Thought of the Day: Blogrolls, and why social networks fail

There has been some discussion of blogrolls among bloggers this week. In case you are reading via a newsreader or haven’t heard the term before, a blogroll is a list of links to other blogs. Most blog templates have room for them in one of the margins.

Now, I know of several different strategies for blogrolls:

  1. Social climbing. Link to blogs where you want to impress the owner. Who knows, maybe they’ll notice you worshipping them from afar.
  2. Can’t say no. Link to anyone who asks, but only if they ask.
  3. Tit for Tat. Link to people who link to you. If they remove you, you remove them too. (This can involve some emails at the start, to inform the person of your strategy.)
  4. Blogroll is content. Treat the blogroll as part of your blog’s content and link only to blogs that you think your readers will enjoy.
  5. Unrestricted content. Link to any active blog you find that’s roughly relevant. You’ll find that people who are trying to encourage new bloggers will tend to do this.
  6. Aide Memoir. The blogroll is purely for the blogger’s benefit, to remind you of which blogs you like to read regularly.
  7. Slacker blogroll. This is where you add links for whatever reason but forget to update the blogroll much so it’s usually out of date.
  8. Friends and guildies only. Link only to the blogs of people you know (either in real life or virtually).

I started with a mixture here. I think Larisa’s was the first blog on my roll and I was stunned when she left a nice message to say thank you and to wish me luck with the new blog. (She’s awesome like that.) Then there are a few friend/guildie blogs, but mostly I stick with blogs that I think readers might like, and they’ll tend to be thematically consistent. (ie. if you like my blog, you might like these too.)

So there are some awesome blogs I skip. I don’t usually link to single-class blogs unless I think the writer addresses wider issues also, for example.

I’m also a slacker and don’t update or prune as often as I should. By all means drop me a note if you’d like to be on the roll – I don’t promise it will happen, but it won’t be personal either way. I don’t actually think all that many people check the blogroll but … yeah.

Gevlon took the opportunity while discussing blogrolls to have a pop at socials – people who add blogs to their roll for purely social reasons. So that adds another strategy: Link to people you like or want to like you. And I think this also goes a long way to explaining why social networks fail quality-wise after getting above a certain size.

There is an assumption in social networking that people will choose which information to share wisely, after all, you want to impress your friends with your cool links, not embarrass yourself. Right? You want that blogroll to be useful and for people to think, “Wow, Spinks must be awesome. All her links are amazing!” This does tend to be the case in smaller communities where people are trying to impress with good information.

But as the network gets larger, a lot of people use their links  to share their personality with the world, and impress everyone by the amount of friends they have. “Hey guys, everyone on my blogroll is my BFF and if you aren’t then you aren’t one of the cool crowd!!.” That’s the 9th strategy, and it tends to swamp the rest.

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29 thoughts on “Thought of the Day: Blogrolls, and why social networks fail

  1. I think I’m 80% #4, 10% #5 and 10% #7. It can be hard work and keep you from actually blogging as much as you’d like to.

    I try to go all the way down the list every month and hide blogs that haven’t posted in a few months. I try to check my hidden ones to re-add if they have started up again. Finding new blogs is harder, mostly I find them from people that leave comments or from reading other blogs and look at their blogrolls.

    Our list is bigger than I really ever planned it to become.

  2. I’m afraid I’m a 6.. I can’t get on with feed readers, and I like the handy way the blogroll has of putting the people who updated the latest at the top. I am also really lazy and use the blog rolls of people on my blog roll too..
    I don’t actually expect other people to use my blog roll (or read my blog :P) if I see something I think someone I know will find interesting I send them the link directly.

  3. I need to prune mine, I think. It’s more a series of bookmarks for me than anything else, but most are at least tangentially relevant to what I write, so I figure there’s no harm in sharing. I just have some there that have gone dark or off the deep end, so there’s not much reason to keep the links.

    I’ve never been aware of or espoused “social” reasons to put them up, though. If they have good content, that’s all I care about.

    Gevlon sees a lot of shadows where none exist. That’s the trouble with having a sworn enemy and a persona built around hating.

    • He does sometimes, but I’m sure that there are some tight knit groups of bloggers who have all the associated drama, so if one person is mean about another person’s post then the others all drop them from their blogroll etc etc.

      Basically imagine you are using the blogroll as the equivalent of a friend list in facebook. And assume some people do that.

      • Oh, definitely. It’s just that there’s no One True Blogroll philosophy, so seeing enemies where none really exist is a bit of a fool’s errand. Self-sample bias, as it were.

  4. I’m pretty much a 6 with some hints of a 2. I feel blogging should be a community, and I can’t say no.

    In my Warhammer days I always had the longest blogroll, and was made fun of that fact.

    Though as long as it is I read every blog on my enormous blogroll, at least once a week.

  5. i think i’m a combination of 4 and 6; i only keep bloggers who update regularly that my readers can link to easily, and its for me at work so i can easily go to their sites (ie yours!) :)

  6. I use my blogroll to try to link to content I think my readers will like. Most of the blogs I link to are related to what I write about which is mostly video games and other media. I try to keep my blogroll small and worthwhile so that readers might actually look at it. I also have it set up to display the title of the most recent post on each blogger’s site.

    I think blogrolls can be really useful if used correctly as long as they don’t get gigantic.

