The League and Links: Part II

Well, not surprisingly, League of Liberals members weren’t terribly happy with my commentary on their tactics yesterday. There’s quite a bit of feedback in the comments on that post, and I thought it would be worthwhile to follow-up with additional thoughts and questions of my own.
Let me start by trying to explain in clearer terms where I am coming from on these issues by talking a bit about the Ecosystem itself.
I’d like to say that I built the Ecosystem, originally, as a serious study of the blogosphere designed to better mankind and the weblog world.
But that wouldn’t be true. I built it originally because I was curious to see if it could be done, and because I thought it would be cool, and because I thought it might get me attention in the Blogosphere. As it turns out, it could be done, it was cool, and it did get me attention.
And you know what else? It was fun. It was fun for me to see the positive reaction it received in the Blogosphere, and I think it is safe to say that it has been fun for many, many bloggers to participate in. I still smile when I see a new blogger posting proudly on their blog that they have become a “Flappy Bird”. The Ecosystem is goofy; it is a silly, silly thing and I believe firmly in my heart that the reason it enjoys some success above (or at least, different from) other ranking systems is that very silliness.
But the fact is, through all the silliness, I have genuinely grown to care about the blogosphere, and to believe fervently in the potential it holds as a communication medium and information source. And I know that the Ecosystem, and tools like it, have an effect on the way bloggers behave. I think about those effects, and I try to do what I can to influence them so that, in my humble view at least, they help to build a diverse and meritocratic blogosphere.
So, when I recognized that the Ecosystem reinforces the tendency of top bloggers to stay on top, I created something to help counteract that effect at least a tiny little bit, and give the bottom bloggers a chance: the New Weblog Showcase. When I saw that the desire to beef up Ecosystem rankings was driving people to create pointless multiple links to other blogs, I changed the ranking system to remove that motivation.
The way I see it, as the owner of the Ecosystem, it’s not that I have a right to “make the rules” or demand that bloggers behave a certain way or I won’t let them play in my sandbox. It is that I feel I have an obligation, having created the Ecosystem, to counter the sometimes-toxic effects it can have on blogging behavior. Where I can do that fairly by adjusting the way the system works, I do. And where there is no “code” solution, then I’ll use the other option available to me: to speak out with my own voice, in my own little corner of the weblog world, and draw attention to where I see things going wrong. And try to use my own powers of reason and argument to explain why I’m concerned, and hopefully suggest solutions.
Which brings us back to the cut-and-paste roundup posts that I’ve seen on some League blogs. I find it encouraging that very few respondents have actually tried to defend the practice of blindly copying roundup posts onto their own blog. I recognize that many League members haven’t done that, but more than a few have, so I think it is fair to say that while the practice may not be “official policy” of the League, it is also not uncommon.
We could debate all day as to exactly how widespread the practice was, but I don’t have the patience to go combing through all the League’s membership to count exactly how many of those cookie-cutter roundups have been done, and I hope none of you do either. My bottom line is this: when I see behavior like this, I worry that bloggers are focusing more on beefing up Ecosystem ratings than they are about expressing their own thoughts & views. And that bugs me. Roundups done by an individual blogger pointing out the posts they find of value are great. Roundups distributed by some central source and reposted with no editing by the blogger themself strike me as pointless parroting of a party-line view.
I would worry less about these things, in the context of the League, if there weren’t other signs that the group as a whole — or at least its leaders — seem to have what I consider to be an unhealthy concern over driving up Ecosystem rankings for League members.
When, in the comments from my previous post, I see Barry of Rush Limbaughtomy rattle off a statistic like “Approximately 110 of the TOP 350 blogs on the Ecosystem are ‘Liberal’ today”, what strikes me is that he (or someone) actually took the time to count. He then proceeds to accuse me of bias and states:
“Since we have half as many liberal blogs we have to work harder to get recognition. We are doing that. You seem to have a problem with our hard work, our dedication, and our purpose. As OWNER of the Ecosystem you should be aware that we are now playing on your uneven playing field. When you take sides you tip the balance even further.”
…and when I read that, I hear the Ecosystem itself being described as a “playing field”, with the goal of the game presumably being to drive up the Ecosystem rankings of the League’s players.
I read that, and then I look back at the Liberal Linker blog, and I see a blog that someone registered in the Ecosystem with the tagline “moving liberal bloggers up the blogosphere” that seems to consist of nothing but continual lists of links with minimal commentary. And I start to think that you know what, maybe someone is trying to juice the Ecosystem rankings just a little bit. Call me crazy, but let’s also not forget that it was that very same blog’s habit of multiply linking to League member’s blog posts that prompted me to change the way the whole Ecosystem works.
Am I blaming the League for the sins of one blog? Yes, I suppose I am. But I have yet to hear many comments from League members denouncing the Liberal Linker blog’s tactics, and League members are clearly benefiting from those same tactics through the inflated Ecosystem rankings generated by the many links to their blogs on Liberal Linker.
There’s a simple solution to put my mind at ease on this particular issue, of course: de-register the Liberal Linker blog from the Ecosystem. I’m not planning on doing that myself. But if the League is serious about pursuing higher Ecosystem rankings based on merit, then why not take this step to demonstrate that? Have your leadership make the request to me in email, and I’ll take care of it.
Look: you may think that because I tend to the conservative side, I’m just plain biased against the League. You’d be wrong, but only I know that for sure, and I don’t think there’s a way to convince you otherwise.
I’m not out to get the League. To be frank, I find the League to be in at least some ways a more interesting group than the Axis or Alliance, because it seems to have a purpose beyond sheer silliness. (There’s nothing wrong with sheer silliness, so that’s not a slam on the other alliances, but the League is trying to push forward real-world objectives (spreading their views and ideas) through weblogs, something that the other alliances have dabbled in but not made their primary focus).
But what I don’t want to see happen is for the League to get so obsessed with Ecosystem rankings or combating the alleged conservative bias in the Blogosphere that it forgets what’s actually important: doing good work. Demonstrating the power of the League’s ideas and ideals through the writing of individual members, and through their hard work in seeking out and drawing attention to the issues they think are most worth fighting for. That is what the blogosphere should be about. Listen to Mark Pierce: he’s got the right idea.
Perhaps I am overreacting to certain limited behaviors by a subset of the League’s membership, and if so, then that is great news. But as I have said, I feel a certain responsibility to speak out against the disease of Ecosystem-obsession when I see it, and my honest judgment right now is that the League, when taken as a whole, has at least a mild case of it.
Prove me wrong, and I’ll be a happy bear…