Blogs: Popularity Doesn\’t Equal Influence

Technorati’s latest snapshot of blog influence (click to enlarge). Consider what this data really shows.

(NOTE: I originally posted this item on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits blog. I’m cross-posting it here because I think it’s also relevant to Contentious readers.)

On Nov. 6, Technorati published its latest quarterly state of the blogosphere report. Currently, this search service tracks 57 million feeds, mostly from blogs — with a strong focus on English-language blogs, especially from North America.

One of the most controversial sections of this report discusses a key concern for any media: influence or perceived authority. Personally, I think Technorati’s interpretation is rather awry…

Technorati measures influence by counting inbound links to blogs.
This report ranks the approximately 1.5 million blogs it tracks which
have attracted at least three inbound links into these groups:

  • Low Authority: Three to nine blogs linking in the last six months (1,111,882 blogs, average 12 posts/month)
  • Middle Authority: 10-99 blogs linking in the last six months (416,073 blogs, average 18 posts/month)
  • High Authority: 100-499 blogs linking in the last six months (26,418 blogs, average 25 posts/month)
  • Very High Authority: 500 or more blogs linking in the last six months (4,070 blogs, average 53 posts/month)

What’s wrong with this picture? Well, Technorati’s ranking mostly reflects popularity and the effects of posting frequency. In some cases these may correlate with influence or authority — but not always.

First of all, people link to blogs for all sorts of reasons — not always because they consider a particular posting authoritative. Often people link to blog postings in order to question, disagree with, refute, or even ridicule them. Or they may link to blogs strictly for entertainment. Also, people often link to blogs in the hope of attracting return links — and thus traffic. Most serious bloggers watch their referral logs closely, and this strategy does often work.

Posting frequency also can drive inbound links, because if you give people more stuff to read, it’s more likely they’ll find something worth a link. But more frequent posts aren’t always better or more authoritative. In fact, often I’ve found just the opposite. Some of the blogs I consider most influential don’t post daily. Thoughtfulness counts in many circles.

The truth is, influence depends entirely upon the audiences each blog reaches. Sometimes those audiences or communities are very small in terms of numbers. For instance, Alaskablawg is a pretty authoritative blog for certain types of legal and political issues affecting Alaska. It undoubtedly attracts a much smaller audience and fewer inbound links than Firedoglake, currently the top-ranked blog in the "law" category in Technorati’s blog directory. Does that make Alaskablawg less influential or authoritative? Probably not — at least not among the communities it aims to reach.

Influence also depends on the range of topics a blog addresses. A given blogger may be considered extremely authoritative on green chemistry, but less so on parenting or Chinese cooking (even though her blog may address all three topics).

I don’t think Technorati’s view of influence is entirely amiss. Inbound links can indeed be one factor to gauge influence — but it can never be the only one. Companies like BuzzLogic have a better grasp of what really constitutes influence in conversational media. Of course, Buzzlogic isn’t free, and Technorati is. And in this case of Technorati’s analysis, I think you get what you pay for.

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