The Testosterone Meme

After checking out the tech.memeorandum.com web site for a few weeks now I’ve made several observations:

First, most of the stories covered are about business, rather than technology. The companies in focus may be technical, but the stories are about commerce.

Second, if you’re a woman writing about technology, don’t expect to show up in the site; when you do, expect to see your weblog disappear from view quickly. This site is for the big boys only.

Third, quiet uses of technology, such as discussions of .NET, digital identity, and others do not show in the list. If you want to appear, link an A-lister who is talking about Web 2.o or search (i.e. Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft). Actual discussions about technology fly under this ‘technology’ aggregator.

Fourth, rank matters more than content. Recently Danny Ayers started a conversation about what other options do we see for a semantic web. He got several responses — not an avalance, but respectable. However, Danny’s post and the cross-blog discussion didn’t show on tech.memeorandum.com. What did show was a post by David Weinberger saying how he hadn’t posted in four days.

Conclusion: if this site represents the new Web 2.0 technologies that filter content to eliminate noise, then thee and me are nothing but static, baby.

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92 Responses to The Testosterone Meme

  1. I think I already wrote 14,000 words on the gatekeeper problem already– which I think Mike S., Dave R., Seth F. reviewed favorably, but I forgive them if they don’t also cite it, since they have also written frequently on as well.

    Part of what I wrote was that the gatekeeper problem– by that I mean blindly trusting gatekeepers, lacking other data– is to start coming up with that “other data”: useful classification tags.

    For example, if we wanted to have a more useful RSS, and we set aside the fetish for folksonomy for a second, we could come up with some classification of posts. Which posts add something valuable to a public dialogue and which are administrivia and other babblings. I’ve been demonstrating this on Civilities.net for nearly two years, but for lack of RSS support, I try to keep the blog-burp-style posts to a minimum.

    I’m sort of new to the RSS wars, and I thought I’d have a peek at memeorandom to see if anything’s been said on it recently. Just my luck, the very top post is Robert Scoble’s “RSS Usability Sucks.” And I read it, expecting some deep analysis about RSS from one of the most widely-read blog/tech commentators, or links to other deep analysis, because Scoble has more time to ferret out the truly wise commentaries than I do.

    Nope. Scoble is just reporting that at the “Blog Business Summit” panel he was on, apparently the most pressing issues (deserving of amplification) was the lack of standard about where RSS subscribe buttons are.

    Let’s get our priorities straight. Figuring out the best Button Placement can be left to a healthy evolution of different visual designs. Figuring out how people should tag their musings with some universally-accepted measure of importance cannot arise by itself, and should be deserving of some standards coordination.

  2. Phil says:

    Having just seen Sky High, some of these issues are unusually fresh in my mind. (Bit of a shock, actually – I had thought it was a superhero film with a school setting, not a high school film with superheroes. If you bear that in mind, it’s a fine film. Great dialogue – well, not great exactly, but certainly in the foothills of Mt Whedon, which is better than you’d expect.)

    But anyway. Perhaps I was at an unusually enlightened secondary school; perhaps things are different in Britain, or perhaps things were different in Britain in the 1970s. But I know we didn’t have Popularity when I was at school; I think my first exposure to it came through Carrie. Certainly some kids were liked and admired more than others, but different kids were admired for different things (for being clever & funny, for being the first to drink/smoke dope/get laid, for looking cool, for being good at rugby, for being good at cricket…). There wasn’t anyone who was full-spectrum Popular. But then, Popularity, as far as I can see, isn’t about being liked so much as it’s about envy: it’s not about the kid whose company you enjoy, it’s about the kid you wish you could be. (Instead of being you.)

    I came to blogging rather late (March this year) after several years as a sociological researcherhack writer and part-time research student (ask me anything about the Italian Communist Party…). Quite early on, it struck me as interesting that Technorati’s primary metric was inbound links (rather than, say, number of hits, number of comments, number of unique commenters, or even (gasp!) number of outbound links). Each of these things tracks something different; inbound link count is probably the single best measure of People Who Would Really Like You To Pay Attention To Them. Otherwise known as Popularity. (At least Technorati have stopped calling it Authority…)

    So I can understand Kathy’s puzzlement: we seem to be attacking people for hogging the supply of something we don’t actually want. (“The food’s dreadful here.” “Yes, and such small portions!”) The problem is that what purport to be neutral, technical devices for managing the conversation – aggregators, harvesters, monitors, counters – keep turning out to be driven by Popularity (which means envy – and, for most people, self-hatred). We need better metrics – which means that we need to raise awareness of just how much is wrong with the metrics we’ve got.

    Two constructive thoughts. (Ground-clearing can be constructive.) Firstly, Gabe wrote:

    the best thing you can do is engage other writers in your topic area. Write things in response to what they write, or things that just interest them. And having done this, ask your peers for links.

    Slightly more bluntly, Robert wrote:

    think instead about how to get a few key people to read what you are blogging – that’s what will really bring the traffic

    Are we all clear that this is a bug, not a feature? Serious question – if we don’t agree on that we’re not (in this context) going to agree on very much.

    Secondly, a couple of people have mentioned “Power Laws, Weblogs and Inequality” and the ‘long tail’. Homework exercise: if blog traffic follows a power law, what is the x variable? (Think y=(n/x^m).) In Shirky’s original graph, the ’1′ slot is occupied by ‘Instapundit’, but it’s not clear what Instapundit has 1 of. Ranking? But that would mean that the value of y derived from the relative ranking of y, which would be a bit circular.

    The appearance of a power law by ranking is just an appearance, in other words – and there are better ways of graphing blog traffic, some of which actually do follow a power law. What they don’t do, interestingly enough, is put high-traffic sites way over on the left in a big thick spike & low-traffic sites over on the right in a long tail. The possibility I’m currently looking into is that there is no long tail.

  3. dave rogers says:

    But then, Popularity, as far as I can see, isn’t about being liked so much as it’s about envy: it’s not about the kid whose company you enjoy, it’s about the kid you wish you could be. (Instead of being you.)

    I’m having trouble seeing the difference you’re trying to illuminate here, Phil. What leads to envy of the popular is the preceived exclusion of the “unpopular.” Additionally, perhaps you weren’t aware of it, but at least some of the popular, not all by any means, but some of the popular exploit the exclusion of the “unpopular” to enhance and project their own perception of status or favor. Not much fun to be among the exploited either. And I believe both phenomena appear in the “blogosphere.” Ask anyone who’s had their “bozo-bit” set.

    All that aside, I read your post on the myth of the Long Tail, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of it, along with those of your commenter, Adam, from Econometa. I’ve just started to look into the power law as it has been represented in weblogs. Reading your post and Adam’s put me in the same frame of mind as I had yesterday when I opened all my windows and blinds to let in the light and the fresh air.

