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June 29, 2010

Tuesday Debate Question

Attila asks a question that ought to get you all going:

Is the Blogosphere Truly a Meritocracy?

I think Foxfier (in the comments) nailed it:

Sorta, depends on where you draw the “merit” line.

Here's an interesting thought experiment:

Exhibit A: Go here and look at the items which receive the most clicks. Is that merit?

Exhibit B: Merit?

Exhibit C: The definitive post on how to succeed at blogging.

If you define merit as giving your readers what they want, then yes the blogosphere is a meritocracy with traffic acting as the ultimate measure of value. I haven't had much luck in discerning any relationship between my own standards of worth and traffic. Over the last six years, the posts I have put the most thought into (and been the proudest of) have rarely received much attention. The same has been true of posts I believed to be the best written. Others - nearly always ones I tossed off with barely a moment's thought - have gotten piles of links. The takeaway is that there seems to be a distinctly inverse relationship between what I think is good and what others think is good.

I used to be consistently surprised by what got linked. Now I have a fairly good sense of what will be well received and what won't. I try not to let that get in my way.

In the end, I don't think it makes a whole lot of sense to get wrapped around the axle about merit because people value different things for reasons that seem good to them (if they even think about any of this consciously). None of us can force others to value what we consider important. Nor should we be able to.

Shakespeare had a few wise words in this regard:

To thine own self be true
and it must follow
as the night the day,
thou canst not then be false to any man.

I'll bet he would have made a hell of a blogger.

Posted by Cassandra at June 29, 2010 03:52 PM

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Comments

As Reagan said, never confuse the reviews with the box office. Or in your case, never confuse what you know is good with either the reviews or the box office.

Posted by: Texan99 at June 29, 2010 06:28 PM

Some of your best posts are just too thorough and intimidating, :)

Actually, I can think of several that were very good but you covered everything, so nothing was left to comment on.

Oh, and most of the Intertubes is an Idiocracy.
Most of it.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at June 29, 2010 06:53 PM

Translation: some of your posts are just too damned long...

I know that, actually :)

While I'm not discarding the notion of objective merit, I actually do think it's kind of important not to confuse one's personal opinion/values with The Truth.

The idea of merit is tremendously important to conservatives but I don't think it explains as much about outcomes as we wish it did. Don't get me wrong - it's important. It's just not the whole enchilada.

Posted by: Cassandra at June 29, 2010 07:10 PM

A really well-written post might just draw an appreciative thought, without being linked, because it does not require partial agreement.

Posted by: valerie at June 29, 2010 09:08 PM

I never comment--but read regularly; I love our voice. Never underestimate the importance of your conversation with us.

Posted by: Rick at June 29, 2010 10:20 PM

This may be why I never comment--I meant to say I love your voice.

Posted by: Rick at June 29, 2010 10:22 PM

The Hall has never much exceeded 200 visits a day. It is currently well under that.

As I was telling John Donovan once, there's a considerable interest in everything I write about. There is very limited interest for the intersection of all those things! And so, you see, the place appeals to a limited crowd.

That's OK. :)

Posted by: Grim at June 29, 2010 10:47 PM

What Don said regarding your being thorough and well reasoned. Some of your best work is so good that all I can add to the conversation is a hearty Harrumph! While hoping I'll not be arrested for harrumphing in public.

Posted by: Gub'nor William J. Le Petomane at June 29, 2010 10:50 PM

I knew what you meant, Rick :) Thank you for the kind words.

I hope I didn't give the impression I think traffic or links are the only (or even the best) measure of "merit". If I did think that I would certainly follow Stacy's advice, and I wouldn't write about a lot of the things I write about.

I think what I was trying to say is that I'm not a very good judge of what other people will like or be interested in. I definitely go off on tangents at times - I get an idea in my head and I write about different aspects of it until I've make peace with or reconciled whatever question was rattling around in my head.

It worries me, sometimes, when I know I'm being extremely tiresome about something or other or when I write things that upset people I care about.

I think I need an off switch :p

Posted by: Cassandra at June 29, 2010 10:57 PM

until I've MADE peace

See? It's not just you, Rick!

