Everyone is all a-twitter about Walt Crawford’s investigation of the biblioblogosphere where he measured the “reach” of blogs and highlighted the top 50 librarian blogs. And I hate to play devil’s advocate, but I can’t pretend that I think ranking blogs is a good thing.
I found the study interesting in an academic sense. Metrics have always been a particular interest of mine (especially metrics for things that probably can’t be accurately measured) and I was curious to see what methodology Walt was going to use in his study. Bloglines subscriptions is one way to rank blogs, but it is notoriously inaccurate. I have over 300 subscribers on Bloglines to Information Wants to be Free, but when I upgraded WordPress, the only feeds that came up initially showed me as having 9 subscribers (it also killed my archives, which I have since fixed). Server stats can be useful, but with referrer spam, those can be inaccurate as well. I have no idea how accurate my stats are when I find URLs about party poker in my referral logs (what is party poker anyways?). Online searches? Maybe this is just my own experience, but I’ve noticed that WordPress blogs seem to be ranked more highly in web searches than other blogs. My blog is often at the top of searches that have little to nothing to do with what I write about. Then there are measures of the number of people linking to the blog, which is done through Technorati and PubSub. I often find more blogs linking to me by looking at Bloglines citations than Technorati, and often Technorati counts being in someone’s blogroll as a “link”. Blogpulse does a better job of finding actual citations. Before I went to Vermont, when I was writing a lot, my Blogpulse rank was somewhere around 1300, but now I’m closer to 3000 because I haven’t been writing anything that people would bother linking to. That’s the other thing. With blogs, these rankings can change daily, so it’s hard to depend on them as reliable measures of “reach.” From my stats in July, one would think I was an A-list blogger (only three other library blogs were ahead of me at the time), when really, I just happened to be writing things people found interesting. Greg Schwartz of Open Stacks, on the other hand, was at 5500 towards the end of July, but now with his fabulous Carnival of the Infosciences, he’s at 1307. It’s interesting to see these trends and how a good post/idea can affect one’s stats, but anything that changeable certainly isn’t a good stable measurements for calculating “reach”.
The metric I liked most that Walt used was conversational intensity. Some of the blogs I read — including “A-list” blogs — link to interesting stories, but rarely include thought-provoking original work that I’d feel compelled to comment on. Other blogs generate furious debates. Others don’t even allow comments. Should this be taken into account? If so, how? Is it just number of comments or the quality of those comments? And quality can hardly be measured. Walt developed his own interesting system of ranking the biblioblogosohere. I don’t know if I’d do it the same way. Actually, I wouldn’t do it at all.
Because really, you can get all the statistics you want, but you will never really be able to rank blogs in terms of “reach.” A blog differs in quality and reach from post to post. I’ve written posts that nobody has read and others that have been linked to in dozens of places and have generated a ton of comments. And what is “reach”? In terms of reach, I’d be more interested in learning is who is reading these blogs. When I went to the ALA Conference, I felt like the only people I met who read blogs were at the Bloggers Soiree (and that wasn’t exactly a surprise). Are we just preaching to the choir? How many people outside of the biblioblogosphere are reading our blogs? How many library directors, how many non-techie librarians, how many paraprofessionals are reading these blogs? To learn about “reach” we really have to survey our readers. I wish in my survey I’d asked how many of my readers have a blog — I’ll bet it would be a large number. I’ll post what I learned from my own reader survey as soon as I can. This whole new home-owner thing is all-consuming!
On the whole, I don’t like a popularity contest and I don’t really see the need/point of ranking library blogs. It’s great to highlight blogs that a person thinks are great, but why perpetuate the insular/clique-ish stereotype of the biblioblogosphere by actually ranking them and leaving certain people out in the cold? I can only imagine that some bloggers who did not make the top 50 found this to be discouraging — though I hope they didn’t care. I know when I started my blog, I felt like getting people to read my blog would be well nigh impossible, as it seemed that there was a small circle of blogs that linked to one another and perpetuated each other’s popularity. How does one break into that? Luckily no one at the time told me I was not a “top 50” biblioblogger. A lot of my favorite library blogs were not in Walt’s Top 50. And I’ve actually unsubscribed to some of the top blogs mentioned because I didn’t really feel like they were writing anything original or anything I couldn’t find somewhere else. Not only do I think that it’s impossible to accurately rank blogs, but I think this sort of popularity contest thing is a mistake. For all the buzz about Walt’s research, what is the real purpose of ranking those blogs? How many people reading Cites and Insights weren’t already aware of most of those Top 50 blogs?
