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Sunday, May 08, 2005

Dinner rolls, egg rolls, eskimo rolls, blogrolls....

There's been some discussion about Blogistan lately (see here and here) about whether blogrolls are useful or not. The idea seems to be that since blogroll links tend to be very static, they artificially prop up the blogs that are at the top of such blog ranking services as Technorati and the Truth Laid Bear Ecosystem. And sure, it's incredibly hard to get one's traffic to that level, and once up to that level, it's also incredibly hard to fall off it (witness Steven Den Beste, who's still on the Technorati Top 100 as of this writing despite the fact that he stopped actively updating his original blog months ago). For a number of months I religiously monitored my status on the TTLB Ecosystem, and once I attained a certain position ("Marauding Marsupial", with approximately 75 to 80 inbound links), I never much deviated. I dropped when I went on hiatus, I'd jump back up when I returned, and so on.

My personal solution to this particular problem, though, was to simply stop caring. I only check Technorati to see who's linking me, and I never check my Ecosystem ranking anymore. (OK, I've just checked my ranking just now, for the purposes of this post. And guess what? As of this writing, I am still a Marauding Marsupial, with 83 inbound links. Yes, my ranking might well be better than that, since I doubt that every blog that links mine is actually on the Ecosystem, but I'm not bothering to check that.) I pay no heed to my ranking, and the only thing I actively monitor is links and my SiteMeter hits. What makes me happiest about the direction this blog has taken is not my ranking on any system or other, but on these facts:

1. My daily average number of hits has slowly increased to 160+. This varies day-by-day, obviously, but it's been maintaining that level for a comfortable while now.

2. I used to be able to count on getting at least 100 hits every weekday, but being below 100 on Sundays and well below 100 on Saturdays. Now, however, I am almost always above 100 hits, and have, in fact, dropped below the century mark in daily hits only once in the last month, and once in the month preceding that one. Yes, there are pros and cons to SiteMeter. It tracks every hit, for one thing, so if someone loads the page ten times in one day, that's ten hits. Does that give me an accurate picture of traffic here? I contend that it does. When I worked in the restaurant business, a sale was a sale, no matter if it came from the guy who came in for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the same day. Nor do I mind all the search engine hits, because maybe, just maybe, someone will stick around a while.

I know that to some bloggers -- many bloggers, even -- those numbers sound seriously anemic. And it is slightly disheartening, I will readily admit, to see blogs like AMERICAblog start up and reach levels of traffic that blow mine out of the water in less than a year. But that goes with the territory, doesn't it? You never know. I'm not betting the farm, but maybe tomorrow I get Slashdotted. (Stop laughing. It could happen!)

Of course, I'm not a political blogger by main focus; once in a while I'll do a political post just because one bubbles out of me, but that's about it. And I don't suppose that Blogistan is really looking for an outbreak of Star Wars geekitude right now. I don't mind the slow growth of this blog, really. In some ways, it's kind of nice that there still are places in our society where slow growth is welcomed. (If Blogistan were network television, Byzantium's Shores would almost certainly have been cancelled a mere month or two into its existence.)

That said, what to do about blogrolls? Well, the fact is, the only blogroll I really use for jacking around Blogistan is my own. That's what it's there for: it's a collection of blogs whose content I endorse for one reason or another. It's not a list of daily reads (some of these blogs are lucky if I get to them once a month, and in truth, the ones that are in that position deserve to be read more often by me, but there just isn't time in my day to hit 'em all). I rarely use other bloggers' blogrolls for my own surfing habits, although I have been doing so more often lately, incidentally enough. It's especially convenient when some bloggers put their blogrolls into categories.

I provide RSS and Atom feeds here, but I don't use an aggregator. When I read blogs, I click links and read each blog as it loads. I know what aggregators do, but I don't frankly see why using one to read my blogs would be of any greater use to me than by simply surfing the links in my blogroll. I think that some people who use an RSS readers tend to overassume their level of use by others.

Plus, in terms of raw linkage, a blogroll link is worthwhile to me. I don't get too worked up about whether someone's blogroll is abnormally long or incredibly short; since a blogroll is free to maintain and since users are free to consult it or ignore it, I've never bought the idea that each additional link on a blogroll somehow dilutes the whole. But if someone puts Byzantium's Shores on their blogroll, that says to me that somehow, they've decided that my content is worthy of inclusion in their own little sector of Blogistan. Yes, it's even nicer when something I've written gets linked specifically, but the fact is, if I don't have enough time to read every blog on my blogroll, and if I don't have inclination to base every post of mine here on a post of someone else's someplace else, I don't really have the right to expect that of anyone else, either.

So my blogroll is staying put. It's a resource of mine, intended mainly for me; but if anyone else uses it as a resource, I don't see where inconveniencing them in favor of helping to break up the "dominant link hierarchy" is a worthwhile trade.

A few more points:

1. Blogrolls aren't really all that great at driving traffic to other blogs, unless your approach is like Steven Den Beste's old approach: he maintained a very short blogroll -- about ten blogs or so -- and he'd switch them out every three months to feature blogs that he felt were deserving of more traffic. (In other words, he didn't keep the same links to the "usual suspects" of his side of the political fence. No links to Instapundit, Emperor Misha, PowerLine, LGF, or any of those.) Blogrolls serve a more "secondary" purpose. Kind of like, oh, an encyclopedia, I guess. For doing actual research on any topic, you'd be insane to consult an encyclopedia. But no one suggests getting rid of encyclopedias.

2. If driving traffic to blogs is the goal, then the best way to do that is to link them in posts. Frankly, it would be nice if the "big guns" of Liberal Blogistan did this better. For a short while there was a meme circulating called "Subvert the Dominant Link Hierarchy", in which folks like Matthew Yglesias would link posts on less-traveled blogs, but that seems to have died out completely. Atrios doesn't seem to link more than a tiny percentage of the people on his blogroll in his actual postings (and half of his posts nowadays seem to be mere placemarkers for open comment threads). (And not to pick on Atrios, who is a daily read of mine, but if you're going to maintain a blogroll, at least alphabetize the damn thing.) You don't even have to make a big deal of it -- just a post like "This made me laugh", with a link, will steer traffic where you want it to go.

3. Hand-coded blogrolls load faster than automated ones maintained by services like blogrolling.com. I used to have a blogrolling.com blogroll here, but I dumped it after it reached a sufficient size that it was severely hampering the load time of this blog. If you're going to use a service like that, consider putting your blogroll not in a righthand sidebar, so the posts load first.

(And as I finish typing this post, I see that PZ Myers has thoughts of his own. He's put his blogroll on a separate page. And in his staggering wisdom, he's made me a "Weblog of the Week". At least he didn't describe my blog as being written by a guy who looks like an axe-murderer! Man, it's going to be a shame when our Creationist Overlords haul his ass off to the Tower....)

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