Posted by: Cassandra at June 29, 2010 10:59 PM

You didn't mention the merit of quality vs quantity... Don did nail it - many of your posts cover the bases so well that there's not much to comment about. :-)

Posted by: Pogue at June 29, 2010 11:22 PM

There's certainly the intimidation factor. Not everyone would care to fight with a lady of such obvious intellect, lest they come off badly!

Though, others relish the chance.

Posted by: Grim at June 29, 2010 11:35 PM

Now I *know* you're teasing me :)

Posted by: Cassandra at June 29, 2010 11:46 PM

Grim- I know I'd stop by a lot more if I could put you on an RSS feed. ^.^ (That would be part of the "don't let the format mess with the content" thing. ;^p)

Posted by: Foxfier at June 30, 2010 12:15 AM

I haven't had much luck in discerning any relationship between my own standards of worth and traffic.

Pretty much *everything* you've posted was both well written and well worth reading (either as brain fodder or comment fodder), but traffic is like a box of chocolates. Sometimes you get the cherry fillings and sometimes you get the nuts...

Posted by: BillT at June 30, 2010 12:32 AM

Well, bedad, but I think we do have an RSS feed. Someone asked for it a few months back. I'm not sure what one is, no more now than I was then; but I think we have one, for he was well satisfied.

Posted by: Grim at June 30, 2010 01:01 AM

*checks again* Nope. None findable by google reader, Grim.

Basically, when you post something, RSS is what sends the post to a reader (or lets it grab it, I'm not to clear) -- kind of like a newspaper made out of the news lines of a bunch of different news services, but you pick the authors. It means, I think, Really Simple Syndication. (really)

Fun thing is, you can then make an RSS of stories you found worth sharing, but didn't blog on, like this, so it's possible to have someone who subscribes to no blog or newspaper RSS feeds, just the feeds of those who do... Oh, and blogger will let you put a link to your feed on your blog. (top right if you look at my blog-- max of five stories is the default)

Posted by: Foxfier at June 30, 2010 01:59 AM

I suppose that my blog is without merit, relatively speaking, since I get so few comments...relatively speaking. That's probably due in part to the fact that I only accept them from registered commentators, although these stupid Asian porno links keep making it into there. Of course I delete those as soon as I see 'em.

I'll bet Shakespeare would have made a hell of a blogger, too...

Posted by: camojack at June 30, 2010 03:36 AM

Not a meritocracy. More like a carnival, or a bazaar (cf. ESR's The Cathedral and the Bazaar.) Mr. Yon wants to build a cathedral of truth because he finds the riot of the blogosphere too ... unaccepting of his revelations. I can cope with the riot; I mostly ignore it, letting it swirl about me. I know where there are good booths, places that serve up thinking and humor and love of their fellow man, where the proprietresses and the proprietors give directions to other booths where they've found value. I can spend more time than I have wandering between them, grabbing a cotton-candy stick as it flies by. There's no need to search that out, or visit regularly.

Posted by: htom at June 30, 2010 10:05 AM

I suppose that my blog is without merit, relatively speaking, since I get so few comments...relatively speaking.

I don't think that's the case at all, Camo.

I will admit that when I write something and no one (or few people) comment, I tend to interpret that as negative feedback. I'm aware that may not be accurate but it's an entirely human reaction :)

I always enjoy reading your posts. Lately, though, I have not been commenting much at all even on sites I greatly enjoy. I liked your recent post on solar powered boats. I just couldn't think of anything interesting to say but I should have just said that I enjoyed it.

Posted by: Cassandra at June 30, 2010 10:52 AM

Same here, camo, I enjoyed your solar-boat thing.

Cassandra, there are stand=up comedians who play to large crowds of strangers, and there are dinner parties with good conversation. I see you as a good dinner party host, who starts a conversational thread and keeps things going. Sometimes you just drop a bon mot that causes your guests to smile and nod appreciatively as they take another sip of wine. Other times you start a riotous discussion. If you don't have a million people tromping through your dining room every day, you also have very few trolls who need to be shown the door.