  4. TDavid says:

    Shelley –

    In addition to a few of your posts, as others have already mentioned above, there are some great women tech writers that are getting exposure in tech.memeorandum.

    Here’s a list of just a few of them that I’ve seen, read and enjoyed:

    Elizabeth Millard (eWeek)
    Elinor Mills (CNET) – she reported on the Google/CNET ban, BTW, and got some good linkage out of that situation
    Stefanie Olsen (CNET)
    Gina Tripani (Lifehacker Editor)
    Bambi Francisco (MarketWatch)
    Mary Jo Foley (Microsoft) – she gets lots of link love well beyond memeorandum
    Michelle Kessler (USA Today)
    Xeni Jardin (Wired)
    Regina Lyon (Wired)

  5. ah the good old patriarchy meme. works every time. i found this blog on memeorandum.

  6. In defense of Gabe, whose service is valuable to *me*, I would point out that memeorandum accurately reflects a lot of the conversation that I see elsewhere in the blogosphere, which, I believe, is the point. Instead of seeing stuff days later, I see it on Memeorandum that day.

    I think Gabe is right to be proud of his service and I believe he is trying his best to make it reflect reality. I’m sure that he’ll need to tweak his algorithm to keep it as relevant as possible, but it is just an algorithm, after all, and so it can’t discern just by looking that Danny’s post is better than David’s.

    The example of Danny/David is part of a larger issue. The issue is that our systems cannot tell by themselves what is valuable or worthless. We need to observe some aspect of the system in order to make value judgments about it. Google uses inbound linking as a large part of it’s Pagerank algorithm. Gabe has chosen to use a modified approach, starting with a list of bloggers and letting his system bloom outward. Is it perfect? NO WAY. Is it worthless? Not for me.

    So that begs the question: how can we discern and share value on the blogosphere? Well, the best way is to communicate to others what we find valuable. But in doing so, we’ll almost undoubtedly even link to them…? So, we see, right now linking is one of the best approximations we have for value. Perhaps a subscription list is an even better approximation…but there will always be a head that slopes down a tail…not much we can do about that. I’m not much of a stats guy but I know that at best we can alter the slope of the tail, not get rid of it.

    I’m anxious to get better systems, just as you all are, but I don’t think that in this case you are right to dismiss Gabe’s work, which is in my mind a step forward.

    Perhaps we could start a “sister site” (pardon the expression) to memeorandum that starts with a different subset of blogs to begin with, and then works out from that? (however, I’m not sure that would be helpful because then others would complain who aren’t on that site). ???

    Maybe what we need is an alternative publication source (an online magazine of some sorts), that is called “Fresh Voices”, and by design doesn’t follow the A-list. It includes folks like Danny and Shelley and all those people who write great stuff and who are somehow too independent to get big attention. I’m all for it…I’ll even help build the thing. Let’s solve the problem, not complain about it.

    I’m serious. Anybody with me?

  7. Charles says:

    There is an alternate universe somewhere out there, where nobody spends any time debating how to connect with readers by optimum button placement or standardized blogometric indexes of popularity. Instead, they focus on writing compelling content.

    I want to go there.

  8. Karl says:

    “Maybe what we need is an alternative publication source (an online magazine of some sorts), that is called “Fresh Voices”, and by design doesn’t follow the A-list. It includes folks like Danny and Shelley and all those people who write great stuff and who are somehow too independent to get big attention. I’m all for it…I’ll even help build the thing. Let’s solve the problem, not complain about it.

    I’m serious. Anybody with me?”

    Joshua, please see http://www.phillyfuture.org – that is EXACTLY what we attempt to do – just for Philadelphia – but the concept is one I wish to expand upon if I had the resources. Every few weeks we feature a new voice at the site, not based on popularity, not based on links, not based on anything other then our entirely biased view of the world. You can read Becky of Good Grief! Does this blog make my butt look big?‘s interview here. We also highlight their latest posts on the home page.

    Many of those we’ve featured have gone on to become far more popular. But that’s not the point – it’s to share voices we feel should be heard – and are not neccessarily. The entire purpose of the site is give voice – amplify – highlight – and connect – those who need to be heard in our region. Admittidly the service is nowhere near as good as it can be – its ran by volunteers and in our free time. (wanna help?)

    As for – “Perhaps we could start a “sister site” (pardon the expression) to memeorandum that starts with a different subset of blogs to begin with, and then works out from that? (however, I’m not sure that would be helpful because then others would complain who aren’t on that site). ???”

    That’s my suggestion to Gabe (see above). I think it can be the start of something special. I want a Philadelphia Memeorandum that I can seed with our OPML list of blogs from our region. In addition – what if each of us had our own Memeorandums – that we could optionally make public? How terrific would that be? Of course the question for Gabe would be – how can you make money by giving up the secret sause? And that deserves be addressed.

  9. Kathy Sierra says:

    Joshua: “I’m serious. Anybody with me?”

    Me!

    Dave: “…she’s put down, diminished and dismissed…”

    That’s sure not how I read this thread.

    “How’s that for stopping the “conversation?””

    Putting words into the mouths of others, and putting certain words in “quotes” is also very effective at stopping the conversation.

    “Maybe you think we should…join the chorus singing the praises of all that the anointed deem praiseworthy. Is that what you’re suggesting?”

    While I appreciate having my words parsed unemotionally and accurately, I was *actually* suggesting that we hold up a mirror and consider the ways in which we — many of us including me — are doing much of the same things we complain about. I was suggesting that there might be a pot calling kettle black here in some ways, and that it might make for a more productive discussion if that were acknowledged.

    I was suggesting that the A-listers have no lock on being exclusionary, dismissive, and hierarchical. No lock on being somewhat of an echo chamber monoculture. But I wasn’t making a judgement about that one way or the other. Simply pointing it out.

    This “you’re either with us or against us” attitude seems to be a very effective way to shut down a conversation (oops — isn’t there a one-strike rule here on using the “c” word?) Am I the only one who finds it ironic that this discussion is about exclusion?

    But I do thank Jon for providing a clear, non-sneering, non-emotional and specific example of why this really DOES matter. THAT is what I was asking for, but when the answer is wrapped in so much moral superiority and judgementalism, it’s hard to hear anything useful. So thanks Jon (and Mike and Karl) for giving me a better way to think about this going forward. By avoiding the digital equivalent of rolling their eyes and deriding my stupidity, they managed to get me to see things a little differently, and you have no idea how much I appreciate that.

