By Meredith Farkas | September 8, 2007
“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”
Steven Bell wrote a comment on my post about the Top Three Library-Related Blogs survey:
I hate to be a curmudgeon or party pooper, but I’m not sure I like this idea – in general I think it’s a bad idea to create rankings of library blogs – and many other things. I know it may be regarded as a fun activity by most, but like most rankings I believe it ultimately breeds an unwelcome atmosphere of competitiveness. And just look at how college rankings have contributed to the corruption of higher education. Instead of focusing on student centered education, IHEs do the things that will get them higher rankings. As long as your blog serves the needs of its readers – no matter how many you have or how much or how little popularity you’ve achieved – isn’t that enough?
I actually mostly agree with what Steven is saying here and I don’t think he’s being a curmudgeon at all. I figure I should explain my real impetus for doing this, because it’s certainly not to have a definitive list of the top blogs.
I’ve argued in the past that blog rankings are a bad idea. And it’s done no good whatsoever because it still goes on in the library blogosphere and people still take it too seriously. My goal with this survey is to show that there are many, many, many ways of ranking blogs and none of them are definitive. I strongly believe that the results from this survey will be different from those I’ve seen in the past. I think some blogs that are on top will still wind up on top, but probably some that never make those Top ___ lists will end up there also. There are people who have a lot of blog subscribers and then there are people who have fans who are really passionate about their blog. Sometimes they’re the same, sometimes not. Some people get lots of comments while others don’t, but get a lot of people linking to them. Is one better than the other? No.
There are a lot of tools that people have used to rank library blogs. OEDB’s rankings (which took their initial sample from DMOZ — yes, DMOZ) used Google Page Rank, Alexa Rank (which measures traffic), Technorati Authority (which measure links to a blog), Bloglines subscribers and where one shows up in a Google search for “librarian blog.” The last one in particular makes no sense to me, since plenty of blogs written by librarians are not called The ___ Librarian and will likely not come up early on in a search for that reason. I remember Walt Crawford, in his investigation of the biblioblogosphere, looking at “conversational intensity” in his ratings. He looked at blog comments and I can’t remember if he also looked at blogs that referred to the blog post as well, but that would also be a good way of measuring conversational intensity. But, is conversational intensity a good way to measure the worth of a blog? No. I probably get more comments than the Librarian in Black, but it certainly doesn’t make my blog better than hers because most of her posts are informational and most of mine are about starting a conversation. They’re just different. You’re measuring apples and oranges when you try to measure blogs that don’t try to accomplish the same thing in the first place.
What about numbers like page views, hits and Bloglines subscribers? I have over 1,500 subscribers in Bloglines. However, I’m sure a lot of people started Bloglines subscriptions, subscribed to my blog (among others) and then stopped using Bloglines. Heck, I’m one of those people! Think of all the Learning 2.0 participants and people in courses like 5 Weeks and my InfoPeople course who were required to subscribe to blogs in an aggregator. A lot of them probably gave it up right away. However, they still count as subscribers. As a result, the people who’ve had blogs longer often have more inflated numbers. Looking at server stats is a better way to measure how many people are really visiting your blog, but even that is not a great measure because of those nasty spammers who also inflate our numbers. There are so many things that affect these numbers that I find it difficult to give them much credence.
What makes your blog a success depends on what your goals for it are. Why do you blog? Looking at the responses I saw in the Survey of the Biblioblogosphere, I didn’t see anything about having the most subscribers, having the highest Google Page Rank, or being the most well-known blogger. I saw people who wanted to share information with others, who want to keep current, who want to become part of a community and who want to process their own ideas about professional issues. So, if you want to share information with others, it’s probably important to have an audience, but it probably doesn’t matter as much how many comments you get or how many people link to you. If your goal in blogging is to keep yourself current or to process your own ideas about professional issues, popularity shouldn’t matter at all. If your goal is to be part of a community, it shouldn’t matter how big or small that community is, but you may care about things like “conversational intensity” because you want to be a part of the community conversation. So, think about why you blog and let that guide your vision of success.
My goal when I first started writing my blog was to improve my writing skills and keep current. I didn’t expect to get an audience and I was ok with that. When I did start to get an audience, my view of my blog changed. I wanted to write things that would be helpful to someone; even if it was just one or two people. I wanted to write for the people who often have no voice. I used to be afraid to express myself and I never knew there were other people out there who felt the way I did about things. I wanted to write things that made people say “you know, I’ve never admitted it before, but I feel that way too.” That’s why I wrote that post last week about the Library 2.0 Idea Adoption Spectrum. I wanted to speak to those who feel overwhelmed or alienated by the 2.0 rhetoric; to show them that there is a middle road they can take. I honestly don’t think lots of 2.0 people are using really confrontational rhetoric, but I know I have felt like certain things were confrontational, and if I did, I figure maybe other people did too. And if that blog post made just one person see that there can be a happy medium in there (that being 2.0 doesn’t mean not providing all of the great non-techie services you always have), then I feel like I met my goal. Sometimes it’s a comment, an e-mail, or a link from another blog. If my writing touched a chord for just one person, I feel pretty darn good about things. If this is my goal, does it really matter if I have the most subscribers in Bloglines? Not really. I have a good blog because I meet my personal goals for it.
Looking at people’s top three favorite blogs is also a measure not to be trusted, though it is interesting. I subscribe to almost 200 blogs, but I had to pick 3 favorites. For me, these are the blogs I most look forward to getting posts from in my aggregator and whose posts I am most likely to read all the way through. That doesn’t mean that I don’t love the other 180 or so blogs I subscribe to. Truthfully, I don’t really LOVE all of them — some I subscribe to out of habit. And that’s the crux of the issue for me. We never know why people subscribe to blogs. Is it out of habit? Is it for a class? Do they really enjoy what they read or do they hit “mark as read” for 90% of what is written? How does it affect them to read what we wrote? So what does a subscription really mean? We don’t see what they do with our posts or how our posts affect the reader, so it’s really just a number. I think having people pick their three favorites allow us to see which blogs mean the most to them. Two of my “favorites” don’t show up on any Top __ Library Blogs list, but they’re still my favorites for reasons that are incredibly subjective and personal. Still, we won’t know why they are people’s favorites and everyone will have different reasons. Because readers also have different goals for reading blogs. I read some to keep up, others to make me think, and still others to make me laugh. Just because you’re not someone’s favorite doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy reading you. They just don’t value what your type of blog provides as much as they value another type.
I guess in doing survey, I hope to show paradoxically that rankings don’t have much meaning and that we shouldn’t hang our hearts and egos on them. Maybe this will backfire in my face and we will get the exact same rankings that every other one of these top ___ library blog lists has come up with and it will just confirm for people that there is a way of measuring which blogs are “the best”. I hope not.
I also plan to make the entire record of voting public so you can see not only who the top __ are, but also those who were named a favorite blog by even one or two people. No matter where you are on the list, if even one person thinks your blog is the best, you should be pretty chuffed! If I can’t get people to stop taking rankings so seriously, I hope to at least show that no one ranked list should be taken as definitive.
What is your goal for blogging? How do you measure the success of your blog?