My impression is that Stacy McCain doesn't much care about the conversation. What he gets a charge out of is having people look at him. Which is OK with me; sometimes I like being an anonymous audience.

But here, just to bump up your traffic: DONKEY SEX.

Posted by: Texan99 at June 30, 2010 11:10 AM

As I scanned thru the listing of high-hit blogs and articles one thing jumped out at me. And then another. And then another. Until finally (4 secs later) there were so many things jumping out at me at once that I closed the link and decided to cancel my subscription to the internet. That lasted about 6 secs before I realized that it isn't the internet that's wasting my time, it's me. So I come here, dear Hostess, where the only time I ever waste is yours, and your readers.

Thanks for the opportunity.

Posted by: spd rdr at June 30, 2010 11:27 AM

In talking with Stacy, I think he thinks that more traffic means more eyeballs exposed to his ideas. So even if someone comes for the rule 5 stuff or for other reasons, they may stay (and be persuaded by) his more serious posts.

There is more than a grain of sense there. The down side of NOT trying to increase your traffic is that fewer people will know about your work and your influence in the blogosphere will be minimal. It's a tradeoff.

I don't do any of the things I know will increase traffic here because - as you observed - too much traffic actually degrades the quality of the conversations and discussion is my primary reason for writing. I think we have very different goals and thus, use different tactics.

At times, I may rue the fact that all decisions involve tradeoffs but that doesn't change the fact that Stacy and other bloggers like him are right about what works.

I always hesitate to write posts like this b/c I think it's hard not to infer criticism where none is meant. There are certain things that are hard to say (especially for a woman) without people ascribing all sorts of motives to you.

For instance, I am a regular Maggie's Farm reader. I think it's a great site with quality material and interesting authors.

I don't care for the cheesecake - it makes me uncomfortable in precisely the same way I would feel profoundly uncomfortable if I walked into a locker room where guys were looking at Playboy. I don't really care whether they do it - I just really do not want to watch them do it :p

I have noticed over the years that on the rare occasions when women post photos of half nekkid men, the male readers react exactly the same way I do. It amuses me.

That's my personal reaction though - I don't pay for their site and would never dream of trying to tell them what they "should" or shouldn't do there b/c that's not my place. On balance, the good material there outweighs the annoyance factor.

If the cheesecake disappeared tomorrow, I'd visit more often but male readers would visit less. It would have no effect on women who don't feel uncomfortable about that sort of thing. Tradeoffs again! A rational blogger has to weigh all of this stuff.

My tactics make sense in light of my personal goals for my site and so do Stacy's :)

Posted by: Cassandra at June 30, 2010 11:41 AM

So I come here, dear Hostess, where the only time I ever waste is yours, and your readers.

spd, I don't know how to say this without sounding sappy so I'm just going to say it.

You guys have no idea how much joy you bring into my life. The true wealth of this site lies in the quality of its readers and commenters. And now I am going to shut up before I say something that's even dumber than usual.

Posted by: Cassandra at June 30, 2010 12:12 PM

I've loved VC ever since I read some commentary cross-linked by Michelle Malkin a few years ago. I enjoy the variety of topics by your 'vast editiorial staff', the caption contests, the snark, but mostly the thoughtful input by all the VC regulars who all seem to appreciate you and our military servicemen.

Since my mental gears tend to move a little slower than the 'Company's', I don't usually jump into the fray of commenters very often. Yeah, I admit there is an intimidation factor. However, like Rick said earlier, "Never underestimate the importance of your conversation with us."

I am a faithful reader of VC and many times refer to your posts either on FB or at the dinner table.

We VC "silent" majority are out there, Cass...reading....thinking...discussing. Keep up the great work.

Posted by: ziobuck at June 30, 2010 01:01 PM

Now I *know* you're teasing me :)

Don't be so sure, Cass. I'm pretty much in serious agreement with him. What I am sure of is that your place and Grim's both are a daily stop for me (during the week, weekends are for non-internet interests). Whether I comment or not depends on whether I feel I have something to contribute to the discussion. If everything I was going to say was said, or covered by someone else (or you) then I generally do not try to add to it. On the rare occasion I post a "me too" kind of thing it's because you posted something so sublime, I feel that I need to reinforce (for you) my enjoyment of it.

