Many of you reading this are no doubt quite aware of The Truth Laid Bear and the “ecosystem” it uses to rank weblogs. Essentially, the greater the number of links leading to a particular blog, the higher said blog appears in the ecosystem. Now, this method of ranking is not all that different from the one Google employs when determining which websites appear at the top of a given search result page, nor is it necessarily a bad way to organize what can only be described as an incredibly unwieldy and disjointed body of information. Certainly, the number of people linking to a given website seems like a pretty good indicator of the site’s influence and popularity, so a high ranking in N. Z. Bear’s not-so-little directory has understandably become one of the most prized recognitions in the blogosphere.
Blogrolling, like the Truth Laid Bear, has rapidly grown in popularity, in large part because it is a really good idea. Obviously, a blogroll can facilitate the organization of links a person would like to highlight on his or her website. Understandably, a neat arrangement of favorite links effortlessly programmed into a blog’s HTML appeals to the amateur webmaster who would rather spend his or her time scouring various web resources for interesting information than meticulously tweaking one’s blog template. So blogrolling has justly earned its popularity.
I mention these two cornerstones of the blogosphere because they figure prominantly in what I feel has become a big problem amongst bloggers. For lack of a better term, and since no one has coined a phrase for the practice, to the best of my knowledge, I will refer to gratuitous link exchanging as “link doping” and “traffic doping” throughout this essay (if I dare call this an “essay). I encourage any readers I may have to use these phrases too, since I think they adequately describe the practice.
In any case, link doping seems to emerge out of the very natural tendency bloggers have to want people to read their writing. Obviously, if you choose to publish writing on the internet, you are hoping that someone reads what you have to say. This tendency becomes a problem when people realize it can be exploited for profit. There are several firms, for instance, that offer to increase the number of hits your blog receives if you agree to visit other blogs. Consider BlogClicker’s enthusiastic pitch:
You’ve taken the time and effort to put your blog online and we’re here to help you get people to read it…It’s simple. You view other member blogs and in return, those members will view your blog. For every 2 blogs you view, someone will see yours! We also offer upgraded memberships and credit packages which give you up to a 1:1.5 view ratio or 1 view per purchased credit!
The spiel continues:
Standard membership with a 2:1 view ratio is absolutely FREE. In addition, you’ll also have chances to earn bonus views while viewing blogs which means your ratio gets even better! Plus there is monthly contests which offer you the change to win even more traffic and cash prizes too!
Now, the obvious advantage of this sort of program is that some people will discover a blog or two they really enjoy reading and that blog will then have a new, possibly loyal reader. That’s all fine and good, but the downside to the practice is that hit counters will give an inaccurate account of a site’s popularity, presuming that a significant chunk of the traffic generated by participation in BlogClicking amounts to little more than a person clicking your blog with the sole intent of adding that click to the credit he or she earns towards generating traffic to his or her blog. As a result, someone whose website seems to be generating a spike in traffic may get the false impression that the quality of his or her writing alone accounts for the upswing in apparent popularity (even in the absence of feedback such as comments or tag board messages). I cite this as a problem because, in many ways, blog writing is a trial by fire for aspiring writers. Theoretically, the content of a person’s blog will evolve as he or she responds to reader feedback, thus producing a better product. (Now, before I continue, I would like to acknowledge that this really matters only if you are specifically writing for a broad, anonymous audience or for an undefined demographic; if you write for yourself or a few friends, for instance, traffic feedback isn’t as important). With the proliferation of empty click-throughs, this valuable gauge of one’s ability to reach his or her reader is largely enfeebled. Still, this practice is relatively benign, if not moderately worthwhile for some purposes.
Link doping, however, exploits the desire to be read in a much more destructive way. Whereas the empty clicks provided by the aforementioned program simply give inflated reads on traffic counters and occasionally increase genuine readership without really harming other bloggers, link doping actually does unfairly harm other bloggers.
Before I move on, I would like to emphasize the fact that link doping essentially uses the generally positive conventions of blogrolling and webringing/community-building to grossly exaggerate the significance or quality of a given blog.
The most blatant display of wanton link doping is The Alliance of Free Blogs, a nerdy joke that has unfortunately spawned a number of imitators ranging from genuine “blog communities” which allow blog readers to find blogs with similar political, philosophical, or religious orientations to the one he or she reads to idiotically haphazard collections of people who merely want to rank higher on The Truth Laid Bear’s ecosystem. The Truth Laid Bear, unfortunately, propigates this practice by providing webspace for such communities.
The Alliance of Free Blogs essentially amounts to the flogging of the vestigial detritus left long after the desiccated horse of a joke had begun stinking up the internet. According to an essay on The Alliance of Free Blogs’ website entitled “The Blog War – An Introduction for the Uninitiated”:
Here’s the back story on the Blog War, without the inside jokes.
