Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Taken Down a Peg (or 2) as Google Page Rank Drops for Many

At first, I thought it was just because I hadn't posted in two weeks--that drop in Google Page rank from a comfy 5 to a lowly 4--but apparently, it's not just me... (update I'm now back up to 5--who knows what will happen tomorrow...)

Among all the questions and explanations swirling out there, I've found two that correspond to something I've been seeing (and was going to blog about before this stuff hit the fan) First, Andy Beard explains that it may not be about paid links, but more about all those little blog networks that link within and to one another:
Many of the reputable sources that have received a penalty are part of extensive blog networks, and they have one factor in common. They have massive interlinking between their network sites.

Lately, I've been working on a couple of projects where I've been doing heavy blog research--and I've been finding that many of the blogs in a variety of blog networks are increasingly blocking out the voices of independent bloggers And that they do this by linking predominantly--if not exclusively--to other blogs in their networks and never to other bloggers

Talk about anti-social media!

A big hint of the anti-socialness of some blog networks became evident to me in a post I read a few months back by a blogger who's keeping the weblogs page--who gave a list of "great" women bloggers, with most of them in b5Media. To my experienced blogger's eyes, this seemed to be a rather ham-handed way of using one's platform to send eyeballs over to one's other blog network. It was, IMO, mean-spirited and rather un-social toward the vast amount of independent women bloggers who have worked darned hard to give/get their links, rank, and respect.

Yet the only-linking-to-others-within-your-own-network was noticed awhile back with the start of PayPerPost. PPP was "threatened" that they would never get linked by bloggers who weren't in their scheme (because there was something kinda ethically icky about PPP.) But they did some serious recruiting (a lot among mommybloggers, for sure.) Now, "Posties" are having Postiecon as well as (perhaps) taking up a significant presence at the BlogWorldExpo....(they've also generated their own little A-list that would send many a veteran blogger's head spinning.)

And, from my own hanging about at conferences where Posties have showed up, I've discovered that many of the Posties never would have thought of blogging if they weren't going to make some pin money for doing it...

I wonder how they feel about talking to folks who aren't their friends...

Duncan Riley's post explains a bit further about linkfarming, and how smaller media companies that may be (intentionally or unintentionally) linkfarming by only linking within one another's sites might really take a hit:
The only clear change appears to be among large scale blog networks and similar link farms, where each site in the network provides hundreds of outgoing links on each page of the blog to other blogs in the network, in some cases creating tens, even hundred of thousands of cross links. Previously such behavior has been rewarded by Google with high page rank, although it would now appear that this loop hole may now be shut

Riley also predicts a "deadpool" of blog networks--read the comments though, there are some interesting points made by folks who've monetized out the wazoo as a means of trying to generate income for their small ventures.

Well, nobody ever promised anyone who kept a blog that they could or should use it for making money....

And nobody ever said that blog networks should be able to mess with search by implementing kick-ass SEO and aggressive internal linking.

Come to think of it, that's kind of what a lot of MSM blogs are doing--and that's why many MSM blogs, such as those at, always come up in the prime spots in search.

So, perhaps in its own weird way, Google's put the breaks on something that was, from my vantage point, beginning to look like a case of Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss with blog networks eclipsing smaller, individually run blogs.

Yet I hesitate to say that Google's any defender of the Little Guy and Free Speech. Perhaps it was merely a jiggle of the algorithm to accommodate a bunch of new stuff, and not anything to do with linkfarms or paid I remain kind of dubious and mostly curious....

Update: SearchEngineLand's great linkpost of those-who-got-zapped and links to other commentary...and fellow journo-blogger Danny Sanchez notes the effect on newspaper blogs (and how he's just as important as WaPo!)

Friday, October 05, 2007

Nurturing Soul, Body, and Mind

Note: this is an occasional personal post--the idea for which I got from my friend Chris Brogan's post on managing his life. this is kind of about managing something in my life...)

A fortnight or so ago, while I was in New York, with a couple of hours to kill before I was to catch a train back to Springfield, I took a detour to the Museum of Modern Art...I hadn't been there for quite awhile--at least not since the remodelling...

And something happened to me there....

First, there was some kind of sense of relief just to be there. Like I'd happened upon an oasis--and in many respects, MoMA is, for me, an oasis. Out where I live, I'm pretty much removed from stuff like this. There may be some small galleries, and all the colleges have art museums, but growing up in New Jersey, about 30-40 minutes outside of New York (if you could avoid the traffic), I grew up with the hum of The City in my head all the time.

