Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Entropy in the blogosphere

Why is it that websites that provide auxiliary services to blogs have a passion to tinker with their sites in such a way that what used to work no longer works, and adding a whole lot of useless stuff?

I’m not the only one to have noticed this. St. Aidan to Abbey Manor: What’s going on with Technorati?:

Not that I notice these things, but in the past week my Technorati ‘authority’ (number of other sites linking here in the last 90 days) has dropped like a stone, and my ranking seems to vary by several hundred thousand depending on which way the wind is blowing at the time. Maybe they’re all getting a bit overloaded. It looks like links from the sidebars of other blogs (like the ones down the right hand side here) aren’t being counted any more.

Technorati is a prime example of people messing with something that previously worked well so that when they have fixed it it doesn’t work at all. When I first joined I found it quite useful, but it has become more and more erratic.

If I’m blogging on a topic, I sometimes enter key words in Technorati to see what other people are saying about it, but now I find Google blog search is much more reliable for that. Technorati keep changing their user interface and moving stuff around so it is far more difficult to find. I used to be able to go to my home page on Technorati, see all my blogs, ping them if necessary, see who had linked to my blog posts, and see the top ten search keywords and the top ten post key words. That’s how I learnt about Twitter, and discovered who Paris Hilton and Steven Furtick were.

But those have all been scattered and are no longer conveniently visible in one place. I suspect that the reason for that is that Techorati hope that you will go looking for them as in a labyrinth, going down numerous dead ends and having to work your way back, and so will be exposed to more advertisements and so they will make more money. That might work for a week, but after that most people will give up and stop visiting the site.

The home page was all over Technology Business Entertainment Lifestyle Politics Sports Gaming Celebrity. One of the reasons I never visited Digg was that most of my interests didn’t fit into any of those categories, and when Technorati went down that route I lost interest.

After writing this I went to have a look at their home page (for the first time in about six months) and I see they’ve put back a little of what used to be there, but still not enough.

And I just did a test: I searched for “hippocracy”, and none of my posts on that topic show up in Technorati, even though they have explicit Technorati tags. When I click on the tag in the post itself it takes me to the relevant tag page on Technorati, which tells me that “there are no posts related to this tag”. And it also goes on to say

Welcome to the hippocracy tag page at Technorati. This page features content from the farthest reaches of the Blogosphere that authors have “tagged” with hippocracy.

Yet it can’t even find the post that has the tag that I clicked on to reach the page — so much for the “farthest reaches of the Blogosphere” claim. The fact is that it doesn’t work. It’s broken.

Even the WordPress page on the topic appears to be broken (or hacked).

So Technorati is pretty useless.

Another site that seems to have similar problems is Amatomu. When it started, was a fairly good guide to the South African blogosphere, and also gave some interesting statistics about what posts on one’s blog were being read most frequently.

By far the most popular post on this blog was Notes from underground: Books to read before you die. But then Amatomu revamped their software, and suddenly it appeared that no one was reading it at all. So either the Amatomu statistics were wildly wrong before, or they are wildly wrong now. I suspect that it is the “improvements” that broke it. One of my widgets tells me that Saint John, New Brunswick arrived on “Notes from underground: Books to read before you die” today, so people are still reading that post, and it is the Amatomu statistics that are as inaccurate as Technorati’s.

After the bad news, some good news: Blog Explosion seems to be improving.

Like Technorati and Amatomu, Blog Explosion was started by enthusiastic people who lost interest in it and handed over the running of it to someone else who didn’t really grasp the original vision. Because of entropy, without enthusiastic input, it gradually ran down. But in the case of Blog Explosion the users organised themselves, and complained, pressed and prodded until the people running Blog Explosion finally acted to arrest the decline, and began to get things working properly again.

They were able to do this because of the way works.

At one level it is a kind of Blog Directory, with blogs divided into various categories. You surf through blogs, which it is supposed to show you in random order, giving preference to a category that you choose. As you surf, you get points for each blog you see, and your blog is then shown to other surfers in proportion to the number of points you earn. So it is a good way of seeing new blogs, and getting new readers for your blog at the same time.

The problem was that because lack of maintenance and general neglect, it was shaowing the same blogs over and over, even if they hadn’t been updated for months, also also was not showing blogs in the chosen categories, but in categories that were of no interest.

Blog Explosion users got fed up with this, so they blogged about it, and because of the way Blog Explosion works, other users saw these posts, commented on them, and blogged about it in turn. And eventually Blog Explosion users got sufficiently fired up to nag the owners of Blog Explosion to do something about it. So they removed some of the dead wood — neglected blogs that weren’t updated — and did some general cleanups, which led to a great improvement.

One of the things about Blog Explosion is the more the merrier — the more bloggers who participate, the greater the number of new blog posts there are to see, ones you might never have otherwise seen. So I encourage bloggers to participate in this.

There are still some improvements that could be made, but it’s definitely better than it was a few months ago, unlike Technorati, where they keep changing the user interface and making the site more difficult to navigate while the underlying purpose and the functions it was supposed to provide are no longer there — like finding blog posts tagged “hippocracy” (or anything else).

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