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 This is where you add links for whatever reason but forget to update the blogroll much so it’s usually out of date.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.