Even if you don't live in the heart of it, the hum of The City gets in your veins, in your head, in your heart, and you can't escape it. Some folks hide from it by focusing on the negative aspects--crime and, in this century, the remote possibility of a terrorist attack--but there's more life to The City than there could ever be in the bedroom communities that support it.

It's worth the risk. To me, anyway.

As I wandered the galleries, I saw so many images
that got me thinking "In this place resides some of the most important thougths, philosophies, and ideals of the last 100 years. All those wild artistic movements, conceived by so many people who wanted the world to change..."

I thought more about where we're at now with the Internet--in so many ways similar to what happened in art at the turn of the last century....

I kept breathing in That Space...all my knowledge of art history enlightening every piece that almost seemed like I was seeing for the first time when I really wasn't...

I'd seen lots of these works before I knew what they were about. In the 80's--before I went to college and studied art history--I'd spent lots of time here, watching the Warhols and Picassos and Klimts and deKoonigs....

And Pollocks.... This Pollock especially....

The first time I saw it was when I was about 19--with my first husband---and he was explaining to me the importance of the work...which I thought just looked like bird droppings on canvas...(what did I know--a working class kid who wasn't supposed to do much other than have babies...)

and then it hit me....

Sometimes in our lives we meet people who teach us things about ourselves. The bring out of the child the adult we might become. My first husband was a young artist and filmmaker. He ended up going into graphic arts--but it paid the bills (he was designing book covers last time we spoke 15 yrs ago.) But he'd studied art history, and taking me places like MoMa and to the Regency Theater to see Dr. Strangelove and so many other things were not just ways of teaching me about his world...

But they ended up being things that are About Me.

Things that, through years of lousy relationships and hard, focused work, I'd forgotten about.

Essentially, I'd forgotten my Soul. I came to MoMA with a starving soul, an under-nourished place inside me that had pretty much dried up (for one reason or another) and here it was, right in front of me in that godawful Jackson Pollock painting all the memories of who I was...

And who I am.

It was like waking up after a very long and difficult dreamstate. It was also realizing that I'd sent myself into exile, drove myself away from the things I loved--and for many reasons, none of which I'll recount here....

What happened though was the realization that I'd been completely neglecting My Soul. Sure, my Body is getting nourished daily, and I am in very good health for the most part. And my Mind is certainly nourished--almost to the point of me wishing there was something like Over-Readers Anonymous for those of us who can't break the compulsion for gathering Information...

But my Soul--all those many things my young husband brought to life in me, and other things I found out and nourished in myself during my long illness--had been shuttered and pushed away. My love of art and culture and philosophy and needlework and cooking and so many other things that I really don't have anyone close to share with...or at least not anyone who is that Soul Mate...

So, what to do, now that I know this?

I got to re-thinking that old adage of nourishing one's mind, body, and soul, and the need to keep balance. Right now, the first two are nourished--the third is starving. What to do?

Well, lots of people have lots of answers for this. Take up yoga. or running.Join a group of some kind that will go here or there.

IMO it's more that I have to touch that part of me again, get re-acquainted with it, nurture it. The nurturing won't come from outside sources. That's just adding lots of noise to the signal.

Just the way I have to make time in my day for lunch and dinner (when I'm working alone) I have to recognize when I'm soul-starving and do something about it. I have to turn off the computer--walk away--go to where I can nourish that part of me...

Luckily, I'm starting to get paid for work I'm doing...and getting more work. And while the money is coming in, I'm going to make time to take myself to NYC. To push myself away from the desk and the computer. To not even take the computer with me. And go.

Go to where my soul (and my heart) reside. Go to that place where I can touch life's waters and let them flow into me. Go to that place where I can wake up and embrace life in all its craziness and creativity, and excitement and jubilance...

I've been starving too long. I've been in exile too long. And if I can't live there--because lord knows it's so darned expensive--then I can at least visit from time to time. Stop denying myself that one simple pleasure--because there's more in that pleasure than there is in any of the others I can embrace.

In nurturing my Soul again, I hope to better nurture my Mind and my Body.

We'll see what happens next...

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Hartford Courant Forums: "Incivil" or Just a Really Loud Conversation?

UPDATE 6/17/08: Something has gone totally wrong with the Courant's boards. Mayor Eddie Perez called for the Courant to ban "what he calls 'racist hate speech' in the discussion forums" Governments shouldn't intervene in the business of the newspaper--and the newspaper should sufficiently police its own forums. In this case, the relationship with Topix may result in dire consequences for the Courant.