  10. Kathy, I’ve tried not to do the “digital equivalent of rolling their eyes” – but, for me, it’s hard to refrain when, for example, the oldest, hoariest, slam is offered as insight: “The ‘anti-hierarchy’ crowd sure looks like a hierarchy of its own. It’s simply a *different* party line” (and I’m quoting you word for word). Look, anyone who does any social criticism has heard the supposedly clever, but in fact painfully tedious, attempt to throw it back at them. The cry that atheism is another fundamentalism, or feminism said to be sexism, or diversity claimed to be racism, or that liberals don’t *tolerate the intolerant* – at best, it’s a joke (“I know there are people in the world that do not love their fellow human beings and I hate people like that!” – Tom Lehrer). And if you’re not a very good comedian, with very rare exceptions it quickly goes downhill from there.

    Come back to me when there’s the “Anti-Hierarchy 2.0″ conference, when I’m a partner in the *$100 million* venture capital fund for skeptical investments, when there’s a big book deal/tour for “Hype! How The Blog Blatherers Are Trying To Suck You Into Their Cult!”.

    Look, I’m good at mathematics and analysis. I’m not good at evangelism (and I’m experienced enough to know being right on the former does not translate to effectiveness at the latter).

  11. dave rogers says:

    Kathy,

    I suggest you re-read Gabe’s original reply to Shelley’s post. Basically it’s “We’re no worse than anyone else,” followed by a snarky comment to Shelley about her post. That’s pretty much shutting down the “conversation” in my book.

    Did Gabe engage Shelley at any level other than to dismiss her criticism by saying his product is no worse than any other product? Was he encouraging her to elaborate on her concerns by sharing his snarky “relief?” Did he seek to further the “conversation” by sharing with Shelley and her readers the technical difficulties he encountered in developing his algorithm so that it might have addressed some of the concerns Shelley expressed? Did he ask Shelley if she could offer some insight or ideas into how someone developing a product like Memeorandum could address her concerns through technology? Did he even validate her concerns in any way shape or form?

    No.

    Perhaps he felt his response was appropriate to the tone of her post. But as I tried to indicate, however inartfully, Shelley’s tone, the way she wrote this post, is in direct response to the glowing hyperbole that seems to surround these products when they enjoy some special connection to high attention-earning webloggers. If the high attention-earners could be more balanced in their evaluations, if they could be troubled to exhibit even the slightest awareness or appreciation of the issues Shelley, Seth, Jon, Mike and others have been highlighting for more than a year now, then perhaps Shelley’s tone might have been inappropriate. But that’s not the way it is. So Shelley’s criticism is harsh and unsparing to counter the glowing and uncritical commentary of those who receive much more attention.

    I place “conversation” in quotation marks because these sorts of things aren’t “conversations.” That’s a word that’s been abused beyond any sort of useful meaning anymore by people looking for new ways to expand their marketing efforts. This isn’t a conversation. It’s got elements of a debate, a discussion, an argument, a vigorous exchange of opposing points of view, and people talking past each other. All except for the last being useful means of communication. In many ways, it’s an exhausting exercise.

    You seem to want to criticize the critics. Do a little “pot meet kettle” shtick. Be my guest, it’s a free country. While we’ve no lock on virtue, we’re not trying to sell you anything either. Gabe and his service are just another product in a marketplace full of them. It’s got to be a tough way to make a living, and I don’t begrudge anyone that. One of these days, someone will come along with a product that will address some of the concerns Shelley and others have expressed. It might even be Memeorandum. But at the end of the day, it’ll still be someone trying to sell us something, and, until that day comes, all we’re saying is we’re not buying it.

    Pardon my sneer.

  12. Gabe says:

    TDavid: thanks for the rounding up that list. It doesn’t seem facts have mattered so much in this thread (witness Dori’s echoing Shelley instead of checking) but it’s worth a try!

    Karl: memeorandum already mixes new voices in with the A-listers. See my earlier comment (search for “William Grosso”).

  13. Karl says:

    Gabe, I understand that – but I think some interesting results can occur if it’s reversed – seed special Memeorandum pages with new voices first – maybe along a common space – my favorites for example – or Philadelphia bloggers for another – and watch what occurs. I know initally such a page will have a low density of links and conversations, but the existance of such a page – publically – will encourage folks to communicate who might not have before – and reveal communities that are thriving – yet hidden – since there is no cross-linkage with the quote-unquote “bighead” or whatever folks want to call it. You might think there is little utility in that – that those conversations have little value. I truely believe there is utility there and that those conversations are worth surfacing. Those connections worth encouraging and making. Like the PDC community that Robert mentioned earlier in this thread.

    So much of this conversation, that you seem to be dismissing, saddly, is about that. It’s about reach, voice, and yes – the potential of the web.

    A great example of the utility of what I’m talking about – today there is a mass transit strike in Philadelphia. Hundreds of thousands of people can’t get about the city. Lots of folks conversing on the news. It’s a bad day. There is tons of discussion on it. But Memeorandum – as it stands right now – can’t reveal it. It’s a local conversation. Not enough room on your two pages to handle it.

    But a Memeorandum page seeded with a bunch of Philadelphia based blogs would have picked it up – if I understand you correctly. Right now it’s up to you to decide to make it available. Otherwise – I am very, very sure a competitor will. I think you’re onto something – it has a lot of potential. I get to see what folks in three seperate communities (liberal, conservative, and web-tech-business) are talking about at a glance. Almost instantly. The make up of those communities is an issue – yes – but I want more communities revealed – not less.

    So much is summarized by Phil right here:

    the best thing you can do is engage other writers in your topic area. Write things in response to what they write, or things that just interest them. And having done this, ask your peers for links.

    Slightly more bluntly, Robert wrote:

    think instead about how to get a few key people to read what you are blogging – that’s what will really bring the traffic

    Are we all clear that this is a bug, not a feature? Serious question – if we don’t agree on that we’re not (in this context) going to agree on very much.

    It’s a bug dammit. But at least with what I am suggesting I will be able to discuss with my real peer – a fellow Philly blogger – the SEPTA news.

    I maybe completely misunderstanding how Memeorandum works. But I don’t think so. Let me know. It has (or had) a starting point for it’s relevancy crawl. All these things do. And that starting point determines its bias. I’m ok with bias. Let me apply my own. Please.

  14. Dori says:

    Gabe: It doesn’t seem facts have mattered so much in this thread (witness Dori’s echoing Shelley instead of checking) but it’s worth a try!

    Gabe, exactly what would you have suggested I check? That’s a serious question in response to your smart-ass insult, btw.

    Up top, I commented on how so far, to the best of my knowledge, backupbrain.com has never been mentioned on either memeorandum site. You asked what front page BB posts I thought should have been picked up, and I responded with two posts of mine which I thought had gotten some good uptake.

    You responded by saying that yes, BB was on your list of sites being crawled, and gave me some reasons why neither of the two I’d mentioned had been included. That (along with what Scoble said), gave me some ideas for what to do in the future.

    At that point, I thought we’d been having a useful discussion about how I see things, how you see things, and how memeorandum works internally such that I can modify what I do if I care about a post being included.

