Saturday, May 07, 2005

Don't blame the tool for the tools that mis-use it

Through the illustrious B I followed links to this large diatribe, all about the dreadful harm done by popularity measuring statistical sites and devices. I'll probably ruffle feathers saying what I'm about to say, but I'm just another obscure person here, and my opinion is worth only and exactly what anyone wants it to be worth, so take it at that.

She makes interesting points, and a few are extremely worthy. Among them are her strong dislike of online popularity contests. It's discouraging to witness and hard to fight against the desire of humans to be popular and our tendency to want "top tens" and "top 100's". I find myself strongly disagreeing when she proclaims the particular tools (and the people who created them) to be the source of the problem. The problem is not with the tools, but with how people use them and think about them. This isn't the fault of the tool. They do exactly what they were designed to do. Obviously, they do things people WANT them to do. For good or bad, if someone wants a popularity list, he or she will develop a method of getting it, and everyone else who wants one will subscribe to it.

Inevitably, as is true with statistics, that which is mediocre, middle of the road, average and medium tends to take up the largest area. Those on the fringes feel maginalized because, frankly, they are. I don't think this is "harm". Honestly, if you are one of the great unknown bloggers, someone who's genius is hidden by not being well known and freqently hit, well, that's kind of what it MEANS not to be in the middle of the road.

I'm one of those people who do not believe that the more people who like thing A, the better thing A must be. When I wander into what I discover to be a popular, oft-visited weblog, often I'm just as quick to wander out because there is nothing to attract me with a few rare exceptions. And I don't use "top ten" lists except as a starting point. They don't point out to me what is good. They point out what is popular. I know the difference.

That which is most widely accepted often means that which is least widely offensive or provoking. It doesn't stir people to DISLIKE it.

As for my blogroll..I'm afraid it's going to stay, and the irrepairable harm I'm doing to the blogging community will go on. You see, I use that list. I groom it. I take off sites that no longer interest me, and I add sites I find that I like. Where possible, I use it to key me in when a site has new posts. I do NOT play "I'll link you if you link me". There are many sites that I've read, and still visit, that don't have a place on that list for one reason or another (usually because the person has stopped posting). It's my freaking list, I can put who I want on it. I don't ask people to link me, nor do I get upset when someone unlinks me. That's their right and priveledge and who am I to complain?

5 years ago, 7 years ago, I heard these same arguments about link lists and link pages, back when there were no weblogs and such sites were called on-line journals. You coded the links yourself, by hand. Yet link lists still grew to immense size, often with dead links. When you took someone's link out, it was like an act of war, or a declaration of divorce.

I think this particular cause would have been better served not by attacking the particular instruments being used, but by asking people to think carefully about how they use them, how they interpret them, and how they may be misusing them. Certainly, if you can't use easy linking software responibly and to your own benefit, do not use it. If you like it and want it, use it without guilt.

I am personally disheartened that a few of my favorite people have taken this well meant and intelligent, but guilt-inducing and ultimately detrimental advice and removed their blogrolls. I often cruised the links other webloggers had to find new sites or to see what was happening on sites that didn't always interest me but had occasional moments. Now, if laziness, life-interference, or other events prevent them from writing a direct commentary post, I'll never learn about what others have discovered. The blogosphere is vast and it isn't realistic for one person to trudge through it all. From a completely personal viewpoint, this has detracted substantially from enjoyment of my online experience.

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