December 13, 2007

What's Wrong With This Picture? (trying to refute "Google"/Rogers ISP story)

What's Wrong With This Picture?

techmeme google-hijack cluster image

If you said "The one post with real research in it (as opposed to echoing) is relegated to an obscure discussion link, and to add to the irony, a higher-ranked blog is getting more attention just for mentioning that post", you can speak the language of Z-listers.

Let's run the numbers, from referers:

Total additional readers of post = approximately 335 unique IP addresses

comment I left at - 78
comment I left at - 76
comment I left at - 32
mention at - 31
from other posts on - 17
obscure discussion spot on - 20

In terms of having any effect - not "expressing myself", but real influence - that's pitiful.

I have got to stop doing this stuff, and to begin cleaning-up the loose-ends and "decommissioning" this blog.

Bonus link:

PBS on blogging

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in statistics | on December 13, 2007 11:08 AM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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Please don't stop blogging, I always find your posts illuminating.

Posted by: Ryan Shaw at December 13, 2007 12:20 PM

If you want to be famous - this is the wrong line of effort and yes - you should shut this down.

As far as I'm concerned - with blogging - the number of hits does not determine your effectiveness.

It's whether you reach your intended readers.

Hopefully I'm one :)

Posted by: Karl at December 13, 2007 04:32 PM

Lol! I get it! You're in it for the chicks. If you can't get that front stage, main act, top billing gig, and no groupie chicks throwing their panties at you, then you might as well move on and go to bar hopping like everyone else.

Kidding aside I'm about as unqualified to give you advice on how to become an A-lister as anyone. Even your term A-lister seems naive. I look at someone like Donald Rumsfeld and the incredible arrogance of incredible incompetence. When he was a CEO of a multi-national pharmaceutical company he was sent on a trip to give the nudge-nudge, wink-wink to evil-doer Saddam Hussein that all that uproar about gassing folks - not such a big deal. Well how did Rumsfeld get that gig? How did he get to be the CEO of a major pharmaceutical company? Was he some sort of top biochemist? Was he a super salesperson that could sell ice to the Inuit? Or was he one of those true A-listers that get to be on directorships of multi-billion dollar corporations because of their true A-lister status. Their qualification is who they get to schmooze with. Not what tech subject they can schmooze about knowledgeably.

I think that may get at the heart of what I see as a mistake in the approach you've been taking lately. If this interception and hacking of people's web communications is nothing new and not that big a deal, then tell people what is a big deal. Let them know where the dangers are. By ptshawing concerns that are posted on the Net, you're not winning any fans, other than maybe the companies that are pulling the tricks. (I've already suggested that that might be your motive.)

People are finally clueing into the A-listers that control their lives. People like Rumsfeld, and "W" and Cheney, whose personal achievements seem questionable as a basis for the enormous power they wield. It's gone on so long that even thinking in terms of big business in control misses the point of the mega size of the "A" that these "A-listers" represent. As billion dollar businesses disintegrate, these A-listers are seen at the core. But they walk away not only unharmed, but far more wealthy in the process. Capitalism looks much more like feudalism in reality. The old name for A-listers was "Lords." Can anyone look at how the United States Senate is so seemingly disinterested in the concerns of average Americans and not realize that it's an offshoot of what was once called the "House of Lords?"

As much as you complain about the blogging A-listers, you're going against the growing sentiment that there are true A-listers controlling everything, not just the dialog in blogs or even the owners of Google and Wikipedia. And you're doing that through subjects that few people really relate to.

How's that you say?

Take Google, one of your pet subjects. No matter how much Google might be aggregating information on what we do on the web, it's still a massively valuable web tool. If it makes billions of dollars from advertising, how is it that I don't have half the screen blocked out with ads as was the case in the days of Prodigy? Speaking of the old days, pre-Google, I can remember when I'd do a search on Yahoo and spend hours going through pages of links looking for something vaguely related to what I was actually searching for. With Google I can find more, and more relevant, links in the first search page than I could in 20 pages of links from pre-Google search engines. If Google embeds ads, they somehow haven't removed the valuable links, at least not to the point of pre-Google searching.