    Which is why I’m now surprised to see that you’re throwing out gratuitous potshots at me — I thought that we’d been working out something useful, not just to me, but to others as well. You many not be taking this discussion seriously, but I am, and I’d appreciate the same from you.

    So, what facts should I have checked, and where?

  15. Gabe says:

    Karl: I’m building the software to support exactly what you want. My long term goal is in fact to create technology that will support a Philly site, a NYC site, and potentially an Anytown USA site. What am I dismissing, exactly? Didn’t we even talk about this?

  16. Karl says:

    We did – and I got the impression – falsely it seems based upon this response – and from upwards in this thread on lack of response – and in other threads if I recall – that you thought there was no value in it (boy am I persistant…). Apologies.

    I’m a huge supporter of the idea of anyone building a Memeorandum instance based upon those that are in their community – not what the A-list or whatever it’s called determines – and that might have nothing to do with region – but with activity, bias, whatever – and taking that site public.

    And not to continue the pile on dude but – and this is in bad form – real bad form – apologies again – but I think you slighted some folks in this thread. I know you’re probably feeling defensive – and understandably so. In a subtle way I think it just occured in skipping Dori’s reply to you and addressing me.

    Hidden within this thread – actually in plain view in this thread – are thoughts that can take what you’ve done to the next level and help truely surface the conversations that are missed. I hope you realize that most people criticize something the feel a stake in and that’s a huge compliment. I wish I could garner an ounce of this discussion about my own efforts. Dori, Dave, Seth, Shelley, all of the folks here are some of the very best deep thinkers when it comes to social software and they are all talking about Memeorandum. Listen :)

  17. Gabe says:

    Oops, I just overlooked Dori’s response. Sorry, not intentional, I’m severely overextended today.

    Dori, you wrote “sharing a blog with a woman appear to keep you from counting”. Doesn’t that mean I fix things to exclude, penalize, or otherwise keep down women? I raised this once, and you said “Shelley’s hypothesis appears to be as good as any”. I think that’s really unfair, and lame. All it would take is some fact checking, ala TDavid. Hence my snark.

  18. Gabe says:

    Karl: I’m listening. I’m also serious about correcting the record. I have difficulty letting “sharing a blog with a woman appears to keep you from counting” slide when it’s not true.

  19. Dori says:

    Gabe, TDavid’s post doesn’t say much of anything at all that’s relevant to what I was talking about. Out of the nine women he lists, only one or two are bloggers. The others are all from mainstream media outlets. I’ve been clear that I’ve been talking about blogs.

    But back to the question: you’re saying that when I wrote my initial post dated 8:17 pm 10/28/2005, I should have done “some fact checking”. What facts should I have checked, and where?

    Just as a data point, a quick look says that at the moment I’m writing this, zero of the lead stories on tech.memeorandum.com are by women bloggers. Later today it could be different, of course; I know I’ve seen Shelley listed previously.

    You haven’t documented what your criteria are, and then you seem surprised that that leads to conjecture about how items get listed. Me, I think that it’s human nature to look for patterns, and when we don’t have enough data points, we make guesses. Guesses are just that — sometimes they’re right, and sometimes they’re wrong.

    My guess right now is that there is a bias against women on memeorandum, but that that bias isn’t due to you or your software — it’s due to the fact (which I believe is well-documented) that men tend to link to each other more, and that’s what memeorandum appears to be looking for. Consequently, the end result appears biased, but that’s a reflection of the input, not of the process itself.

    OTOH, as I said earlier, your criteria aren’t documented, so I could very well be wrong about this.

  20. Phil says:

    Joshua:
    how can we discern and share value on the blogosphere? Well, the best way is to communicate to others what we find valuable. But in doing so, we’ll almost undoubtedly even link to them…?

    Actually no, there’s no ‘almost undoubtedly’ about it. I write when I’ve got something to say which is broadly relevant to the themes of my blog. Sometimes that involves endorsing Jo Blogger (+1 link for Jo); sometimes I’m arguing with Jo (+1 link); sometimes I’m ripping Jo to shreds (+1 link). If I ‘discern value’ in what Jo writes but it doesn’t spark off a relevant blog post, I’ll generally leave a comment on Jo’s Blog (+0 links).

    In other words, inbound link count tracks what people are talking about – including (or especially) what people are talking about because it’s so outstandingly stupid and what people are talking about because it’s what people are talking about. It doesn’t track good posts, and it certainly doesn’t track good conversations. How do you measure those things? I don’t know either – but if I wanted to get there, I wouldn’t start from inbound link counts.

    there will always be a head that slopes down a tail…not much we can do about that. I’m not much of a stats guy but I know that at best we can alter the slope of the tail, not get rid of it.

    Actually there’s quite a lot we can do – we can discard that image, for a start. (More – much more – on my blog.)

  21. Gabe says:

    Dori, memeorandum is biased in inumerable ways. Just like every news site and blog that has existed or ever will. On checking: the browsable site archives show a bunch of women bloggers. Clearly they’re a minority.

    If you’re not pushing the idea that memeorandum is biased by process, as your first comment read to me, then I’m done calling you out and wish you the best!

  22. Karl says:

    Hi Gabe, sorry if that was an unfair criticism.

    However, it occurs to me that we’ve gone a whole thread without answering Shelley’s original issues :)

    The fourth one being hardest to solve. The first three – for Shelley and Gabe – would they be fixable by starting a more hard-core tech page and renaming the current tech page web-business – or web 2.0 – or something like that – since that seems more accurate?

    Thanks for sticking around and answering questions and concerns btw.

  23. “In other words, inbound link count tracks what people are talking about – including (or especially) what people are talking about because it’s so outstandingly stupid and what people are talking about because it’s what people are talking about. It doesn’t track good posts, and it certainly doesn’t track good conversations.”

    Phil, I completely agree that inbound links aren’t a perfect metric for value. However, in the present moment it’s one of the best approximations of value that we have, if we are to aggregate the Web algorithmically. I’m not arguing that exceptions don’t abound, I’m simply trying to be pragmatic about where we are…I’m not trying to say where we should be.

    To rebut your “actually, no”…you say yourself that you even link to other people’s posts that you value, if it causes a spark. That’s something! And it’s something that we can aggregate. Yes, of course you link to things that you disagree with, but that doesn’t mean they are not valuable…necessarily.

    Karl even said:

    “I hope you realize that most people criticize something the feel a stake in and that’s a huge compliment.”

    In general, in an attention economy the things that get attention are more valuable. Let me explain. There are at least two types of attention:

    One is attention of immediacy, when something is new people attend to it whether it is good or bad. Like the new kid in school. The recent Forbes article is a good example of a ton of negative attention. Apple’s new iPod Nano is a good example of a ton of positive attention.