I’d like to highlight some blogs that didn’t make the cut. Some of these were mentioned in the study and some weren’t. All of them provide thoughtful and useful original content. Many of them are up-and-comers and some have been around a long time and don’t get nearly the sort of audience they deserve. So here, in no particular order, are just a few of the unsung heroes of the biblioblogosphere.
The Distant Librarian — Paul Pival, Distance Librarian at the University of Calgary, writes on-topic, practical posts about library technologies and distance librarianship. If you’re at all interested in distance learning, this is one not to miss!
lis.dom — In my humble opinion, Laura Crosset (winner of Best Overall at the EFF Blog-a-Thon) writes the best blog posts ever. They are thoughtful, original, relevant, critical, empassioned, personal, and most of all, interesting. Her post about the Wikipedia was probably the most intelligent piece I’ve seen written on the topic. Her blog is new-ish and that is the only reason everyone and their cousin isn’t reading her yet.
::schwagbag:: — Sherri Vokey of UNLV (soon to be of Toronto) is always informing us about the most interesting new tech things to use to better serve our patron. Her research on and implementation of IM reference at her library has really inspired me to try and do the same at MPOW. Hers is “a look at technology in libraries from a distant point of view.”
Gypsy Librarian — Angel, a newbie academic librarian like me, writes plenty of long thoughtful pieces about libraries, education, and blogging. Lots of interesting article reviews as well. “My first blog. I am hoping to use this as a tool to reflect and learn more about being a librarian and educator. I will likely feature items about librarianship as well as things I read in my other areas of academic interest or of interest as a reader.”
Random Access Mazar (Diary of a Subversive Librarian) — to me, Rochelle is the Dorothy Parker of the biblioblogosphere. Her acid wit and her clever picking apart of the b.s. in higher education and librarianship make me wish I lived in Toronto to enjoy her in real life. Just like Dorothea, you know that Rochelle isn’t going to pull any punches in her highly original pieces.
Wanderings of a Student Librarian — Joy Moll, a grad student who clearly has the soul of a poet, writes posts in a variety of formats. From interesting reference-related subject guides to discussions of technology, to reflections on her experiences as a library school student, Joy’s work is always original and always thoughtful.
The Do-It-Yourself Librarian — Well, maybe she’d be in the top 50 if she posted more often!!! (hint hint). Carolyn Minor is an Information Literacy Intern at the University of Winnipeg, and writes about new technologies and their role in providing information literacy instruction. Really interesting stuff for anyone interested in blogs, wikis, learning objects, screencasts, and their practical applications in libraries.
Library Voice — I really can’t imagine why more technologically-minded librarians don’t read this blog. Chad Boeninger, a Business Librarian at Ohio University, primarily writes about the great things he is doing at his library. These things include creating a subject blog, creating a wiki subject guide, and developing an IM reference pilot project modeled on Sherri’s initiative. His posts are the sort I plan to print out and show to my supervisor when I want to get something done.
Check out the Carnival of the Infosciences and Bentley’s This Week in LibraryBlogland for more interesting suggestions.
So what other non top-50 Blogs would you recommend?
Thanks for the tip about Ms. Vokey’s blog. It looks like something I would like to add to my readings. I think people who put up notes about favorite or good blogs to read are great. I get all sorts of ideas and inspiration from people like Bentley and Open Stacks’ Carnival (they are like public services for the rest of us, and I mean that in a good way). I did read the Mr. Crawford’s report with interest (not so much because I am into metrics. I can handle them, but my calling is elsewhere) in part to find something different than the usual stuff about Technorati and similar services. It is interesting how he ranked some of them. I am sure people will be talking about it for quite a while. I found his rating on voice sort of curious. Some people he qualified as strong voices seemed right on, others I was “huh?” Oh well, I suppose that is part of what this is about. I am sure, like you propose, that other people could make their own list of 50 (or more or less or in between?).
Finally, thanks for the mention. The only thing I can say is that I am humbled and honored. Best.
[…] Jessamyn and Meredith have reflected on some of the blogs that weren’t in Walt’s list, so I began to think about what some of mine were. Frankly, a lot of the blogs I read were on the list. […]
Lots to agree with here, but I think the “purpose” of Walt’s inquiry was mostly academic and a satisfying of his innate desire to research and play with numbers. I think he fully recognized that it was a flawed approach and that reaction would be mixed. The metrics he used seem to be weighted to blogs that have been around longer, allowing for more linkage and heavier engine indexing.