Posted by: MikeD at June 30, 2010 01:33 PM

I actually think the internet is both a perfect meritocrisy and a horrible one at the same time. But that is really a problem with the concept of Meritocrisy itself, not a problem of the internet.

The problem, as you've noted, is that there is no set definition of merit.

Once you do set a definition (whether that definition is "best cheesecake" or "best exhasperation of BillT through sex and relationship discussions") I think the internet does a fairly good job of rank ordering within those definitions.

The problem is in thinking that traffic is comparable *across* definitions. They most certainly are not.

The same is true for money. I have little doubt that a highly paid actor is more meritorious at acting than a lesser paid actor. But don't think for that reason that a highly paid actor is more meritorious than a lessor paid doctor. It just doesn't work that way.

*If* I want to be entertained *only then* is the actor's income relevent. *If* I need medical care, I don't care what he makes, he's still useless.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at June 30, 2010 01:41 PM

best exasperation of BillT through sex and relationship discussions

Damn, I *am* good at that one if I do say so myself!

But then we ladies do love to get a rise out of Bill.

Posted by: Go to the Bad Place, Do Not Pass 'Go', Do not collect $200. at June 30, 2010 01:47 PM

O_o

Poor choice of words?

Or AWESOME choice of words?

You decide.

Posted by: MikeD at June 30, 2010 01:55 PM

I cannot tell a lie - the choice of words was deliberate :p

*counting the seconds until Bill waves that razor sharp wit of his in my general direction*

Posted by: George Washington's Bratty Little Sister at June 30, 2010 02:09 PM

Like the lady who tried to take him home after he spread his cloak over the puddle or whatever it was he did the other day?

Posted by: Texan99 at June 30, 2010 03:19 PM

"spd, I don't know how to say this without sounding sappy so I'm just going to say it.

You guys have no idea how much joy you bring into my life." -Cassandra

What she is trying to say is,
"I LOVE YOU GUYS, MAN!" , sniff

There, I said it for you, Cassandra. :D

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at June 30, 2010 08:08 PM

What she is trying to say is,
"I LOVE YOU GUYS, MAN!" , sniff

True, dat.

Actually I have always suspected that spd secretly enjoys those rare occasions when I get all girly. It gives him the chance to roll his eyes with the appropriate degree of manly disgust.

Women. We give and we give and we give... :p

Posted by: Cassandra at June 30, 2010 09:43 PM

I suppose that my blog is without merit, relatively speaking, since I get so few comments...relatively speaking.

I don't think that's the case at all, Camo.
I will admit that when I write something and no one (or few people) comment, I tend to interpret that as negative feedback. I'm aware that may not be accurate but it's an entirely human reaction :)
I always enjoy reading your posts. Lately, though, I have not been commenting much at all even on sites I greatly enjoy. I liked your recent post on solar powered boats. I just couldn't think of anything interesting to say but I should have just said that I enjoyed it.
Posted by: Cassandra at June 30, 2010 10:52 AM

Same here, camo, I enjoyed your solar-boat thing.
Posted by: Texan99 at June 30, 2010 11:10 AM

Well, I did say "relatively speaking"...and as I also said, that's probably due in part to the fact that I only accept comments from those who have registered to make them, in order to cut down on anonymous ones.

I know I've had much more traffic in the past when I tackled political issues (and posted much more frequently) but I feel as though there are so many other blogs (like this one, in particular) that do far more justice to the subject than I ever did. Consequently, I've been (mostly) posting on other topics of interest for a number of years now...

Posted by: camojack at July 1, 2010 01:19 AM

I always assume that if nobody has something to say about what I wrote, it must mean they lack the interest to say anything about it.

Of course, there's always the people who "got something to say but won't say it" but they are easy to pick out.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at July 1, 2010 09:15 PM

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