Nominating blogs for blog ranking competitions

I didn’t participate in this year’s Total Politics 2009 Best Blogs Poll, because I couldn’t get interested in ranking without the constraints of a set of criteria, and none of the vote-soliciting bloggers proposed owt. I also came over a bit Marxist – “any club that would have me as a member…”

Call this shutting the stable door, but here are some criteria I’d have brought to bear if I had got my act together.

Beyond political values I have two particular influences – in the areas of effects and, since this is political blogging and moods run firey, conduct, respectively.

Stephen Downes (Canadian online learning theorist and national-level advisor) rightly rejects the usual metrics for blogging and proposes an alternative set which he encountered in Douglas Wort’s Journal of Museum Education paper. I would like to adopt/adapt some of these too because I’m only interested in political blogs from which I learn, and learning about politics should be nurtured as a deliberate act which involves your readers taking responsibility for what they know and what they value.

Tim O’Reilly called for bloggers to collaborate on a bloggers’ code of conduct and proceeded to start the ball rolling himself, which was received with a fair amount of scepticism, even opprobrium but which, while I reject much of it, had more than a lot good in it. The most exciting part is the approach to dealing with trolls: “Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, but the pig likes it.” Much good came out of O’Reilly’s brave initiative.

Then there are some other criteria of my own (note that this blog doesn’t fare so well and I wouldn’t vote for it).

So, on to my list of desirable qualities, which I’ll turn into criteria against which to rank political blogs:

  • Is secularist and democratic.*
  • Is transparent about its values.
  • Engages a diverse public.
  • Stimulates interactions between its readers.
  • Addresses vital and relevant needs or topics for its readership.
  • Catalyses action.
  • Links existing groups or spheres to one another.
  • Respects and nurtures the reasoning faculties of its readers: is accurately informative with sources; flags gaps or areas of controversy; avoids take-my-word-for-it assertions; avoids bombast and inflammatory rhetoric; causes readers to work hard; scaffolds this work.
  • Exploits the blogging media in creative ways which distinguish the blog from established media.
  • Understands the difference between civility and decency; deals decisively but gracefully – even creatively – with recidivist (abusive, spiteful, demeaning, hateful, bigotted) commenters; defends other commenters against these kinds of attacks; is not – intentionally or otherwise – gladiatorial.
  • Allows commenter anonymity and pseudonymity; allows commenters to advance opinions online that they would not be able to advance in person
  • Keeps faith with comment; values its commenters as a community
  • Maintains confidentiality
  • Has a sense of humour

All for now.

Update: I would like to add “Is informative” to my list of criteria. The campaign around Vestas has me realise afresh how flimsy most political blogging (particularly green blogging, sadly) is in this respect. I have trawled widely and shallowly (acting like most web readers) for a reassertion of the environmental credentials of wind turbines, for an explanation of why it is an environmental good to site a factory like this on the Isle of Wight, and for a discussion of our planning laws. In vain. I’ve been trying to research a post on it for ages now, but the info is buried. Being informative is fundamental to political blogging – all commentary and analysis is predicated on it. That’s why I’ll try to finish it.

*Vegan, feminist, socialist, environmentalist – but there is, after all, a point to political opposition and it wouldn’t do to only vote for blogs whose politics you share – even if I could find them.


24 thoughts on “Nominating blogs for blog ranking competitions

  1. Yes, you do – and much more. If you like it, feel free to take and improve – it’s just a first pass.

    The criteria need weighting, otherwise Norm loses out because he doesn’t take comments. I really feel that the built-in crit of the comments is helpful – but only if there is a critical mass of constructive people prepared to get involved. For this reason I sometimes think of Norm as more of a periodical political column on a blogging platform – but that neglects the aspect of blogging that surfaces the opinions of people who do not wish to be mediated by an editor, publisher or seller. So I wouldn’t want to stipulate that commenting is an integral part of political blogging – and if you track the impact of Norm’s posts round the web, it is huge.

  2. Force, you say?

    Bloggers are not squadists!

    Decency and reason win arguments, and none of your Jedi mind tricks will do 🙂

  3. Weggis, do you know whether any of the top Green bloggers got much traffic from it? And what can be said about the ranking?

    The way I see it, either this is a serious as is appropriate for a political blogosphere which looks poised to inherit the job of informing democratic process from paid journalism, or it isn’t. And if it is, you’d expect some kind of criteria proposal on the part of Total Politics. And if it isn’t, then we need one that is, but for now as the good Jedi said, the force is weak and we don’t have to worry.

  4. I have been down this road. The problem is that the criteria and the weightings are value judgements in themselves. They are merely a reflection of the feelings or intuition of the analyser. However objective you try to be you cannot escape your emotions.

    Are you in the game to increase traffic, or be recognised and valued by the traffic you’ve got?

  5. Not sure that Jedi’s stop worrying when the force is weak – the good ones worry about the dark side if I remember correctly.

    There must be some objective creteria we can use in conjunction with the subjective (marks out of 10 etc) ones, although I admit I need to spend some time coming up with them.

  6. Wegs, this top green blogger has had very little traffic from rankings links.

    Other than blogging scandalously, the best way I know to increase traffic is acting like a filter blog and getting stuck into the links economy. JimJay and Bob From Brockley, say, frequently write posts of links to other bloggers. This gets you traffic, and the more catholicly you link, the more traffic you get. It’s savvy blogging for people with a set of politics they want to persuade people about.

    I recognise it but I don’t do it, because I’m not up for too much heat – at the moment, anyway. I only just started, and I move very slowly. It’s a mixture between having a dayjob and the way I see this blog, which is as a place to work things out, with the improving factor of exposure.

