Sunday, October 21, 2007

Are aggregators like Techmeme making us dumb?

The dumbing down of the blogosphere is already under way. General purpose, mass-led aggregators like Digg are no better than a young techie male's’ version of a supermarket tabloid. Reddit started strong with politics but is not fast going under with Ron Paul fans and NSFW pics., a bookmarking tool is better but, as is the case with all aggregators, searching for the best in the latest takes effort.

Google News does not give you great news. Essays and opinions are sparse and most headlines are pure pile ons.

Speaking about pile ons, I was pretty enthusiastic when Gabe Reviera’s Techmeme came on the scene, promising to point to the crème-de-la crème of online tech writing (Techmeme, aka Memeorandum has its sister sites for celebs, politics and sports). For a while it was convenient reading the latest deep think about technology and business.

Then I started writing for my own blog in October 2006 and at first I was thrilled to notice 4-5 (never more) footfalls from Techmeme and then I discovered that because I had inadvertently chosen a link already present on Techmeme and had taken time to comment, I think it was a post by Om Malik, that the Gabe Rivera’s algorithm determined that I was ‘someone’ and I must say it wasn’t flattering.

The first response of any budding blogger would have been to comment and link to Techmeme regulars like crazy but I soon found that barring a few writers, most of the stuff on Techmeme was, well, drivel – product launches, service improvements, A-listers grappling with each others for no other reason than “look at me! I am important!”.

These days, I find few new things to write about. The idea of commenting on Big Bloggers to garner attention never appealed to me and I am not proud that I did this for the first few months while blogging.

Besides, I have less times to 'opine'.

During times that the Valley deems to be earth-shattering, iPhone launch, Facebook, earnings report for the big three, you saw nothing but pile ons – a glorified version of Google news.

The point is I found less valuable stuff to read on Techmeme than in my own RSS reader. It is a playground for a select few, among whom people who do provide insight can be counted on my left hand fingers. Among the regulars on Techmeme, people have started painting them as being in the bed with PR people.

Todd Cochrane writes about how they are gaming the whole elite blogger concept :
…a recent post on achieved a top listing on only after 3 other sites had linked in to the story. While I watched that story grow to have nearly 25 sites linking to it the long tail effect is a Public Relations Managers dream.

You have an “A” list site like TechCrunch that rarely writes a negative review, you then have a auxiliary base of 25–100 blogs that link to the same review as their sourced material. Than Google comes around and indexes all the sites.

What you have just achieved is a #1 spot in the Google Search Results for an article on a product update or new site release. While this is not PayPerPost it is definitely “Public Relations Gaming” of the Tech Blogging community.

So, can there be a possibility that some so-called A-listers have made deals with SEOs and PR people? I don’t know but I support Todd’s contention that we should move back to our RSS readers for a better understanding of the news.

It is better to have a lot of good essayists and analysts (Jupiter Research, Kelsey Group) in your RSS reader.

If you can’t get a good night’s sleep without a dose from the aggregators, may I suggest (better variety – Metafilter, Slashdot, digg, etc.) or your choice of from Origianlsignal’s bouquets of sources?

And for all you Techmeme fans, stop linking to Techmeme regulars. As it is, there is no way you are going to earn a living from deep think blogging and that means you must not let others (A-listers and PR people) benefit from your labors as well.

A short guide to the perplexed to differentiate from the good and bad on Techmeme:

The good ones
Nick Carr, Dave Winer, Shirky, Cringely

Tech Business
Giga Om, Valleywag, Center Networks, Techdirt, Slashdot

The attention whores/self promoters
Calacanis, Scoble

The Banal (aka Press Release/pay per post)
Techcrunch, Product news

The Facebook Gang
Dave Mcclure, NYT (and hordes of desperate application developers)

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