    The second is attention of continuance, when something receives continued attention over time. This is *almost always* a mark of value, but it really depends on the length of time we’re talking about. For example, Abraham Lincoln got a lot of attention (both positive and negative) while he was alive, but almost all of it is positive now. George Bush is getting a lot of attention now (both positive and negative), but at some point in the future it will begin to sway one way more than another and probably stay that way.

    But why is it a mark of value and not of attention (or what people are talking about – as you say)? This is the big argument: it’s because humans are efficient and we tend to pay attention, in the long term, to things we value. We tend to hold on to valuable things…

  24. Phil says:

    you say yourself that you even link to other people’s posts that you value, if it causes a spark. That’s something! And it’s something that we can aggregate. Yes, of course you link to things that you disagree with, but that doesn’t mean they are not valuable…necessarily.

    Sorry, but you’re ignoring the point I was making. Concrete example: at the time of writing my blog includes 5 links to shirky.com and only 4 to burningbird.net. I can assure you that I do not think Clay’s writing is 25% more valuable than Shelley’s; you can verify this by going to my blog and, like, reading the words. If the metric says that I do think this, the metric is worng.

    You can look at it algebraically, if that’s any easier. What people value is, surely, what they give positive attention; I’m sure Peter Merholz would be surprised to hear that this was his way of ‘valuing’ Ontology is Overrated (quote: “Clay has assumed the role of an ideologue. He says enough that is obviously true to keep you nodding, and then slips in bold statements predicated on no actual facts.”) In other words, using inbound links as a metric loses the distinction between positive and negative attention. Which is fine, as long as you’re aware that you’re tracking what people are talking about, not what people value – and, consequently, that there is no way to use this information to build up a picture of what the group mind says is good.

    And it gets worse. Not only is there no distinction between positive and negative; there’s no distinction between nulls and zeroes. The fact that I’ve got more links to Clay than to Shelley tells you something (even if a large part of what it tells you is that I’ve got a thing about the Long Tail). If I had no links to Shelley, however, would that tell you
    a) that I didn’t value Shelley’s writing
    or
    b) that I’d never heard of – Shelly who? burning what? is that like Burning Man?
    As Dave says, a large part of the point of being one of the few who get the attention is not being one of the many who don’t – this is precisely what the image of the Long Tail encapsulates, I think, & says a lot about why it caught on in the way it did. But if you can’t distinguish between known-and-ignored (zero) and not-known (null), attention metrics can’t carry any connotation of value (positive or negative). All you’re left measuring is what people are talking about: “Alito”, “Halloween”, “Web 2.0″, “Janet Jackson”. (Numbers 1, 2, 9 and 10 in Technorati’s current ‘top searches’ list.)

  25. If inbound links didn’t approximate value, then nobody would use Google.

    Again, Phil, I do believe that I understand your point. You’re saying that you give both positive and negative attention to people, and your worried that inbound links don’t distinguish between the two. (if this isn’t what you’re saying, then you’ve lost me).

    What I’m suggesting is that the mere fact that you give attention to it at all suggests something about it. It puts it in a small subset of the world’s information that you might value. That, in all probability, it is more valuable than something you don’t give attention to. This is the sticking point: if you don’t pay attention to something, then you don’t value it. Indeed, you can’t value something if you’re not paying attention to it!

    Does that mean I’m saying you value Clay’s work more than Shelley’s? No! But I am saying that if we aggregate your links with those of everyone else’s, we get an approximation of value that works more often than not. (notice that this isn’t about optimizing for your value, but average value – this might be why you don’t believe a word of it ;) )

    And back to the two kinds of attention. Short-term attention (attention of immediacy) is worth much less than long-term attention (attention of continuance). If you stop posting about Clay’s work, then it’s safe to assume that you don’t value it very much. But if you continue to link to him, then that says something, too. It says you think it is worth your time, over time, and in this economy, that is everything.

    As such, the fact that there is a lot of attention being given to Clay’s work, over time, suggests that people value it in some way. Like I said, time will tell if that attention is ultimately positive or negative, but the attention isn’t for nothing! Also notice that really important ideas are generally resisted at first with great amounts of negative attention, but then gradually gain acceptance over time…like this blog post (just kidding). Ideas like evolution, for example.

    So, assuming that I understand what you’re saying (and you’ll allow me that), my question for you is: if you think Clay’s work is not valuable, why do you pay attention to it at all? Could it be that you do indeed find it valuable, if only as a counterpoint for your own ideas?

    That would be positive value, and negative attention.

  26. Kathy Sierra says:

    It seems like there are several *different* subthreads to this, and part of my confusion is that I’m having trouble teasing out the separate issues. My main clarification question is this:
    Is the concern about the ‘little guy’ being initially discovered? (With the assumption that if he is discovered, enough readers will find his voice/message compelling). Or is it one of ongoing attention? Or is it one of having influence? (With the assumption that the “little guy” has an audience, but is not being heard by the people who are in control of [whatever it is], and thus has no power to create changes he wants, because his particular audience — however large — aren’t the *powerful* people to set policy, direct technology, etc.)

  27. “Is the concern about the ‘little guy’ being initially discovered?
    (With the assumption that if he is discovered, enough readers will
    find his voice/message compelling).”

    Not for me. That’s a model which is often rebutted, but I’ve actually never seen people advocate it much (that is, I’ve never really seen someone say “If I could get just one A-list link, just a single solitary link, it would be my big break, all I need …”. Maybe somebody somewhere, but the critique I see is much more sophisticated).

    “Or is it one of ongoing attention? Or is it one of having influence?”

    Yes, both, with “ongoing attention” used casually as a proxy for “having influence”. These are technically not the same, but then neither are weight and mass, and people still use those informally as synonyms. That is, it’s known they’re not the same, but in simple conversation, they typically delineate the same concept.

    “(With the assumption that the ‘little guy’ has an audience, but is not being heard by the people who are in control of [whatever it is], and thus has no power to create changes he wants, because his particular audience – however large – aren’t the *powerful* people to set policy, direct technology, etc.)”

    It’s not merely an assumption. It’s often an objective measured fact.

    Let us remember the great quote above, again, he said it, I didn’t:

    “think instead about how to get a few key people to read what you are blogging – that’s what will really bring the traffic.” (technically “that’s what will really bring the influence”).

  28. Shelley says:

    This is such an excellent comment thread that I hate to jink it by adding comment. I can’t add much more than what Seth, Dave, Mike, Karl, Phil, Kathy, etc. have written.

    If your comment was in moderation for a long time, today’s the first day I’ve had connectivity.

    I will say after reading through the thread, that I guessed 10 people would be currently listed at Memeorandum, and I was right about 8. But Gabe, I said thee and me is static. Noise, to be filtered.

    As for finding this on Memeorandum, I found I was linked by 2 of the 8 from above–so did I hit the list because the interest was high? Because I talked about Memeorandum? Or because I was linked by specific people?

