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.
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.