Via a link in Lauren's comment to Ophelia's post on feminism and race (response in another post tk), I saw this post by Shelley that I'd missed:
So I'll say this, directly and honestly, to Dave Sifry from Technorati: Dave, you are hurting us
The Technorati Top 100 is too much like Google in that 'noise' becomes equated with 'authority'. Rather than provide a method to expose new voices, your list becomes nothing more than a way for those on top to further cement their positions. More, it can be easily manipulated with just the release of a piece of software.
You have focused on comment spam and you see this as the most harm to this community, all the while providing the weapon that is truly tearing us apart. You are hurting us, Dave.
NZ Bear, you are hurting us. With your Ecosystem, you count links on the front page, which give precedence to blogroll links over links embedded within writings, and then classify people in a system equating mammals and amoeba. Your site serves as nothing more than a way for higher ranked people to feel good about themselves, and lower ranked to feel discouraged. There is no discovery inherent in your system -- no way of encouraging new voices to be heard. So NZ, you are, also, hurting us.
In fact, to every weblogger who has a blogroll: you are hurting all of us.
Rarely do people discover new webloggers through blogrolls; most discovery comes when you reference another weblogger in your writings. But blogrolls are a way of persisting links to sites, forming a barrier to new voices who may write wonderful things -- but how they possibly be heard through the static, which is the inflexible, immutable, blogroll?
So for all of you who have a blogroll, you are also hurting us.
If I had a wish right now, I would wish one thing: that we remove all of our blogrolls and take down the EcoSystem and the Technorati 100 and all of the other 'popularity' lists. That whatever links exist, are honest ones based on what has been written, posted, published, not some static membership in a list that is, all too often, stale and out of date, and used as a weapon or a plea.
To be fair, this is a much longer post and I'm leaving off Shelley's well-thought-out reasoning that has led her to this conclusion, so I urge anyone truly interested in blogging interactivity to read the whole post (link above). And in general, I think she's one of the brightest birds writing about this thing called blogging. (She takes beautiful photographs, too.)
That said, I find myself disagreeing with her. I do not see virtue in chaos -- and I do believe that if we have no blogrolls, no Technorati etc., we're leaving our blog discoveries up to randomness, and I don't necessarily see that as a good thing.
No doubt, we all could serve ourselves and each other very well by revisiting our blogrolls and doing some pruning and updating. I plan on a bit of that today, adding several feminists that have, so far, not made it into our own dominant linking heirarchy.
But there's something to be said for blogrolls. When I link to a blog in a post, I'm almost always linking to a specific post -- Look at this post, it's interesting. That has its purpose. We all want to read good articles, funny posts, interesting distractions. The trusted reference that we are in effect offering each other by in-post links has real value.
The blogroll serves a different function: rather than referencing and/or recommending a specific post, it is recommending an author, or an entire site. The people and sites in my blogroll are there as sort of an author's reference to my blog library. I don't read them all every day, yet they are there because, when I added the link, I was of the opinion that this person comes up with a lot of good stuff and is worth looking at just about any day.
Take the analogy of books. To many people I've recommended Candace Bushnell's Trading Up. I think it's a very powerful book that effectively explores the darkness underneath the glamorous superficiality of life among "the beautiful people." It gets into how small choices end up having huge implications in one's life. It lacerates the high society scene with much more intimacy than, say, Bonfire of the Vanities and Wolfe's "social x-rays." To me, it was a big surprise.
Yet the only other Bushnell book I've read is Four Blondes, which really is a collection of four stories. (I've not read Sex and the City, though I loved the show.) To me, between the two books, she's really on an upswing in her writing power, and I would certainly want to read her next book, just to see what she comes up with. Yet so far, to others, I pretty much just say, "Read Trading Up."
On the other hand, I just love Gene Wolfe. I know I know, he's something of a cheauvinist in his writing, and he has a reputation among the sci fi writing circles as being something of a jerk (I choose one of the more kindly words I've heard). But to me, he's a master of language. His books hypnotize me. And they are full of beauty -- beauty all the more precious for all the darkness around it.
So when I am talking books with someone who is not predisposed to not read anything that is not set in present-day or historical Earth, I will say, "Read Gene Wolfe."
I think it's very important to remember that we are living and communicating in a "blogosphere" that is very much in its infancy. Hyperlinks, blogrolls, trackbacks -- this is primordial stuff. We don't know what's going to evolve out of this. We don't have a clue what the internets are going to look like five, ten, twenty years from now. Just this past year we've seen the emergence and explosion of del.icio.us, Technorati tags, PubSub, Skype, BitTorrent.... What will we see before the snow melts next spring? Who knows?
But I think it behooves us, as active participants in this new democratic (small 'd') movement, to trust in the smart mob dynamic. It's an incredibly powerful force that, even now in its undeveloped state, is scaring the crap out of the Establishment that is more accustomed to being the arbiters of taste, appropriateness and correct thinking.
This may seem like a very long polemic on behalf of blogrolls, but this is really about so much more. Sure, we could use them better and smarter. They could be more interactive in terms of simple administration. But darn it, they do work. When I look at the True Frescoe referrer block at the bottom right corner of the home page of mediagirl.org, for example, I see an awful lot of people coming from blogroll links. The same is reflected in the StatCounter and SiteMeter stats. When time permits, I often do the same -- on a site I like I'll just click randomly on blogroll links I do not recognize. It's always fun to discover new people. It's one of my greatest joys in going online.
So how do we subvert the dominant linking paradigm? We continue to link to trusted bloggers and communities, places where one has a good chance to read something worthwhile, so that when an anonymous surfer finds one of us, he or she discovers a whole new world of which perhaps she or she was not even aware. And we watch for those new tools, new memes, new services that open up new possibilities in interactivity.
The 'net is growing rapidly. It's overwhelming, really. How we try to make sense of it is always going to be flawed. But all we can do is continue to try.