In her Sunday column, Hartford Courant reader representative Karen Hunter discussed (or is it kvetched about?) the how the Courant's Reader Forums are a terribly nasty place:
I have to admit I don't wander light-heartedly through The Courant's online forums. When a reader asks, I will take a look for an exceptionally rough exchange. Sometimes the callers are the targets of the slings. Many times I hear from readers who have no connection to a story but are repulsed that The Courant would host such uncivil discourse

The Courant's Forum "experiment" (as Hunter referred to it) is only about 8 months old. Not long in the life of a newspaper forum--so I was particularly bothered by Hunter's words, not to mention what appears to be the small fact that she really doesn't spend time there other than to follow up on someone's email to her about the forums...

How odd--going to your own newspaper's Forums only because someone else is requesting you to do so! This most certainly will lead to an inability to fully comprehend the community that's developed on those forums.

Wanting to know more about how "incivility" on a eight-month old forum could make a paper's reader representative tremble in fear and loathing, I started to poke around more on the H.C. site, just to see for myself what the deal was (as I am rather fearless of online forums--remembering the rule of "lurk before posting.") I found some things that, on the one hand, could be contributing to the incivility, and, on another, be nothing more than a viewpoint distortion based on the columnist's squeamishness (or is it dashed hopes?) about online discourse.

First, the Forums are pretty difficult to find from the Hartford Courant's main page. Looking around, I found nowhere to click into them. And no indication that they're hosted on either. Maybe the Courant announced this little feature when they first launched the forums, but if I was just moving to Hartford and wanted this sort of thing from the H.C., I'd have no idea that the Forums even existed.

Which raises the question: why might the Hartford Courant's forums be hosted on anyway? Well, money *could* be a consideration. Sometimes it's difficult to cobble a forum feature onto the back end of another platform--costly, and like putting an Continental kit on the back of a '56 Cadillac.
Topix might have given the H.C. a good deal for hosting their forums--maybe some administrative guidance, too. Hunter writes about assoc. online editor Paul Stern's interactions with Topix administrators: "Almost on a daily basis I ask the Topix administrators to permanently ban posters who are particularly offensive. The Topix folks always oblige, though the offending users often return from a different computer and we have to ban them again.

Well, the Topix folks *should* oblige. The H.C. Forum IS hosted on their site. (still, this was a really crummy, half-measure for having forums--and could indirectly contribute to the incivility--as there are no rules handed down from the H.C. directly to their commenters. This is often the case with newspaper forums. And, if you don't give people rules--as well as good moderation--you're setting yourself up for failure.)

Now, because I was so interested in the H.C.'s online conversation, I wondered how the heck I could get from Hunter's article to the entire Forum. To get there, I had to first go to the reader comments--which I could reach by clicking on the "Read all 106 Comments" line at in the comments box at the bottom of the post.
Or, I could click where it says "reader feedback" in the Article Tools box on the upper right hand side of the article. To get to the list of all the "reader comments" I could click on either the word "Forum" in the upper left corner or, in the little gray box on the right, click "Posted in the Hartford Courant Forum" (you can see those features in the pic.)

So, once I figured out how to negotiate the Courant's Forum space, I ventured in to see what was going on....and quite frankly, from the perspective of someone who's been doing the whole online communication thing for close to ten years now, the Courant's Forums are doing ok. They are NOT as "incivil" as Karen Hunter believes them to be. Here's the Forum Main Page--you'll notice that there are one-hundred (100?!?) active topics just on this page alone--and most receiving comments within the past two hours! And take a look at the numbers of comments

What they've got over on the Hartford Courant's Forums is a a lively community--yes, there are folks who are really off-base, some who are just hot-headded, and others who act as good community police by calling out the offenders.

More importantly, there's lots of really good online conversation. It's not all horrors...

Stern isn't alone--maybe he just hasn't figured out that he's got allies in there. Although when he says ""I kill a dozen or so bad posts on a typical day - sometimes many more..." you'd *think* he was totally alone. I wonder if he really even knows there are folks out there helping him. And, that when conversation gets really heated on particular issues (racism appears to be a very contentious topic in the region the H.C. covers) it's the moderator's job to delete stuff!

Yet when a Forum has so many stories with active comments, the numbers of comments to be deleted will, more than likely, be high. That's just a numbers game.

So, how might the Courant deal with the nasty-commenter numbers game?:
More monitoring would be ideal, but the reality is the volume of comments and staffing priorities prevent that.
It's more like the H.C. probably doesn't have the money to pull in seasoned community moderators who might actually like having the job.

