I’m #3? Of what?

There’s this new service, Wikio, that is trying to rank various blogs. It’s very pretty, but I have to say that ranking is entirely the wrong approach — it simply perpetuates a falsely hierarchical view of the web and acts as a positive feedback system to reinforce popularity; blogs are promoted as popular because they are popular, making them more popular. It’s nerds with computers realizing that gosh, traffic and links are easy to measure, so let’s provide a pigeonholing service that sorts by the simplest, most basic tool we can invent.

This one at least tries to add a qualitative estimate of content by grouping the blogs into categories, like “science” and “sports” and “health”, but too often these are arbitrary and irrelevant, and rife with omissions. The blog listed just below mine is a car blog, for instance; Sandwalk is left out, and Wilkins is included. None of these are bad blogs, but I think it does no one a service to be jumbled up and stacked according to a number that is a sloppy proxy for the quality of the content.

You know what I’ve come to like? Tag clouds. At a glance, you can tell quickly what subjects have come to the fore on a blog that uses them, and you can spot blogs that might address subjects of interest. As for whether it is a good blog on those subjects, I determine that by actually reading a few entries.


  1. caynazzo says

    Agreed. Text clouds like Technotrati’s are preferred, however, it’s lame that atheism gets swept under a tag name like religion and philosophy.

  2. says

    I am ambivalent about the clouds, they tend to get taken over by specific terms, and they also require naming standards for specific subjects.

  3. says

    The challenge religion site is kind of cool. It gathers up interesting posts on atheism every day. It still seems to suffer from the “popularity begets popularity” thing, but they seem to have some way of weighting more obscure posts for quality. I’m not on their payroll or anything, I just like them because they rank me in the top 20, and I didn’t even have to do anything to get there… ;)

  4. MyaR says

    The problem with tag clouds is that you have to get people to use the same or very similar tags, then you need a good search of those tags. Basically, you need a controlled vocabulary. And it’s pretty much impossible to get people to actually use one, even if you could get one agreed-upon in theory. And most blog tags are mostly useless, because most bloggers are idiosyncratic in what they call something, and because most tags used are fairly generic and require a context to be understood.

    Which is why automated categorization of various types is starting to gain some traction. (And, incidentally, why I have a job.)

  5. jim a says

    blogs are promoted as popular because they are popular, making them more popular. Think of it as training in the academic citation process.

  6. MyaR says

    A prime example of the problems with tag clouds — Amazon’s page for The Design of Life still has ‘science’ and ‘biology’ as two of its high-ranking tags. While one could argue that ‘anti-science’ and ‘anti-biology’ are inherently tied into the concepts of ‘science’ and ‘biology’, how useful is that to the average searcher?

  7. Frank Oswalt says

    VWXYNot (#2):

    Yeah, but then he says this (emphasis mine):

    I have enormous respect for people who have religious faith, I’m married to a Catholic and am committed to bringing my children up as Catholics.

    So even though he knows better, he is going to poison his children’s minds with religion… Not someone that I would trust to run a country.

    And of course, there is all that respect for religion:

    However, I myself am not an active believer, but the last thing I would do when talking or thinking about religion is approach it with a closed heart or a closed mind.

    In other words: he may not be religious, but he is going to act as though he is…

  8. says

    Hmm. My blog’s not listed. Damn. I guess I’m not as powerful and influential as I thought.

    I’ll go back to grading final exams now and wallow in the sense of power that gives me.

  9. says

    Frank, I’m guessing (hoping?) that at least some of his later comments were a wee bit of panicky appeasement lest he alienate a wide section of the electorate within a few days of assuming his new position.

    Small steps still take us forwards! Better this than a leader who thinks he’s taking direct instructions from God ;)

  10. says

    Greetings PZ, this is Miles from Wikio. Thanks for drawing some attention to our Top Blogs service here on Pharyngula. We take your commentary to heart, as we work to perfect our newly launched ranking system.