Same for Wikipedia. Sure they may be a bunch of back stabbing catty jerks, but if I need quick superficial information on some subject, Wikipedia is the place to go. I know that if there's any controversy on the subject, especially political, then Wikipedia probably isn't the place for info. But that still leaves massive amounts of useful information. Are people doing research for Wikipedia being exploited? Sure, but it's not as if they're slaves. They're doing it voluntarily. Maybe this wave of volunteer work will pass, like a fad. Maybe there should be more notice given to the openness of these "populist" sites. Do we need an RMS to point out when "open" isn't open and "free" isn't free as in either freedom or beer? Sure. And I guess that's the point you're trying to make, so if ever Wikipedia tries to go Britannica on us, or make up Republican history, you'll have given us fair warning.

So what's my point (I'm asking myself as I lose my train of thought - ADD and all)? You've got to relate to people and relate to large numbers of people to become a populist A-lister. Sort of the opposite of the Donald Rumsfeld true A-listers of the world. If their concerns are not being directed properly, don't down play them. Redirect them and do so in ways they can relate to. Provide leading insight, not trailing scoffing.

On a personal level, this "A-lister" stuff seems to be eating you. You seem to do continuous searches on who might be paying attention to you and beating yourself up on those numbers. (How can you get chicks the way you're going?) Have you ever been part of a site like DailyKos, which has a huge membership and develops cliques in the sort of narrow areas that you seem to focus on? I know DailyKos is strongly politically oriented but it's diverse and there are probably other group sites that are more web tech oriented. Effectively with a lone site you're like a shop in the middle of the desert. Only a few stragglers stop by. The same small shop in a mid sized town might get more traffic.

But it all comes down to what posting on the web means to you. What you get out of it. If it's fame or "significance," that may never happen. If it's some other need for expression, then only you can decide where the tradeoff is between that expression and the sense of insignificance your viewer number crunching generates.

Posted by: Amos Anan at December 13, 2007 04:59 PM

Ummm Amos, for I don't think there is a mistake to Seth's 'approach' at all.

In fact Seth, you know it dude - I appreciate your voice and opinion. I wouldn't change a thing. And just about everything in Amos's comment can be ignored except "it all comes down to posting on the web means to you.".

Everything else is just... well just whatever.

Posted by: Karl at December 13, 2007 08:06 PM


Putting a limit to the time you spend on this may be the best way to go about it -- whatever you are comfortable with... it's not bad "hangout time" if you look at it that way: you *do* have an audience (smaller than you'd like but it's there...).


P.S. I would think this is more fun for your (and your readers) than hanging out in a bar, but you are the only one who really knows that. D.

Posted by: Delia at December 14, 2007 01:24 AM

Try redefining the A-Z list.

Consider that it may be more prestigious/influential/egoboosting to have an audience of a thousand ubergeeks than an audience of a hundred thousand religious fundamentalists.

All you have to do is to define the metric that rather than simply counts eyeballs, counts braincells - or corresponding reputation.

For example, let's say that instead of simply counting readers, your blogger ranking was computed as a function of the blogger ranking of each of your readers (with a bonus multiplier for commenters/correspondents), and each of these reader's ranking was similarly calculated. Obviously, the formula has to be prevented from positive feedback - a simple total is out.

If you improve the blogger ranking metric, then audiences will have a better means of selecting the bloggers they read. Well, 'better' in certain terms. For people needing a ranking system to help sheep find their demagogues, a simple eyeball count is probably best.

You're not simply after eyeballs now, are you Seth?

Posted by: Crosbie Fitch at December 14, 2007 09:26 AM

Sigh ... I should make a FAQ :-(.