The solution: Stern has campaigned for an end to anonymous postings.

Well...there goes the all the "nice" people will take over...

(please take a look at the comments to Hunter's post to read what the people not only know but think of anonymous posting. Pretty smart stuff overall. Dare I say smarter than the Courant Staff???)

Hunter then goes on to quote a true authority on the goings on of online life and anonymity, Andrew Keen:
think the most corrosive thing of today's Internet is anonymity," Keen, author of "The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet Is Killing Our Culture," told NewsHour Senior Correspondent Jeffrey Brown.

"That's what's creating such an uncivil world. It's a pre-social contract place. It's a state of nature. We're not behaving ourselves properly on it, very often because we don't reveal who we are. Much of the most uncivil conversation, much of the unpleasantness of the Internet is carried out by people who won't reveal who they are."

Now, I have nothing against Keen, and I think he's often a good antidote to a lot of the Silicon Valley hype, but he's way off on this one. And is, overall, playing into the ignorance and fear of online communities that so many online community newbies (people and news orgs alike) have about them.

Keen never refers to the importance of anonymity in places where people are oppressed or where they fear retribution. As I found from reading the H.C. Forums, there are people who fear reprisals from law enforcement(probably justly)--and, I'm sure, some who might fear reprisals from employers if they posted under their real names.

Now, if the Courant really wants a solution, they should look at what their readers are saying in the comments and take both Hunter and Stern's opinions only as part of the solution. From the comments, it appears that many readers wouldn't mind a registration mechanism that allowed also for screen names--as long as they were assured their information might never be turned over to outside and third parties. Still, I think the better antidote would be a better understanding of what goes on in online communities as well as more moderation of the boards. These are super-active boards, and one or two people just isn't enough. Overwork could lead someone like Stern to figure that if they posted under their real names, everything would be hunky-dory.

No--that would just make the H.C.'s Forums into a happy-happy-joy-joy echo chamber. Sanitized For Your Protection.

Right now they've got evolving conversation and community--just like in a diner or in a barroom (well, in some comments sections, more like a barroom at 2a.m...)

Because the staff is overworked and (probably) underpaid doesn't merit censoring the community.

Perhaps Hunter should put down the Keen and read a bit of Shirky about online communities and Weinberger on the importance of anonymity. Then try going into the boards as a lurker, just listening to understand what people are talking about, not looking for things to react to.

Maybe she'll change her mind. I hope so--for the community's sake.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Techmeme Leaderboard Goes Live!

And a large swath of the blogosphere just got jumpier than a cat in a roomfull of rocking chairs....some even declaring the end of blogging....

But seriously, Gabe Rivera announced said Leaderboard with an explanation that kind of reminded me of Technorati's Top 100, and then Feedster's 500 (what happened to Feedster anyway??)....

Gabe's pulling no punches, however, and being quite open about how Techmeme and the Leaderboard are biased:
I wish it were obvious, but there's no such thing as an unbiased automated news site (or search engine for that matter). Automation doesn't remove bias, it merely obscures it. The configurations that make Techmeme a tech news site embody some of that bias. Beyond that, headlines are also skewed by Techmeme's emphasis of business news over areas like video game reviews, developer news, gadget arcana, and green tech. Finally, influencers that communicate mainly in links don't figure prominently on Techmeme. Slashdot is widely read, yet absent from the top 100.

The great thing about Gabe's transparency is that there's no way that folks who don't blog about business or tech can bitch and moan about not being aggregated by Techmeme. We *know* that it's rigged. And knowing it's rigged makes it a *tad* easier to digest...

and I say a *tad* because, well, as my friend Jeneane Sessum astutely observes:
I see two things: high profile traditional media outlets and a lot of popular white tech guys. Where are the Michelle Arringtons? The Darla Winers? The Jackie Jarvises? The GigaOphelias? Dude, who moved my uterus?

Good point, Jeneane--although danah's in there, and Kara Swisher (more women in the groupblogs though.) But, you're right too that, aside from this danah and Kara, there probably won't be any of us up there any time soon. (although it's mighty weird to see the Associated Press in there--yeah, your right about meet-the-new-boss-same-as-the-old-boss. Would be nice if the Girls could innovate a tech-based group blog! ha!)

It's not that women aren't good solo bloggers--and not that women *aren't* visible in the blogosphere...we're just not bloggin-a-plenty on tech and business.

In fact, it seems that women have constructed their own (possibly countable) corner of the blogosphere over at BlogHer where there is much discussion about the things lots of women bloggers are into. (the Blogher 100?? I wouldn't make that one either.)

