Sunday, January 09, 2011

Problems with Australia's best blog posts

Each year, Club Troppo and On-line Opinion combine to select the best independent blog posts over the year for publication in January by On-line Opinion. In a comments exchange on Persia, Greece & the Delian League I was quite critical of the process followed. Re-reading my initial comment I felt that it was un-balanced because it failed to recognise the work involved.

To my mind, the idea of a mechanism for recognising the best blog writing is very important because it provides peer group recognition, while also exposing particular posts to a broader audience. However, it is also a difficult task. This post explores those difficulties.

Scoping the Problem

I do not know how many Australian blogs there are that publish on a regular basis. Certainly in the thousands. Then there are some off-shore blogs that may be eligible because they focus exclusively on Australian issues.

If we just start with a 1,000 blogs with daily posting, then we are looking at 365,000 posts a year. That's a lot. How, on earth, does one identify possible best posts out of such a big field?

Present Selection Process

To try to manage this problem, Club Troppo and On-line Opinion call for nominations. Other blogs pick the call up. Bloggers can nominate their own posts or be nominated by others. A number of biases are inevitably built into this selection process.

Club Troppo and On-line Opinion appeal to a particular slice of the blog readership. As an example, on the mapping that's been done of the Australian blogosphere, a Club Troppo reader is likely also to read Larvatus Prodeo, John Quiggin or Scepticslawyer.

There are cross-overs into the other side of the political spectrum. For example, Scepticslawyers has a Libertarian thread, while many read Catallaxy Files to gain an alternative view. Nevertheless, the particular readership does introduce a selection bias.     

This is compounded by a further factor. While both Club Troppo and On-line opinion have quite large readerships compared to other blogs or independent on-line sources, their share of the overall readership is small. This means that nominations are biased to some degree towards a relatively small, slanted audience.

Memory introduces another bias. With so many posts around, who can remember a precise post from the past? I follow some 100 Australian blogs. I can't remember all my own posts, let alone all those that I have seen! This makes reader selection something of a hit and miss affair. It also makes self-nomination more difficult because this requires trawling back through past posts to find suitable entries.

Those involved in one way or another in the best blog post process are well aware of these issues. The main mechanism used to overcome it are link posts. Examples include Ken Parish's Missing Link, Rafe Champion's new link section on Catallaxy Files, my own blog round-ups.

One problem here, and I am only speaking for myself, is that my primary focus has been on providing a snapshot at a point in time. I have not been specifically interested in identifying posts that may later be suitable for inclusion in the best independent blog posts.

Suitability for Inclusion in On-line Opinion

The blogosphere is both fragmented and complicated.

In addition to the type of blogs that form the current core of the selection process, I now follow history blogs, technology blogs, management blogs, legal blogs, economics blogs, photo blogs, regional blogs. I also follow blogs in multiple countries.

Blogging is interactive. I interact with other blogs, with my own past posts, with my readers. Many of my posts are directly linked to this interactivity. They are full of links. I also write series of posts that are meant to be read together. Increasingly, I use range of visual material.

All this means that the proportion of my posts, or of the posts that I see, that might be suitable for inclusion without significant editing has diminished. I just don't have the time for this.

Lead times

The number of posts selected for inclusion in On-Line Opinion dropped from 40 in January 2008 to 12 in January 2009. So far this January, one post has been published. I don't know what's in the pipeline, but I can't see selected posts getting back to January 2008 numbers.

A key problem here is the late call for nominations. To my mind, the nomination process needs to run over the whole year. It can't start in December.


I said at the start of this post that I was concerned that my initial comment failed to recognise the work involved. I an grateful to Ken Parish and others for the work they have done. However, I feel that it is time that we specifically addressed the question of the best way of recognising and promoting the work of Australia's independent bloggers.


Brigid said...

One of the probs is that the whole thing is subjective.

For instance, On Line Opinion. I have published a couple of things on there and left a few comments on the articles of others. However, it is not a site that wows me or grabs me. Similarly, w/ Club Troppo. Haven't been to it for years.