I appreciate the kind words, but it doesn't change the situation of the time and energy drain, the unfavorable risk/reward curve, the lack of any effect.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at December 15, 2007 08:03 PM

I can understand. Not famous, but wanting to be equals in the discussion, or at least have the discussion based on merit, rather than arbitration means.

For what it's worth if you write that you said in my comments in a post, I'll link it. Sure it's z-list to z-list, but maybe its a start.

Posted by: Shelley at December 15, 2007 08:14 PM

re Crosbie: "the blogger ranking of each of your readers..." But readers *aren't* bloggers.

The problem is that there's less shame in committing sins of journalism (hyping stories, getting facts wrong, not understanding what you're talking about) than there is in picking the non-populist side of issues (Network Neutrality, copyfight, etc.)

But this is no different than cable television political punditry.

Posted by: Jon Garfunkel at December 16, 2007 12:51 PM

Jon, we are all creative beings. We are all authors. We are all bloggers. Granted, some readers may have never blogged (yet), but that doesn't mean that they cannot participate in any kind of metric as to their relevance to the blog.

At one end of the scale we have bots, then people who have typed or clicked the wrong URL, then people who soon realise that the blog is not what they were looking for, etc. At the other we have people for whom the blog is particularly interesting (though they may not blog themselves), people who also blog on related subjects, all the way up to authoritative experts in the field.

I'm simply suggesting that crude metrics of popularity as used for one-way media such as TV or radio, may be familiar, but fall far short of the more meritocratic metrics we should aspire to given far more information about the participants in 'the conversation'.

Let's move on from judging the merit of the preacher by the size of their congregation.

At least most of us now recognise that music cannot be judged by its popularity (even without promotion or market manipulation).

Posted by: Crosbie Fitch at December 17, 2007 04:26 AM

Suggestion: Start a blog called SethNotes for the meta talk. Then people can subscribe to either feed: the news postings, or the traffic etc. analysis of the news postings. Everyone is happy, you won't lose readers who don't want to read about the traffic numbers and so on, best of both worlds :)

As far as your post, I think you're sometimes confusing influence with traffic. You obviously influenced Techmeme readers because your point about that Canadian ISP thing got through, even when regrettably for you Techmeme linked to another source, but again that's traffic not influence (you also influenced Google Blogoscoped and their readers, because your information convinced me to not post on this at all as it's too much non-news). Also, you can do guest posts on blog you perceive to get more traffic if all you want is influence, you even have outstanding offers for paid blog posts :)

Also, on a side-note, sometimes (ironically) I think you're the one most strongly accepting what you perceive to be A-Lister values against which you perceive yourself to be fighting... e.g. you criticize Techmeme on the one hand while on the other hand you accept it as tool to validate your blog's existence, by checking how you appear on it.

A different suggestion: Instead of complaining destructively, change things constructively -- program a tool that will index the real source of stories, that will promote outside views, etc. If you think it's do-able and we need it, then there's a niche it seems, why not implement it? Or if you lack the resources, you could at least try to contact some people to see if they think it's worth doing. I would certainly give such a tool a look, it may well be interesting. Call it or something :) Before you start iterating why this is not possible or doesn't make sense maybe give it a chance by thinking about it constructively first -- e.g. try to think what might make it happen indeed. You're smart, but don't use that smarts to just work against you.

Posted by: Philipp Lenssen at December 17, 2007 12:01 PM

Philipp: Oh no, two blogs?? Do you see the problem there? Anyway the point is that the amount of influence is miniscule, and yes, it bothers me that often others get associated with it - that's one thing which killed my censorware research. It's not "ironic" that being unhappy with one's place on the power-law curve is so low, it's *consistent*. You're confusing me with people who say how it doesn't matter anyway, they're happy to be "conversing", when in reality those people are ambitious social climbers. I just say only I'm not good at that game, not that I don't value the results (in general).
The problem with "Better data-mining" is that it's a difficult problem - I've heard that "make better tools" recommendation many times, and even have a post about it. But the tools themselves are heavily mediated by the power structure, so that brings us full circle.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at December 17, 2007 01:36 PM

> But the tools themselves are heavily
> mediated by the power structure, so that
> brings us full circle.