    Papanome, the objective ones include, say, Wikio ranking (taken as a measure of readership); possibly access via a feed reader as a proportion of total hits…

  7. How would you know? If someone pops in from a link and then puts you on feed or bookmarks your site then all subsequent visits would not be attributable to the same source. They might even just remember your name and find you later via a search engine. Or someone might just mention it in conversation [you know the F2F sort] resulting in a search engine hit. Some disreputable people will even copy and paste a link into a new tab or new browser session.

    I didn’t know about Wikio rankings. I’m not even listed.

  8. Been following the discussion, very interesting, I think that WordPress is *much* better than blogger for admin tools.

    My first blog was on blogger and frankly they don’t compare, WP is miles ahead, from basic stats to the whole management of a blog.

    It is probably overkill for smaller blogs like mine, but I am often astonished that I get that much traffic (a few thousand or more every month).

    I didn’t realize anyone read my guff, but I even have readers in Sweden 🙂

  9. The other thing to do to improve traffic is anticipate web searches in the titles of posts and (less important) the tags and keywords. This post, for example, could have had Total Politics in the title – then it would have got more attention. But I don’t feel I have time to read and moderate comments.

  10. I have had a look at how Wikio rankings are compiled. They are weighted according to the ranking of the linking blog. So when the top blogs all link to each other, as they do, then it becomes a self perpetuating clique, only letting in newcomers whom they approve of.

    Just because a process involves sums does not mean it is objective. It is merely a reflection of the subjective opinion of existing top bloggers who wish to maintain their own status.

    Traffic levels alone are also just a quantitative measure. As you say it is relatively easy to increase traffic but what is the value of having millions of one hit wonders?

    Qualitative indicators are much more difficult to measure. For example the number of repeat visits, or regular customers is a much better measure of success, IMO. Also for sites like Barkingside 21 whose regular readership mostly consists of local people who are not bloggers themselves and are not particularly interested in other blogs will not get the attention to push it into a top spot.

    However, when 30% of visits via a search engine are specifically searching for “Barkingside 21” and much of the others are locally related then that is also a good measure of progress.

  11. Yep, Wikio is based on counting and weighting subjective choices to link to a page. But if you look over time the rankings are labile. Once (when I was blogging currently and controversially) I was 165; these days when I’m feeling a little dull, sure enough I’m in the mid 500s. So I’d disagree it’s exclusive. But you have to work hard to get high, and you have to be recognised as widely relevant. That’s as it should be, I reckon.

    So B21 gets a good deal of traffic from searches for Barkingside 21, but its relatively low Wikio ranking reflects its local focus and suggests its readers don’t blog so much – I have a higher Wikio ranking because this blog is very eclectic and I catch fleeting interest of a fair few diverse bloggers who find me through keyword searches – researching their posts I surmise – and link just once. But I have few regular followers – I think because the blog is too eclectic to keep most people’s more purposeful interest, and because I rarely break news, and also because I’m more interested in informing than community-building (I reckon this is an imbalance on my part). At the same time I get very little traffic from searches for Fleshisgrass or Flesh Is Grass, and a proportion of those who do arrive here that way are searching for Isaiah 40:6, or commentary.

    Your point about bloggers of local issues attracting local readers who do not necessarily blog is spot on, and this is a Wikio bias against blogs like B21. This is why I’d never suggest that Wikio be a substitute for nominations. It has a different set of in-built bias.

  12. I would like to add “Is informative” to my list of criteria. The campaign around Vestas has me realise afresh how flimsy most political blogging (particularly green blogging, sadly) is in this respect. I have trawled widely and shallowly (acting like most web readers) for a reassertion of the environmental credentials of wind turbines, for an explanation of why it is an environmental good to site a factory like this on the Isle of Wight, and for a discussion of our planning laws. In vain.

    On the other hand, there is B21, Modernity, Harry’s Place. Fonts of info.

    Being informative is fundamental to political blogging – all commentary and analysis is predicated on it.

  13. True enough about Vestas, I couldn’t understand why the issue wasn’t taken up much more.

    I can’t say I was too happy with my output on the topic, I would have prefer a national campaign to nationalise them as an environmental resource and spread the notion of renewable energy, but I don’t think that the real politicos saw how these issues were intertwined, or frankly cared.

    Being stuck on the dole on the Isle of Wight can’t be any fun.

  14. I feel positive about nationalising most things. I wonder what affect that would have on this odd national ignorance and sense of entitlement of ours which has us demanding Swedish welfare provision on American tax rates (as Ben Page from Isos-MORI puts it), and climate action without doing anything to change our consumption habits. I know that most people sniff at individual measures and look expectantly at the government (while loudly scorning it and anticipating its failure) but we have to do this ourselves and stop being capricious bastards. (I’m basically paraphrasing Matthew Taylor here from the latest issue of the RSA Journal but he is ultra-diplomatic).

    Have just read this tale of wind woe from 2006. I forgot that there had been an enormous hike in the price of materials. We couldn’t get hold of them, and additionally the tax breaks for wind weren’t long-term enough for any companies to dare to build a factory. Seems like they were sensible.

    PS Another thing to do to get traffic is to put yourself about a bit on other people’s blogs, piquing curiosity and/or kudos.

  15. when I said objective I was actually thinking about things like whether the blog provides links and references so that fact checking can be done (the blogger doesn’t have to be right), is the comment policy transparent and applied consistently and after that I started to struggle. Also these things would be hard to measure and take up a lot of time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s