    We shouldn’t have to form part of the constellation of any particular person to ‘prime the pump’ of a true discovery system. Or be forced to focus on specific topics.

    However, not my system. I gave my opinion, and though it was nice that some women are showing (I’ve known some others), I still don’t see this as a good discovery system. I gave my opinion; others have done the same. More, I think I should have added another: this is so ‘of the moment’ that we don’t have time to have a thoughtful discussion before we’ve moved on. Here I am, and it’s moved on.

    As for this being about me, I was astonished when I had a heads up today that there were as many comments on this thread. I really had assumed this post would be ignored. If I really want ‘notice’ I would much rather have had it given to my RDF tutorial — that is about technology. New stuff. Different viewpoints. It was a bit hurried to finish, but I was quite proud of it. The quiet nature about it, as compared to this thread, is terribly discouraging. However, I have to remember that some topics have ‘hooks’ while others don’t. And this openend up some interesting discussions — beyond what I wrote.

    As for being critical of a technology–I’ve been critical of Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Java, and so on. That’s one aspect of communication.

    Frankly, I’m getting too old to jump up and down all the time. Sometimes I’ll sit down and just write what I feel. Before I take my geritol.

    Cynthia, I have seen some women, but not long, and not ‘top drawer’. I do agree, though, that we should base our discovery on several different sources –but I’ve seen people write that tech.memeorandum.com is ‘the only source you will need”. And some of these people have influence. And, well, also tend to be reflected.

    I am concerned when a paragraph throwaway comment by a highly ranked weblogger ends up ranking higher, and therefore more easily to discover, then the original writing that triggered the paragraph. I’ve seen so called A listers appear on the list with one person linking, while a tech related thread with 5 or 6 inbound links never appears on the list.

    And where is the tech?

    I will say this–some damn fine commentary here. From all viewpoints. Thank you. I’m sorry mine doesn’t compare, but I’m pretty exhausted today.

  29. Phil says:

    What I’m suggesting is that the mere fact that you give attention to it at all suggests something about it. It puts it in a small subset of the world’s information that you might value. That, in all probability, it is more valuable than something you don’t give attention to.

    Firstly, even on the Web I pay attention to things in several different ways. There are sites I’m more likely to ‘attend’ to by adding a comment to a thread than by linking; there are sites where I leave no trace of any kind, unless you’ve got access to my browser logs. So linking doesn’t track attention.

    Secondly, even within the subset of things I do link to, I’ll probably want to talk more about things I disagree with than things I agree with. So linking doesn’t track perceived value.

    Thirdly, even if I linked to everything I valued and nothing I didn’t value, there would still be an ocean of knowledge and conversation out there which I know nothing about. Null attention is not the same as zero attention. So linking does not and cannot track absolute value, even in the best of all bubbling-up folksonomic worlds.

    If you know about what I link to on my blog, that tells you about the conversations I want to engage in on my blog. If you know what a million people link to on their blogs, that tells you what conversations people are having on their blogs. And, er, that’s it – finding out what people are talking about tells you what people are talking about. (Which is actually quite a lot, it seems to me.)

    To assume that the process also tells us about the value of information is a fundamental mistake, and one which can have far-reaching consequences: it will colour your judgment of how the system needs to be changed in order to get higher-value information out of it (i.e. whether it needs to be changed radically or it simply needs to become more like itself).

    Oh, and Hi Shelley – how are you?

  30. When I find myself linking (and looking) too much at the usual suspects in blogging, I go somewhere where a-list rules don’t apply — local blogs. I’ve done that here in Jacksonville for a while, publishing a local blogroll and covering area subjects.

    If you’re tired of self-perpetuating a-list hype, find the locals or some other group you belong to, and use your blog to connect them.

    To me, that’s a more effective response than criticizing the a-list and the tools that reinforce their popularity, because criticizing them reinforces their popularity.

    One of the reasons I read Burningbird is because Shelley makes a good argument about the exclusion of female voices in blogging and technology conferences, which I think is a fight worth having. However, my perception is that she’s more likely to link to the people doing the excluding than to women who are being overlooked.

    Perhaps my memory is faulty, but I can’t think of any female technologists I learned about through reading this blog.

  31. Phil, we agree completely. I absolutely agree that linking doesn’t track absolute value. My argument was that linking is one of the few ways we have used to approximate value. I use the word approximate because I’m not claiming anything stronger than that.

    Moving forward, as our systems get more sophisticated, we’ll learn how to track our personal attention much better (including, hopefully, the difficult cases you mention). The result will be a better approximation of personal value.

  32. Shelley says:

    Phil, I’m better today, thanks.

    “Thirdly, even if I linked to everything I valued and nothing I didn’t value, there would still be an ocean of knowledge and conversation out there which I know nothing about. Null attention is not the same as zero attention. So linking does not and cannot track absolute value, even in the best of all bubbling-up folksonomic worlds.”

    Damn straight.

    Rogers, personally I’m indifferent to whether a site is popular or not. I don’t link or not in order to increase or decrease a site’s popularity. I discuss what’s on my mind, and link accordingly regardless of rank. If I were NOT to discuss what a person writes or a technology just because I don’t want to increase the person’s popularity, then what I write is a bit of a fraud, don’t you think?

    As for not discovering female techs, then you must not read my posts that closely because I have written about female techs, and as you can see in this comment thread, they appear here.

    My question in turn: I can see Gabe’s not wanting me to be critical of his work, though I would think I’d rather a person be critical of my work then indifferent. What I can’t figure out is why others are so defensive?

    I’m critical of MT, and hordes come in; I’m critical or RSS and the lamentation rocks the roof; I’m critical of OPML and you’d think I’m hitting tiny, little babies. Any technology should be open to criticism — that is how the creators know to improve the product. And the nature of the criticism isn’t always going to be coached about in ‘safe’ and innocuous terms.

    I. Don’t. Spout. Pablum.

    Does Gabe have a good product? As it works now? No. Can it improve? Oh my, yes. but it won’t improve while others are writing about how ‘perfect’ it is. And there has been an astonishing amount of this, and frankly, I don’t understand why.

    If Gabe didn’t like what I wrote, then there are others who have brought in suggestions, such as Karl and Joshua, and it is up to him to either pursue these or not. But being the ‘darling tech’ of the ranked does not provide a get out of being criticized card.

    Earlier in the thread, when Jim mentioned he didn’t have time to necessarily go hunting for the leading stories and that memeorandum.com was good for this, this is what concerns me the most about this service.

    Now I’m off to work and writing. I’ve decided not to spend time working on RDF coding this morning, but instead will write about Tim O’Reilly’s weblog post about how Windows newest ventures and how they validate everything he says about Web 2.0.

  33. dave rogers says:

    To me, that’s a more effective response than criticizing the a-list and the tools that reinforce their popularity, because criticizing them reinforces their popularity.