Nah. If you deliver a good alternative to say Techmeme, there's a good chance word will get out. Not just by blogs with high traffic (don't tell all of them only link to Techmeme! don't tell all of them only talk to people who are on Techmeme!) but also by all the 1,000s of other bloggers who think the tool is more fair.

One approach could be to index say 10,000 blogs and then check word clusters, similar to how Google News does it, but then to not count the backlinks, but to count who had word XYZ first. So if you happen to do some original research, then picks it up and gets all the backlinks (I believe your theory is similar to this, or at least that this part of your theory?), your will still know that the currently smaller blog had XYZ first. Not that that is trivial to program, but it might be worth a shot.

Posted by: Philipp Lenssen at December 17, 2007 03:56 PM

There IS an editorial mindset behind Techmeme: it's NOT a site created to serve the public good. It's a central directory for News of the Web 2.0 Industrial Business Sector.

Recently it has started adding major media outlets and left the Blogging ghetto that it used to boot strap it's audience. The Top 100 input sources are rarely single author "personality" blogs.

I do like it when you or Shelley show up and get some of the potential link love but the algorythms act work will always consider you to be incidental sources since you don't stick with their program of writing about Web Business: you write about technology and social issues as a rule.

So, for me it's not that there's something wrong with the picture: it's that Techmeme has "jumped the shark" when it comes to finding powerful individual takes on Web News. It' sifting through the Mass media outlets for news and as such serves as a "writing prompt" for current events and not much more than that.

We need another aggregation site that leverages more individual voices to point out good work. As these istes scale to a larger audience they leave the initial audience behind.

PS> Dave Winer asked for technology to create his version of a "What Should I Read Now on the Web?" site. Like most Winer ideas, unless someone executes it for him it doesn't go anywhere since he left the world of business and just writes as an individual voice...based upon his history and audience he's hanging on at #42 but the handwriting is on the wall... it's just a matter of time before he cease to be relevant.

Posted by: McD at December 17, 2007 04:56 PM

Phillip: See my post Technorati "Stat-Porn", and Why I'm Not Running A Data-Mining Startup
" It's a case study of where in a data-mining start-up, technology is not destiny and the marketing seems to be decisive (and even then it's a struggle)."

People have had that idea. There's reasons it doesn't work.

McD: This point was sadly that there's no reason to do the work because it's not valued (by which I don't mean the tiny number of fan readers, I mean it's not echoed and widely respected).

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at December 17, 2007 05:10 PM

To quote from that article:

> the basic answer is that I'm not good
> at marketing. What seems to propel
> Technorati ahead of the pack is what I
> call "serving the A-list".

To quote my answer above (replace "techmeme" with "technorati")...

> Nah. If you deliver a good alternative
> to say Techmeme, there's a good chance
> word will get out. Not just by blogs with
> high traffic (don't tell all of them only
> link to Techmeme! don't tell all of them
> only talk to people who are on Techmeme!)
> but also by all the 1,000s of other bloggers
> who think the tool is more fair.

Posted by: Philipp Lenssen at December 17, 2007 08:46 PM

Philipp: You're ignoring, or making unfalsiable, all the other attempts at alternatives, which don't get much attention (I rather like There's very extensive network effects and feedbacks.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at December 17, 2007 10:06 PM

> There's very extensive network
> effects and feedbacks.

Mentions of Megite on your blog: 7
Mentions of Techmeme on your blog: 21
Mentions of Technorati on your blog: 72
(via Google site search)

I bet Technorati was around longer, so this isn't completely comparable... but aren't you contributing to the effect?

Posted by: Philipp Lenssen at December 18, 2007 03:55 PM

I am impure. I am part of the problem I seek to solve.

And this is why it's so difficult.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at December 18, 2007 06:35 PM