Blogging is a hobby of pure ego, whose purpose is to 1) see your words in print, and 2) have other people read them. Currently, one blogger, Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) gets far more page views and links than any other, and deservedly so. Glen updates MANY times per day, and his links are usually well worth clicking. However, he normally offers very little of his own commentary. Sometimes just a cursory “indeed” or “hmmm”.
Because he has so many readers, if he links to your site you get a LOT of hits, which is very gratifying. His links are highly prized by bloggers.
Frank J., of IMAO, is an up-and-coming blogger who occasionally mocks Glenn as a way to gain attention. His first method was making up outrageous lies: Glenn puts puppies in blenders and drinks them; Glenn murders hobos for fun; Glenn worships Satan; Glenn is a communist spy who does the robot dance; Glenn punched Frank J.
Later, Frank attempted to get Google to bring up Glenn’s site if the terms “liberal assclown” were entered. Results were mixed.
His latest attempt was to “declare war” on Glenn and asking bloggers to choose sides. Frank’s side is the Blogging Alliance, Glenn’s supporters are the Axis of
EvilNaughty. It’s all in good fun, and much entertaining mockery and gratuitous linkage will ensue as a result.
Enjoy the spectacle.
Sadly, there is quite a bit of truth in this. For many people, blogging really is “a hobby of pure ego,” as those folks hoodwinked into joining the “Blog Wars” will surely attest to if you ask them.
Now the problem with this sort of thing is that some very talented bloggers with interesting things to say and lexicons versatile enough to ensure that what is said is fun to read can suffer from the bloated rankings of blogs on the Alliance’s (or a similar organization’s) blogroll. As a result of the “gratuitous linkage” and the huge role links play in ranking blogs on the highly influential Truth Laid Bear, many crappy websites clutter the upper echelons of the ecosystem and appear in search engines while many weblogs deserving that level of attention languish unread because no one can find them.
Essentially these websites, like some steroid-abusing athletes, have earned their success less through hard work and quality than by taking shortcuts. As a result, baseball fans and blog readers grow to distrust an entire sport or medium.
What so many people forget about the blog is that it is really little more than a website. The fact that people regard blogging as a fad has erroneously caused the public to use a sort of nomenclature when regarding blogging that gives the distinct impression that a weblog is a new thing on the web, which is untrue. Even when most people couldn’t figure out how to use HTML to make a webpage’s background white instead of the generic grey that used to be so common on the internet, a few folks were blogging by updating their HTML every so often. (It used to be called “updating a web page,” remember?) A few of those sites grew into popular stops on the web because the people behind them were creative and hard-working. Now that blogging software has made it as easy to blog as to use a word processor, many people are just throwing their ragged hats into the ring, even when they have relatively little to say. The problem is when someone says “hey, give me your hats and I’ll make a big pile over here so no one will notice the hats everywhere else. Then everyone will like your hats!” Now talent and dedication must pit itself against petty attention-seeking, and its becoming increasingly more difficult for some very good bloggers to climb ladders like that of the Truth Laid Bear’s ecosystem, and this sad fact threatens to ruin yet another subcultural practice with revolutionary potential. Eventually some really good blogs are going to fade away because, sooner or later, you’re going to realize that in the ecosystem some very talented nice guys almost always finish last.
So, my suggestion to the world is to give link doping the stigma it deserves. Even when the lure of greater traffic or more links lures you to the point of joining an empty alliance (there will always be some very good niche communities; I am not speaking about those), remember that link doping pretty much sucks. And no one wants to suck.
See, I would welcome a rise in the ecosystem for my website. However, my blog is an extension of a fanzine I started in high school and I value it too much to hawk it on the blogroll of someone who has never actually read my writing. Likewise, I don’t want to give the impression that I endorse something I do not. Links used to be a pretty nice way of showing that you really liked someone’s work; now, thanks to link doping, a link means a lot less. Like a 30 home run season. Now, if someone actually reads my writing and enjoys it, then I would love it if they would link to my website. That would mean something.[Note: I use hyperbole and stereotypes here as a tongue-in-cheek way of making a point.] It’s like the so-called “Minnesota Nice,” the tendency many Midwesterners have towards being nice to everyone. I want my smile to mean something when I flash a grin to a friend or an acquaintance. I want my greeting to be genuine, to show the person I greet that they mean something to me. Minnesota Nice pretty much proscribes that you never express indifference to an acquaintance; you greet everyone the same way. This is basically dishonesty in my opinion. If someone doesn’t want to say hello to me, I don’t want them to. Let them reserve their friendly greetings for the people they truly care about. That way loved ones can feel loved and actually know that they are a priority in someone’s life.
End link doping now!
Originally published at Sobriquet Magazine.