thought about using the “no follow” attribute, but to be honest, even a nofollow link is a vote. Such a link still sends traffic and since some of my friends are making more than $10,000 a month on Google ads such a link is a very real increase in income.

So, I link to things I like. You should do the same.
I disagree. Linking only to things you like doesn’t leave much room for criticism: for what’s the point in talking critically about something without linking to it? Linkless criticism is annoying to readers (“what’s he talking about?”) and unhelpful in forming a wider conversation (to search engines, the link is the connection between your commentary and the piece you’re criticising).

Only linking to things you like risks leading to only talking about things you like. Which surely isn’t a good thing; being nice all the time might cement your popularity amongst the blogger circle jerk, but it doesn’t quite ring true. Real people don’t gush all the time.

Nick Nichols, writing in the comments to that post, says:

A link is a link. It’s not a vote. Indeed, if someone is making an ass of themselves, or expressing general stupidity, the best thing you can do is to give it (and the person) exposure so no one is later fooled about that person if he sounds sane at the moment. If it’s something you disagree with, then exposing what you disagree with makes your position even clearer.
I agree. A link isn’t an approval of what it points to; it’s an exposure of it. A link, by itself, doesn’t say “this is good” or “this is bad”; a link says only “this is significant”. It’s the commentary surrounding the link which expresses why it’s significant.

But there’s a more insidious angle to this, which ties it neatly back to Guys Don’t Link. “Things we like” are likely to be written by “people like us”. Not linking outside your comfort zone may mean you’re not linking outside your socioeconomic peer group. And so the circle closes around the good old boys.

And finally, Robert, if you’re worrying more about the search engine rating, traffic, and advertising dollar impact of your links than about what you have to say about what you’re linking to: haven’t you rather lost touch with your “blogging as conversation” beliefs? This is blogging as power; link as big swinging weapon. And isn’t that exactly what Shelley was talking about?