Personally, I find it mostly distressing to be lumped into the top group, since my relatively high “ranking” is probably more a matter of time in existence than anything else. To be certain, there are only a few blogs with any measurable reach outside of LIS world: pretty much Jenny, Jessamyn, Steven and Gary are it.
Reach has been a roller coaster at best for me. When I dropped off the face of the earth for a few months last year, my readership all but disappeared. Then, with the introduction of the podcast and now the Carnival, subscriptions and linkage have been steadily growing again. But neither of these gimmicks (for lack of a better term) is what brought people to Open Stacks in the first place way back when. I used to actually write. Sigh.
Anyway, I agree with your blog suggestions here and there are way too many others to highlight. Two others that come to mind are James Jacobs at Library Autonomous Zone and Mark Lindner at …the thoughts are broken…
Thanks for the shout out. 🙂 Right back at ya!
“I think the “purpose” of Walt’s inquiry was mostly academic and a satisfying of his innate desire to research and play with numbers.”
I totally agree Greg, but I think there are better ways of doing that, which would not have turned it into a popularity contest. Here’s what I would have done: take ten library blogs at random with fairly high Bloglines readership (over 200?). Then rank them using the various possible measures to show how differently they’d come out based on different metrics. Walt could still develop his own ranking system and could rank things, but without making it seem like it’s the difinitive ranking of the biblioblogosphere (and I know he doesn’t claim it is, but from all the buzz, it sure sounds like it is).
I’m sure Walt only had good intentions, but I really believe there are better ways of playing with numbers and researching the biblioblogosphere.
Just my 2 cents.
Nothing wrong with playing devil’s advocate. I do it from time to time.
Oddly, I’m not reading the reaction as being that I’ve come up with “the definitive ranking”–not at all. I must be seeing different buzz.
You and Rochelle are saying in no uncertain terms that my article was a bad thing. OK; I’ll collect that along with the surprisingly positive reactions, quite a few of them from people who weren’t in the 60 profiles. Frankly, I was expecting this sort of reaction (what I’m calling the “hornet’s nest round”) earlier and more emphatically–enough so that I came close to abandoning the whole effort.
But hey, critics need something to criticize. Pleased to provide a target.
I honestly don’t believe that anyone who’s blogging for any good reason (which can include ego, having something to say, finding it amusing, or a topical orientation–or any other reason, for that matter) should or will be discouraged because they’re not in the profiled list. That’s not what I’ve heard from half a dozen “non-profiled” folks. Any such reaction makes me wonder what people’s expectation of blogging is: The roar of the crowd is a fickle thing.
I’m sorry, Walt, that I didn’t write sooner, but I started my new job last Monday and bought a house on Friday, so I’ve been a bit too busy to think about the biblioblogosphere. I can’t speak for anyone else.
I’m not usually a “critic”-type and I’d initially planned not to write anything about what you wrote (in spite of the uneasy feeling your article gave me), but I was surprised that no one else thought ranking the biblioblogosphere might not be the best idea. So please don’t think I was just looking for something to criticize.
I’m glad that most people liked what you did, but that doesn’t answer my question as to why we need to rank blogs at all. What good does it do? Couldn’t you have played with metrics and provided useful stats on the biblioblogosphere without actually ranking those 230-some blogs? Couldn’t you have highlighted blogs without ranking them? Maybe I just don’t “get it” but the article left me with a bad taste in my mouth.
Surveys, Swell Blogs, and a Self-Correction
Jessamyn and Meredith have both commented on Walt’s Top 50 Librarian bloggers piece in the latest Cites & Insights, and they’re curious to know what blogs we’re reading. Here are two I’d recommend.
One thing that I would be interested to find out is – as you alluded to – the number of people who read library blogs vs the number of people who write library blogs. Blogs seem to be getting evaluated by the number of citations they recieve, and by doing so we’re only counting the opinions of those who also blog themselves. What is the percentage of people who read library blogs, yet don’t write themselves? If the number is significant, we’d have to question the validity of counting citations to evaluate blogs.
Also, I’d be interested to find out a breakdown of the above by library type. It seems that there aren’t nearly as many corporate librarian bloggers as there are public or academic – is this because corporate librarians are only reading blogs but not writing them, or is it because they aren’t part of the ‘blogosphere’ entirely.
[…] One of the things that happens when people say incredibly nice things about your writing (thanks, Meredith, Greg, Mark, and my mom’s friends) is that on the one hand you think, Dude, I’m a rock star! and on the other hand you think, Cripes, I’m never going to be able to write anything again because it’s not going to live up to people’s expectations. That’s my other excuse for not writing much recently. […]