The last couple of days have seen a Daypop and Blogdex Top 40s that are totally overwhelmed by political articles from the States. If it wasn’t for the fact that many of these articles are concerned with the war in Iraq, you could be excused for thinking that nothing else was happening in the world at at all – even perhaps that there was no world outside the US.
Three years ago – back in the days of Beebo.org’s metalog – it was quickly observed that the various aggregation sites on the internet had a reinforcing effect on people’s browsing – that when they started, the popular links were getting two or three links a day, but that a month later they were getting up to ten or twelve. People linked to good things that they were exposed to – and they decided that aggregators represented an efficient way of finding those good things, prefiltered on the basis of popularity by the community at large. The effect? Sites that appeared on these sites got a significant extra amount of trafic, links, exposure. There’s significant value in this mechanism – it produces a manageable amount of links each day that an individual has a chance of being able to read. It also provides a sense of the overall community of webloggia and what they care about.
The problem comes when these aggregators don’t have enough granularity. Let me put it this way – Blogdex, Daypop, Popdex, Technorati and the like are no longer simple reflectors of a community’s activities – they are also one of our community’s best mechanisms for news discovery. To some extent they’re gradually becoming one of the most significant ways we find out what’s going on in the world around us.
Unfortunately it also means that the country with the most weblogs sets the international community’s agenda. There are only two obvious results of this – (i) that these aggregators will (or have) become less interesting or useful to people who don’t live in America or (ii) that the international community becomes used to the hideous unrepresentation of their own local news and debate. It used to be said that America had no idea of what happened outside its own borders. Can we really be working towards a new way of distributing and discovering media that means the rest of the world has no idea what happens outside America’s boundaries either?
There are a couple of ways that we could address this problem. Firstly there’s sampling – we could create a version of Blogdex that doesn’t work purely on the basis of popularity, but samples geo-coded weblogs from across the world in such a way that we are presented with a balanced world-wide view of what’s important. It’s a nice idea, but I think it’s impractical – for a start the linguistic barriers would make it less useful for many of us, but also because there would an infinity of ways of determining sampling rates across the world, none of which would likely be ‘fair’ or ‘clear’ to people.
No – the most practical way of approaching this problem is to find mechanisms which allow us to balkanise our aggregators – slice their responses – on the basis of metadata. There are many ways of geocoding weblogs in such a way that aggregators could have a sense of your nationality, location, language, time-zone and the like. And above and beyond such meta-tagging there are dozens of directories that include information based around clumping weblogs around interest groups and/or site locations. So I’m putting out a call now for someone to balkanise Blogdex. I want to be able to see the most popular links generated by people in my country – wherever the links themselves are based. I want to be able to slice these links in different ways, to see popular links mentioned on all English language sites (for example) or just those within the European Union. In fact I’d like to be able to see what gay webloggers are reading too. And people within my age group. All of this stuff should be possible, one way or another. I’d build it myself, if I had the expertise required… Can’t someone help me out?