    If you’re looking for more blogs for your roll check out my site http://www.agreenmushroom.com/

  7. I’m a 4-6 as well, since that seems to be the closest to “I link what I read.” There are a lot of great blogs that I don’t link bceause I don’t read them. But those tend to be linked so much anyway that I see no loss. If anything it’s better to not clutter my blogroll with so many blogs that people will see somewhere anyway. Of course my Tobold, Larisa, and Spinks links seem to negate that argument.

    I suppose that means that my blogroll is little more than a slightly out of date list of what I read. That’s not useless, since someone reading my blog might enjoy what I read.

  8. I’ve probably done all of these, by the way :) Especially #1 — if I really admire a blog and its relevant, it’s probably on the roll. (When I first started, I did this.) It’s funny if you later get talking to the blogger and get fairly friendly with them.

  9. Ya left out #10 – extortionizings. Fer a modest monthly fee, I’s willin’ fer ta drop anyone’s blog off me roll, and saves them the embarrassments of bein’ publicly associated with me.

  10. I think I’m mostly #6, although when I first started my blogroll I didn’t know what it was, so I guess I had no motive other than “hey, I wonder what this feature is.”

    For me I just think my few readers might want to know what else I read, but the chances are they already know who the blogs are so really it ends up being a tool for myself.

    I guess I never really thought that there could be so many motives, wow. I’ve always only seen blogrolls as a nice way for one to jump around the web while they catch some news or stories of the day.

    And oh, thanks for the reminder, I updated mine after reading your post. :)

    • I remember back when I made my first ever website, that’s pretty much exactly what it was. A list of links to sites I liked that I updated from time to time.

      Mind you, back then, a blog/ weblog was mostly people posting links they had found and liked so that they could share them.

  11. Certainly a mix of a few reasons for me – the blog roll is fairly personal in the sense that it’s blogs I read and have read for a while, so I recommend them. I also don’t use a reader so it’s a handy list for myself. And I will add new blogs I’d like to follow more in the future there too.

    I’m not sure about the getting on people’s blogroll; I know a fair few bloggers encourage you to contact them like you did and it’s tempting, but I generally feel reluctant about that. maybe I’m too shy, but to me it seems a little inappropriate, especially if you’re a fairly new kid on the block. i’m trusting in time and consistent quality of posts being the key there for people to notice you and add you one day. :)

  12. A combination of 4 and 6 for me. It’s mostly a service to myself, but since I appreciate well kept blogrolls at other blogs, I’ve chosen to expose it on my blog not just keeping it as my own bookmarks. I regard the blogroll content in the manner that I try to keep it fairly fresh, throwing in and also taking away blogs as time passes and circumstances change.

    The thought that you could somehow try impress on others by your blogroll never crossed my mind. It sounds a bit strange to me. After all – linkage isn’t something you expect to be reciprocal. (At least I don’t expect that. I link to a lot of blogs that don’t link back to me and I’m perfectly fine with that. And there are blogs linking to me that I don’t link to and I don’t think twice about that either.)

    So how could it impress someone that I choose throw in a ton of blog links on my own blog? It escapes my comprehension. (But then admittedly I’m not the most talented or knowledgable person when it comes to social networking.)

    It would be more impressive if let’s say for instance Tobold started to have a blogroll, linking to just three blogs of his liking, and one of those would be mine. But that isn’t something you can affect really. It just happens.

    I’m really glad that my greeting meant something to you. I try to do those things every now and then, although it’s quite impossible to greet everyone, since there are just too many WoW blogs popping up every day to keep up. But when I spot a newcomer, especially one that has the “something” I’m looking for in a bloger, I try to be nice and encouraging. I still remember how much it meant when Aurik from /hug and Softtistle were the first bloggers from the English speaking blogsphere to greet me as I started to blog in English after first doing it in Swedish for a couple of months (which turned out to be too lonely in the end.) And when Matticus linked to one of my posts after a couple of months, saying that he spotted “something”. It was a short post inspired by my onion chopping. But oh, how much that link love meant, the encouragement!
    That’s why I try to pay forward whenever I get the opportunity.

  13. I’m a #6. I do however hope that many people who are interested in what I have to say will be interested in the blogs I link to.

    However I do get people who are only interested in, say, Eve coming when I write about Eve. They will find a few Eve gems but most of the blogs won’t interest them (but will be obviously not about Eve).

  14. A big reason to use a blogroll is how much it helps blogging as a whole.

    Most of the blogs I read I discovered from blogrolls.

    I started with Honor’s Code, then found Blessing of Kings on his blogroll. From there I moved out, and now read Klepsacovic, Larisa, Spinks, Tobold, MMO Gamer Chick, Rhidach, Antigen, and a few others who I can’t remember off the top of my head because I don’t have my bookmarks list on hand.

    If there weren’t such great blogrolls, particularly on a few of the above blogs, I’d never have anything to read on my lunch breaks.

  15. In addition, having a cohesive blogroll community makes enjoying reading each blog a lot more.

    It makes it feel much more like a community when Tobold posts something and Larisa, Klepsacovic, Rohan and Gevlon all put up a related post discussing it later in the week.

  16. Pingback: oh no, not again « Righteous Orbs

  17. I approach blog rolls as a I kind of community thing – I think it’s nice to interlink between all blogs of a similar genre and then let people follow them and discover new articles, friends and blogs.

    To be fair though, I’ve never really thought much about it :)

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