Feed fatigue: Filtering the filters and measuring authority
This is a long post, so I won’t make you wait for me to get to the point: Real authority in the blogosphere cannot be measured by current tools, because current tools cannot account for the fact that we choose not to read some blogs precisely because they are authoritative.
One thing that happens when you let RSS do the work of pointing you towards interesting information: You quickly grow weary of certain blogs that are updated several times a day.
I do think it’s important for bloggers to post often, especially in the beginning when you’re trying to build up a dedicated audience. (As Adriana points out to people about the huge number of visitors who hit Samizdata on a daily basis, what is really interesting is that so many of them are repeat visitors and make the effort to check the site once or more each day. Maybe I’ll post some other time about what this means in terms of building an emergent brand.) And I myself used to blog several times per day, in part because it was a big element of working with tBBC, and in part because…Well, I wanted to, and I had the flexibility in my work day to do so. No more.
But there are only a handful of blogs that I really get excited about seeing updated several times a day – in particular, my guilty pleasure blogs, like Perez Hilton‘s. I ignore those in my aggregator until the weekend, and then Saturday morning is a big, indulgent catch-up session.
I recently deleted Steve Rubel‘s blog from my list of RSS subscriptions. Why? Because he’s almost too good at blogging. He updates his site several times a day, and nearly everything he posts is interesting or downright absorbing. But it’s daunting to see that there are 25 or so unread pieces from him in my aggregator, just waiting to be read.
More to the point, lots of the other blogs I read also read Steve’s blog, and link to all the cool stuff he posts with their own take on each item. So I was getting a lot of duplication in my aggregator, with the truly useful posts being the ones which added commentary to the information. Anyone who used to read Glenn Reynolds and no longer does may also be familiar with this scenario.
This isn’t me trying to knock Steve or Glenn, both of whom are phenomenal bloggers and put enormous time and effort into being stellar human filters (Steve starts blogging at 4.30 or 5 AM, seven days a week). But as I know that the stuff they link to will be linked by other filters who are also commentators, and whose insights stimulate my own thoughts, it makes more sense for me only to read the filters who add relevant commentary to those links. (Your own requirements, as always, may vary. Isn’t it great that we all have the choice to tailor this stuff according to our own needs and wants?)
This is another good example of the network effect of blogging: I don’t read Steve or Glenn anymore, but the stuff they link to reaches me anyway. And because of attribution inherent in blogging, I know it when a commentator has found an interesting link via one of them. If someone asked me to name a big PR blogger or a big politics blogger, I’d name Steve Rubel and Glenn Reynolds. If someone asked for more names for each of those categories, I could keep going, naming bloggers who I’d never before read personally, but who I see getting hat tips all over the place for linking to noteworthy items. (This is particularly true of political blogs, of which I have wearied of late; I know that Kos and Atrios and Michelle Malkin are popular information filters, but I can’t say I’ve ever spent more than two minutes on any of their blogs.)
My point once again: Real authority in the blogosphere cannot be measured by current tools, because current tools cannot account for the fact that we choose not to read some blogs precisely because they are authoritative.
So how do the metrics fetishists propose to measure authority in light of this? I’m still waiting to hear.