    This is a good point, Rogers, but I believe there is value to criticizing the A-list, even at the expense of reinforcing their perceived “popularity.”

    Now, I’m not sure how much value there is, perhaps not enough to make the effort worthwhile, but that’s a hard thing to measure.

    For better or worse, those high in the ranks of the hiearchy exercise some measure of influence. Technorati acknowledges this influence and terms it “authority.” What gives those in the high ranks their influence or authority is, in large measure and as you suggest, the attention they receive.

    The prerequisite to any exercise of authority, real or imagined, deserved or undeserved, is attention. People often confuse high-attention earners as people of authority, which is why actors and WWF wrestlers sometimes make viable political candidates.

    So, as a practical matter, high attention-earners in this “attention economy” exercise a certain amount of “authority.” If only the authority to direct attention, and that’s not something to be dismissed.

    Now, a concept that seems to me to be only weakly understood or accepted in this community or sphere or whatever you want to call it, is that with authority there must be some measure of responsiblity. If you are exercising authority without responsibility, then you are doing something society has traditionally not valued. A confidence man is someone who is projecting authority to gain another’s confidence in order to exploit him, which is irresponsible. A tyrant is a political leader who exercises authority without responsibility. A fraud is essentially the same as a con-artist. So, if you have some measure of authority, and you’re exercising it irresponsibly, you’re not doing a “good thing.” You’re either a fraud or an autocrat, neither of these being especially good things.

    So criticism of those in the A-list, those high in the hierarchy, is meant, at least to some extent, to cause them to recognize that this community values the responsible exercise of authority, and that it would be in our mutual interest if they acknowledged that responsiblity. Failing that, we should challenge their authority.

    Now, we can have lots of meaningful and worthwhile disagreements on the extent and the nature of that responsiblity, and how the responsible exercise of that authority might be manifested; but at this point it is by no means clear to me that high attention-earners even believe they have any responsiblity at all.

    Now, much of the criticism isn’t offered explicitly in these terms. I’d venture to say that most of the criticism never even considers these notions when it is offered. But I believe we have an intuitive grasp of what we expect when we interact with people with some measure of authority, and most of the criticism is motivated or inspired by not having those expectations met.

    To be fair, much of the criticism is also offered out of competition for rank in the hiearchy, or to overturn the hierarchy for the satisfaction in seeing those with high rank fall or be humbled. That’s not especially noble, but it’s just as much a part of human nature as anything else. That explains it, but it doesn’t excuse it.

    Being a high attention-earner who is the subject of criticism is probably not a lot of fun. But ignoring it is a way of making sure it continues. Eventually, even those seeking more responsible behavior will become those seeking to overturn the hierarchy simply for the satisfaction of seeing it overturned.

    Part of the problem, as I see it, is that there is much goodwill shared between those high in the ranks, and they are loathe to criticize one another. So as long as the crticism is perceived to be coming from those with less authority, while those with more authority are silent on the matter, the criticism is usually dismissed or discounted. At least, that’s my perception.

    We will always have hierarchies, and I believe they’re a necessary component of a functioning society. But I believe we’ve learned through long, painful experience, that a well-functioning hierarchy, one that promotes the general well-being of the community it is formed out of, is one that exercises its authority responsibly, in good faith with the other members of the community.

    That seems to me to be absent in the “blogosphere,” and growing more rare in our civic life as well. Taking its place is simply pure competition for rank in the hiearchy, which, once achieved, is exercised irresponsibly for the purposes of holding onto that rank and promoting the aims of those most likely to facilitate the ends of those highest in the hierarchy. (Repealing the estate tax. Revising bankruptcy laws. Creating web services that curry favor with high attention-earners in order to exploit their attention-directing authority to serve the aims of the web service. It’s pretty much anywhere you look these days.)

    So I say we need more criticism, whether it is “actionable” or not, is often in the eye of the criticized, it would appear. But we shouldn’t ignore them, and if we were so fortunate as to create a new hierarchy, as unlikely as I consider that to be, we would still be responsible to demand the responsible exercise of authority from that hierarchy, chiefly through criticism.

    So I’d say don’t ignore these guys.

    I don’t have preview in this browser, and this is a long post, so I apologize of misspellings, awkward sentence construction, bad grammar and the like. If my reasoning is flawed, I’d like to see that pointed out.

  34. Shelley says:

    “To be fair, much of the criticism is also offered out of competition for rank in the hiearchy, or to overturn the hierarchy for the satisfaction in seeing those with high rank fall or be humbled. That’s not especially noble, but it’s just as much a part of human nature as anything else. That explains it, but it doesn’t excuse it.”

    Now you’ve stumbled on to my evil plan, Dave. I guess I’m going to have to shoot you.

    That is one item that did concern me in that criticism can be seen as a way of garnering attention. Or, as several people have pointed out, we’re only bitching because we ourselves are not linked, or given attention. As I said previously, if the RDF tutorial had appeared in tech.meme…com I would have discovered all my assumptions were wrong, and been gratified. The fact that this post did, only supported my assumptions and didn’t give me any real satisfaction–other than this comment thread and related weblog posts have had some excellent discussions.

    What I don’t understand, though, is why those of us who are critical are seen as grasping and self-serving, while those who aren’t are not. Seems to me, you get more points kissing butt than kicking it.

    “For better or worse, those high in the ranks of the hiearchy exercise some measure of influence. Technorati acknowledges this influence and terms it “authority.” What gives those in the high ranks their influence or authority is, in large measure and as you suggest, the attention they receive.

    So, as a practical matter, high attention-earners in this “attention economy” exercise a certain amount of “authority.” If only the authority to direct attention, and that’s not something to be dismissed. [...] Now, a concept that seems to me to be only weakly understood or accepted in this community or sphere or whatever you want to call it, is that with authority there must be some measure of responsiblity. If you are exercising authority without responsibility, then you are doing something society has traditionally not valued. [...] So, if you have some measure of authority, and you’re exercising it irresponsibly, you’re not doing a “good thing.” You’re either a fraud or an autocrat, neither of these being especially good things. [...] criticism of those in the A-list, those high in the hierarchy, is meant, at least to some extent, to cause them to recognize that this community values the responsible exercise of authority, and that it would be in our mutual interest if they acknowledged that responsiblity. Failing that, we should challenge their authority.”

    All it takes for a story to hit tech.meme…com is 2 people out of a small group to link to it, or originate it. This same group also references each other fairly consistently. They match the same sex, race, and demographics. More than that, even their behavior and writing style is remarkably similar.

    They flatten the topic space; they homogenize the environment. And whether the intention was there or not, tech.meme….com aids the flow, helps build the walls. If this environment were the Mississippi, these ‘authority’ tools are levees. And as we have found over time with the Sip, levees, which provide an illusion of control, do more harm than good.

