The A-List and the Z-List

The A-List and the Z-List

I saw the Cites and Insight thing this morning and laughed a little nervously. It’s sort of amusing to watch people get all wrapped up about blog popularity (in this case called ‘reach’), but sort of depressing at the same time. Since it’s at least marginally possibly to quantify it, I know that it’s tempting to do it. I even understand that looked like a good idea at the time.

I’ve been involved in a variety of online communities, and at some point this sort of ranking always comes up. And it universally causes hurt feelings, conflict, and disappointment, and even results in some undue criticism being levelled at the chosen ones. While blogs really exist for the good of their authors more than for their readers, lots of people start up blogs in the hope of getting some limelight thrown their way, and it’s decidedly dark and dim to be among the unwashed in these things if that’s your goal. Is this a sign that no one really cares about what you have to say? Should you just stop now, since no one’s reading you? Have you failed in some way?

And then the chosen few get this moment in the sun, which is nice. But it also means that they get scrutinized a little more than they used to, because everyone’s trying to see what they’re doing that the rest of us aren’t. Nine times out of ten, people come away from such a search shrugging, saying “not such hot stuff, really”. And once those tokens of popularity are handed out, some people, the outer fringe types, the ones who are too cool to be mainstream, too edgy to be with the popular crowd, will start avoiding the big names to underscore their radical otherness. Divisions are made, cliques etched out, lines drawn. And over what? A few numbers that don’t give the whole picture? A snapshot in time that, over a few days, weeks, months, will look entirely different?

Ranking people cheapens the whole process. It creates and fortifies the depths of anonymity and creates the perch from which the chosen will fall.

Popularity is like the little girl with the little curl right in the middle of her forehead. When it’s good, it’s very good indeed. But when it’s bad, oh yes, it’s horrid.

I can say without reservation that I’m certain Walt did not intend to belittle anyone by doing this research. And yet, I can also say without reservation that someone somewhere felt hurt by being left off his ranking, and some librarian somewhere is looking at her blog tonight with a little less delight than she did yesterday. Is the value of this inevitably ephermeral research worth that loss of delight?

For me, the point of blogging, and the joy of blogging, is in having a place to write things down. For me writing is thinking, and I love to be able to share my thoughts with anyone who’s interested. Rankings therefore don’t bother me much, because my goal has never been to please other people. The only way for me to do something like this for as long as I have is to do it for myself. But still, I’m more than honoured that Meredith has called me “the Dorothy Parker of the biblioblogosphere”.

The best thing that can come of Walt’s research, as far as I’m concerned, is that we remember how many of us there are and support each other, reach out more often and engage each other in communication. And the next time someone goes to look at the statistics of the library blog world, he will see a large, interconnected web of full of people, opinions, stories, and delight. Not an exclusive A-list.

0 thoughts on “The A-List and the Z-List

  1. If I cared about the rankings or “el que diran” (Spanish for “what others are saying”; it works better in Spanish however), I would have never gotten started in blogging. I could not agree more that blogging is more for the author than for the readers. If readers find it, I see it as a nice piece of serendipity. I did find the whole experiment interesting in the sense Mr. Crawford did put quite an effort to have a method. His list gave me some new blogs to go look at, though after reading his article, a lot of the blogs listed were blogs I either had seen already or that I already read on a regular basis. So, in a way, nothing I did not know already. I think you point out very well that much of this community is a very supportive one, and that is something that rankings can never catch. As for me, I have writing to do (along with work). Best.

  2. Interesting that the “hornet’s nest” round (this post and at least one more long, thoughtful post) seems to be coming after the “glee” round of reactions–and that some of that glee, in private mail to me as well as public responses, came from people who were not in the group of 60 receiving detailed metrics.

    I tried hard to make it clear that this was not “The Top 50.” There are no numbers next to blog names. I deliberately provided the spreadsheets used for the project. I deliberately mentioned some of the other blogs that I take delight in.

    Apparently, you’re saying that any discussion that includes metrics at all is inherently a bad thing. You may be right.

    I’m saving all the reactions, good and bad, and will certainly do a followup in C&I. Based on the first round of reactions, and specifically reactions from those who are among the 238 but not among the 60 profiles, I did plan to do another study next year. Based on the second round of reactions, I’m less certain.

    If any blogger actually takes “less delight” in their work because they weren’t among the profiled group, my reaction would, frankly, be that they’re blogging for the wrong reasons. (See Angel’s comment above.) If you’re blogging for the cheers of the crowd or because you think you’re an alternative to traditional media, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. If you’re blogging because you have something to say and find this a congenial medium to say it in, then isn’t having the 50 readers you should have better than having umpteen thousand readers at whatever price?

    (As for everyone who reads library blogs already knowing about the profiled blogs…sorry, but there are already too many comments to the contrary for me to buy that one. Heck, I’ve just subbed to your blog as a result of a comment on another blog that might not have happened without my meretricious article…)

  3. I understand what you’re saying, Walt, I really do, but I’ve seen this kind of thing happen in every single online community I’ve ever been in. There’s been endless discussions about ranking sytems all over the place, most recently over here and here among others.

    I’m not saying I agree with these people 100%, but these sorts of arguments cycle through web communities, and I just don’t want to see that happen here. As soon as there’s some sort of prize to be won, the race looks a little different, you know?

  4. I agree with everything you wrote, Rochelle. It is probably in human nature to want to rank things and it is also in human nature to either be pleased or disappointed by those rankings depending on where one ends up. We all want to be liked and if we write for the web, we want others to read us. Yes, we write for ourselves, but if we were only writing for ourselves why would we bother publishing it to the Web? We write for ourselves, but also we write to be read and to spark discussion.

    I guess my question is why do we need to rank blogs at all? What good does it do? And contrary to what Walt writes, it looks an awful lot like a “top 50” list to me. But maybe that’s just me. I think Walt could easily have played with metrics without actually creating the ranking he did, and he could have highlighted blogs without ranking them. But maybe I’m missing the point of what he did or maybe I’m just too much still the social worker.

  5. Never said other people might already know about the blogs presented. Only said I, myself, and me (or is it me, myself and I?) had seen a lot of them or read them (they are in my Bloglines). Also did say that I discovered some new ones. Anyhow, would love to hear what others are saying, and more importantly, what they are reading. Won’t mind enlarging my reading list. Best.

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