And what is a political blog? I think there are the political apparatchik blogs i.e. Troppo, Prodeo. They sound like you are talking to a backroom political operative - although Ken Parish did have a not too successful career up front as an NT politician. My own blog, The Network, would be considered political, I believe, but is not in the same category as Troppo and Prodeo - because mine is aimed at being magazine like (a bit of everything and all with pics) and aimed at community level not political intellectual or apparatchik level.

So while I could try to sort through my many many posts and self-nominate, I would not be bothered because I don't believe I would pass muster with the decision makers.

And what is political, what is opinion? There are politics and opinions in food, books, environment - and some of the really, truly best blogs in the country fall into these categories yet they not ones, it seems to me, that OLO and Ken Parish will be looking for.

So while Troppo & OLO might pick their best, it will be just that - their pick and their best. No guarantee of universal acceptance or agreement.

Jim Belshaw said...

I think that you have captured many of the issues here, Miss LE. However, I would come to the defence of Ken.

At least he made Parliament! I had three goes at pre-selection without getting to election! Like me now, he uses his pen as best he can. This means that he contributes in a variety of wyas.

Judgement on posts is always subjective. We can't help that. But I want to try to reduce unecessary subjective elements.

I understand you position re your own blog. I feel somewhat the same. I often describe my own position as insider-outsider, sometimes outsider-insider. The exact mix depends on context.

I have been around for long enough to have a somewhat recognised place. Yet I am never quite part of the scene because the things that I argue for never quite fit in the mainstream. I am neither left nor right, Labor or Liberal, libertarian or non-libertarian, neoclassical economist or anti-neoclassical economist. And so it goes on.

I would argue that the true role of the independent blogger is to be just that, independent, the grit in the conventional arguments. However, that is a narrow definition of independent!

I would also argue that if blogging is to survive as a major stream, we bloggers have to continually improve our game. Otherwise we will become just another passing phase.

Legal Eagle said...

I find the whole thing very difficult. I can't remember my own posts, let alone anyone else's. Sometimes I read back through my posts and am surprised by what I've written on.

I was extraordinarily surprised to be nominated - still don't know quite how or who nominated me?

I think my co-bloggers are fabbo, but ask me to nominate their best post and I just go blank. I think the best thing is to tell someone a post is good when you read it.

Jim Belshaw said...

LE, you write well and deserve the nomination. Your pleasure at being selected reflects mine a few years back.It is peer recognition. If we have to self-nominate, some of the pleasure goes out of it.

I see that you suffer from the same memory problem as me! I think that you are right. We should all record good posts when we read them. That way we have a record to go back too.

Anonymous said...

Well - two of my favourite thinkers in one post! I shall just sit back and observe and learn.

Never understood just what you see in Lets Pontificate, Jim. Far too definite in their belief of their own "rightness" for me.


Jim Belshaw said...

Hello, KVD. I wondered how long it would take for you to catch up on this thread. As you can see, you continue to exercise a powerful influence on my thinking!

Just because Let's Pontificate is sometimes annoying doesn't stop it from sometimes being correct! We need a variety of thinking, even if the sense of "rightness" sometimes disrupts the message.

Anonymous said...

Quote from a camp follower at LP:

"There’s always a certain brutishness and coarseness to climate sceptics or agnostics"

I think that is somewhat beyond simply annoying. They may as well go the whole hog and finish every sentence with "and your mother was a goat".

We certainly need a variety of thinking, agreed - so let me know when LP bloggers and commentators display some, and I will be happy to revisit.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jim

I woke up early feeling somewhat guilty about my possibly dismissive remarks about LP, so I spent the early hours reading through a post and comments there about the latest US shooting episode. I have no comment to make on that tragedy as such – being unaware of any real facts – but I have to say that what I read on LP simply reinforces my earlier comment.

This is not a recommend that you should read this stuff, but just to say, if it is at all indicative of the level of thoughtfulness applied at LP, then it will be a long time before I visit again.


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi again, KVD. Ouch re LP!