  35. Karl says:

    While there was much head nodding on my part Dave on reading this (especially about responsibility – responsibility many want to deny) when I came to this: Part of the problem, as I see it, is that there is much goodwill shared between those high in the ranks, and they are loathe to criticize one another. So as long as the crticism is perceived to be coming from those with less authority, while those with more authority are silent on the matter, the criticism is usually dismissed or discounted. At least, that’s my perception.

    My brain kinda exploded. Kos and Glenn Reynolds aren’t buds. Not even close. No good will to be found there. Nor between many top conservative or liberal bloggers who believe they are part of a zero-sum game. As someone who follows both sides of the fence – even though I’m admittedly biased towards one side – it’s chilling. That’s why I really like the politics page at memeorandum. tech.memeorandum.com seems different – for many of the reasons discussed here. The funny question is – algorithmically – are they the same?

  36. dave rogers says:

    Shelley, actually, I was tipping my hand to my own evil designs. “Same thing we do every night, Pinky…”

    Karl, you make an interesting contrast, but it misses the point.

    Kos and Glenn Reynolds are poles apart, and so criticism of one another between them mostly deals with their respective political camps, not the responsibilities attendant to being a high-attention earning weblogger in general. In that regard, my guess is they’re far closer on those issues than their political beliefs may suggest.

    One does see some change, some reason to be hopeful.

    Although Dave Weinberger is loathe to criticize his friend Dave Sifry for his vacuous marketing assertion that “Technorati is the authority on what’s going on in the world of weblogs,” while on their Terms page simultaneously explicitly disclaiming any responsibility for anyone who may choose to rely on that authority, he has seemed to acknowledge that there is a problem in technology conferences wherein the organizers aren’t working hard enough to bring enough different voices to the conferences they promote. (Commence jumping up and down. This is an area where we can have a worthwhile and meaningful disagreement on what “hard enough” is.)

    But, in the main, one supposes Scoble was given advance access to TechMemeorandum less because his keen technical insights into the merits of the product were valued, and more for the attention he could direct toward the service. Perhaps in the future, product developers might wish to consider perhaps including a more critical, if less high-profile, individual in their early effort.

    This ridiculous effort to cultivate “buzz” through “conversation” is simply going to implode at some point, and one wonders what the state of discourse will be that remains in its wake. I don’t get happy thoughts thinking about it.

    But maybe I’m just an ornery, closed-minded, curmudgeonly, luddite, misanthrope. Yeah, that’s probably it. ;^)

  37. Shelley says:

    Karl, that’s actually the part where I don’t agree with Dave. It’s not that this group rarely criticizes each other; it’s that their they withhold debate from those who they don’t deem to be of sufficient rank. In fact they may acknowledge compliments of those they deem of lower ranks, but rarely criticism.

    Or, to return to gender: I know from personal experience that there are some highly ranked tech webloggers who will debate an issue with a guy, but won’t debate the same with a woman. Especially if they see the woman as more knowledgeable then they. They might link women, but they rarely debate women. In fact, I have found that the higher ranked the male tech, the less willing to acknowledge criticism from those ‘unworthy’.

    Compliments are generally the fodder of lackies, while criticism is reserved for equals.

  38. dave rogers says:

    “It’s that their they withhold debate from those who they don’t deem to be of sufficient rank.”

    Well, yes, I think that’s correct too, and worthy of critical attention.

  39. “It’s that they withhold debate from those who they don’t deem to be of sufficient rank.”

    The blogosphere doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and normal interpersonal relationship rules still apply there. Those with higher rank (authority) get the greatest amount of attention.

    For example, if Scoble posts on my blog I will definitely respond. Why? Because I recognize him as an authority in the blogosphere, and I value the blogosphere, and so he becomes an authority for me. Would it be silly for me to pretend that I don’t want a link in return? Yes.

    If the Chinese blogging authority leaves a comment on my site, and I don’t recognize them as such, the chances of me responding go way down. Would it be silly of me to claim otherwise? Yes.

    If you don’t hold an authoritative position in the mind of the person you would like attention from, then you don’t get as much attention.

    As an example, I think the fact that the creator of Memeorandum was defending his own work made his comments a lot more authoritative…and thus he got more attention…than if I or anybody else had made them. Even if they were the exact same comments.

    To most people it really does matter who is talking.

  40. Phil says:

    Joshua:
    I absolutely agree that linking doesn’t track absolute value. My argument was that linking is one of the few ways we have used to approximate value.

    Yes, but… This isn’t just a half-empty/half-full argument. My point is that inbound link counting is a flawed metric – flawed so as to produce bad results in certain highly predictable ways – and that as such it’s a flawed starting point: anything you build on top of it will be flawed, and those flaws need to be pointed out.

    More specifically, I think it would be great if I could be automagically notified of good stuff on the Web; I also think it’s a good thing that we’re able to track what kinds of conversation certain people are having on the Web with certain other people, and it’ll be even better when we can make broader and more informed selections of the ‘certain people’. But TalkTracker and GoodStuffNotifier are two fundamentally different things – the second may not even be possible, and the first is certainly never going to turn into it. When people start arguing otherwise – or blurring the boundaries between the two – I feel we’re entering a late stage in the Great Cycle of Hype.

  41. Dave: “Now, a concept that seems to me to be only weakly understood or accepted [here] … is that with authority there must be some measure of responsibility”.

    Actually, I’d say in some quarters that concept is actively rejected. That’s an unsavory aspect of the “no gatekeepers” concept, basically exulting in opportunities to be a bully or a liar, and have no constraint other than one’s ability to get away with it.

    But, to address a fundamental technological issue, data-mining of popularity is the cheapest and simplest and *most profitable* procedure. I’ve thought quite a bit about this over the last year, and whether one could in fact try to do something better. Unfortunately, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t think I could do a successful popularity-contest system, since a critical part of that does seem to be buzz from the high ranking attention holders, and nobody really knows how to do a useful data-miner which isn’t a popularity-contest.

    The local community-building, like Karl does, is laudable. But my impression is that in practice it’s hard to sustain because of income issues.

  42. Phil, we’re definitely finding some common ground here, but I ask: what metric isn’t flawed?

    The game we’re playing, as I see it, is this: we’re building systems that harness technology to approximate what we do in real life. I don’t think we’ll ever replicate it exactly, we’ll just get better and better approximations.

    And I think that if we had exact replication as a goal then we would throw out everything that works “good enough” (or has worked good enough in the past), like Google.

    Now, though, we’re seeing a lot of pushback on Google and Memeorandum, because we’ve come to expect more. This is a good thing, because it means our systems are getting better. And we’re learning how to build better systems. But I think it’s a bit destructive to dismiss what works, even if it only works part of the time or only in certain contexts.

    Modelling human behavior is very hard. But we’re getting better at it.

    That said, if you know of a better starting point, an unflawed metric, I’m all for it!