Oh, let's face it Jeneane, there aren't a lot of us kinda geeky types who care about the latest wankings about Facebook or the latest piece of technological kitsch that's going to make a bunch of folks heavy sigh today and cry tomorrow (when their investment goes out the window...See this about Skype.) Lots of women bloggers don't give a darned about what Michael Arrington says because they're more concerned about the babies in their laps or the sturm und drang of their dating lives.

Or food. Lots of women food bloggers, too.

Now, don't get me wrong--I used to write a lot about my own messy relationship sturm und drang until I figured out that there weren't all that many women listening to me--and that I could have more fun (and links and influence, more or less)blogging about guy-type stuff.

And I started getting aggregated by Techmeme :-)

Dan Farber's piece on the Leaderboard relies heavily on something Scoble said about the Leaderboard-- the possible "death" of blogging, and how *everybody* who's *anybody* is going to Twitter....

Well, not really. Sure, there's lots of folks on Twitter. But I'm not on Twitter. Not a lot of the people I know from blogging or other social media hangouts are on Twitter--and for lots of reasons. So, maybe Robert's friends trump my friends for A-listyness--but who knows...

And does it really matter? Is it really all about one's friends and fans and family--or is it all about influence and getting contracts and making the grade to become eligible for BlogAds? These are two different things, really...

Although things have definitely shifted in blogging--and Lisa Williams and I felt the shift. We were talking about it earlier tonight in reference to our own feelings about our blogs. We were both saying how blogging's now part of a larger landscape of "social media." Now there are many ways of reaching out to friends and expressing oneself and one's thoughts. Even the blogosphere itself is more fractured, with a marketing sphere, and a political sphere, and a "mommy sphere, and a tried-and-true tech sphere, and a blogging-for-bucks sphere--and the folks of one sphere often don't meet, greet, nor interact with one another.

As I learned at the last BlogHer conference, you can be an influencer and know tons of people and yet if you're not blogging about your kids, you can be totally anonymous in a roomful of other bloggers...

All depends on the blogger's priorities--and the group to whit she/he is accepted.

An odd statement from Robert, though: [I] noticed that it has very few bloggers on it — I can only see about 12 real blogs on that list.....

Aside from the fact that there are a lot of msm sits, the fact that there are very few solo bloggers is something I noticed about the top of the Technorati Top 100 sometime back--when all of a sudden, Huffington Post, in less than a year, was in the top 10. H.P was *never* a solo blog. And, from that point on, the majority of the "top" blogs of the Top 100 were group blogs (with the exception of the Asian blogs that broke the top 100 in Feb '06--none of the white guys could figure that one out.) Part of that shift had to do with posting frequency--group blogs could churn out more posts than single person blogs, thus generate more links. The great blog BoingBoing was at the top spot for *the longest* time, and it was never a single-person voice-in-the-wilderness blog.

Frankly, since I've been blogging (since November '04--on the shuttered personal blog), it's been darned hard for a single-person voice-in-the-wilderness blog to crack the Technorati Top 100. That was one thing many of us bitched and moaned about because of the whole notion of permalinks being cumulative along with postlinks left us rather screwed. If you started in '04, there was little likelihood that you'd be able to catch up with someone who, say, started in '01.

That is, unless you group-blogged-it, like Huffington...and put out huge press Huffington...and had all sorts of celebrity-blogger names you could have post to your Huffington...

So, the blogosphere as some folks knew it, was never really the blogosphere as I knew it. Although I have managed to get my squeaky voice heard out there. And get some decent perks for it. Which I think is pretty darned amazing...

So, I say, good luck with the Leaderboard, Gabe. And who knows..maybe, if I keep this blogging thing up, I just might break this top 100. (but I won't hold my breath on that one...I know better now...)

Update: I forgot to mention that there are *more* lists out there that impact which blogs get traffic and links--two notables from the marketing 'sphere are the AdAge Power 150 and the W List of women bloggers (which is also a meme that started circulating around mid Aug--See Toby Bloomberg's post which is where I found out about it.) There's also 2K Bloggers which made a number of people very upset when it launched (saying it would "game" Technorati--when, in fact, Technorati had already been "gamed" by splogs that ended up adding specious links to already established high-ranking blogs.) Yet the tech 'sphere hardly commented on these. Perhaps this is a symptom that tech is now its own niche in the long tail, and that there's just no way for one standard Top 100 list to rule the entire blogosphere. More on this later.