Legal Eagle said...

KVD, I am afraid I haven't made any comments at LP since that post. It really burned me badly with respect to them. I like the bloggers there, and still read some of the posts, but I really don't like the attitude of some of the commenters.

...Actually that's probably my attitude to most of the big blogs. I very rarely comment at them. Some of the commenters at our place are robust in their opinions, but importantly, they're not all of the same stripe, so hopefully one doesn't get quite the same effect.

Jim Belshaw said...

That's interesting, LE. Some years ago when I was looking at the role of ministers and ministers' offices, a comment that stuck in my mind as part of that role: "dealing with the Party faithful, if indeed they choose to be faithful" I think that it has a certain relevance here.

Anonymous said...

Thinking more about this subject (and not to distract from the floods)

On some blogs I see a button or buttons, which vary from a simple “like/don’t like” to “rate this 1-5”. I’m wondering if this is generally available, and if so, would it at least give each independent blogger a feel for what interests his/her/their audience? Following on from that, if you could see your (say) top ten posts, you could maybe then decide for yourself which might be worthy as an offering to a “best posts” list?

There are always self-promoting individuals who might disregard the regard of their readers, and simply put forward what they themselves like, but I suspect their peers (the judges) would soon sort them out, and treat their contributions accordingly.

For your own interest, I see that a large number of people follow this blog, but very few give feedback by way of comment. I am blazingly aware of my own “outstanding exception” to that observation – and I really wish it were not so – but I’m sure your many followers would like some sort of opportunity to even anonymously offer you some sort of feedback by way of “vote” or “rate”. It might be helpful to you – but I guess it might at times be painful as well. Who knows, but it would be a private assessment as far as the world was concerned.

Now you may have already considered this, and rejected this approach for some reason – in which case I’d be interested in your thought process if you will share.

Anyway – just comments, offered with goodwill, meant to encourage.


ps: "dealing with the Party faithful, if indeed they choose to be faithful"
- paranoid pragmatism, or pragmatic paranoia? Whichever, it’s a great quote.

Legal Eagle said...

I'm just not interested in having a discussion if I'm going to be abused merely for deviating from the norm on that particular blog. I've been attacked on both right wing and left wing blogs before for coming out and saying I don't agree with a particular thing.

I used to think my views were pretty middle of the road and standard, but since blogging I wonder if my views are unusual?

Anonymous said...

LE your views ARE unusual in the blogging world: they are thoughtful, submitted in a civil manner, and accepting of polite discussion, even disputation.

This makes you a complete outrider.

Now Jim, I submitted a longwinded suggestion re your actual topic, but your spaminator has eaten it. Should I break it up and repost?


Jim Belshaw said...

KVD, I wonder what you have done in a past life to deserve Google's spam treatment of you. I think that Google has the button you talk about. I may try it. I handn't done so because I wasn't sure that it would add much.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thinking more about LE's point, some people enjoy the opinionated point and counter point. The comment thread on Poll Bludger is an example.

At times this reads like bad tempered flame throwing, but the regulars enjoy attacking each other. Noticeably, factual information is often included, with someone going from attack dog to information/discussion in a blink.

That's a particular blog culture. It's different from the culture on some other blogs where the faithful will turn on the outsider.

I find the biggest problems arise when dealing with bell-weather issues - climate change is an example, atheism another - where opinion is polarised.

As LE has found, it's quite difficult to present a thoughtful view that varies, or may be seen to vary, from a particular position. It can be especially difficult if you are actually using the post to clarify your own ideas.

A couple of times I have been quite blind-sided because I failed to recognise the way in which the post would be read.

But all this is actually no different from normal life.

Legal Eagle said...

Jim, yes, it's been surprising how some posts are read. And I'm constantly surprised as to which posts are contentious and which are civil (apart from "gentle macchia" or Israel/Palestine which are always uncivil). Sometimes I write a post which I think is very contentious and it gets 4 comments; sometimes I write one which I think is not, and it just *takes off*.

Jim Belshaw said...

I think that's true for all of us, LE!