Blogosphere Welfare, or the Welfare of the Blogosphere?

It won’t surprise anyone that I spend more time than is probably healthy thinking about the blogosphere and the effect which tools like the and New Weblog Showcase have on it. And lately, of course, the impact of weblog alliances has begun to be felt in ways that are difficult to fully quantify, but may turn out to ultimately be quite significant.
The most deliberate and conscious attempt to influence the blogosphere, as I think they themselves would acknowledge, currently comes from the League of Liberals. Recently, the League seems to have implemented a practice of posting daily or near-daily roundups of their members’ posts, which members then put on their own weblog (see here, here, here, here and here for an example). The result: League members whose posts are circulated get a boost in their Ecosystem ratings.
The following post comes from the pseudonymous Liberal Linker weblog, which, curiously, doesn’t appear to be considered an official member of the League, and yet certainly seems tightly connected with it. I don’t know who actually runs the blog, although I assume it to be one of the League’s leaders. But at any rate, it offers the clearest explanation of the League’s tactics and goals that I’ve seen. I’m snipping the highlights here, but as they say, read the whole thing:

I don’t want to get off on a RANT here. but:
I find it disturbing when terms like “artificially creating the hits by linking” or “link-whoring” to describe our practice of supporting each other by linking to our member posts as a group are used…
Bloggers link to the “first movers” or top traffic blogs in hopes of being noticed.
They get massive links from many sites and seldom do the linkers get “repaid” by a link in return. Our system is much more Democratic. We help each other by sharing our ability to link. Is there anything “artificial” in that?

…Our system is the fairest, and cleanest way for a group of like-minded bloggers to gain notice on the Ecosystem.
Many of our members have seen meteoric rises in the past few days. Some have jumped 100’s of places. It took me months to get that far in the early going and I am happy to help my fellow liberals up the laddar quicker. My only hope is that they pass the good fortune on to others. 30 or 40 links make a huge difference at the lower orders of the Ecosystem.
To me it is the perfect Liberal Democratic ideal. We as a group make all of our ships rise on the eco-ocean as the tide rolls in. We share and we trade in the only currency of the Ecosystem – links and visits. We know this is not a Zero sum game and there is little gain in being a single winner. We win when we all win.

So there you have it. But this really raises more questions than it answers, starting with the big one: what’s the point of driving up someone’s Ecosystem ranking?
That may seem an odd question coming from me, but honestly: who cares what your ranking is, if you know that is has been gained simply because you signed up for membership in a particular club? There’s no real practical benefit to being high on the list. Trust me, if you think you’ll get massive referral traffic from TTLB when you hit the top 100, think again. TTLB gets about 1,000 visits a day on average, and if the average blog in the top 100 got 1% of that in referrals (10 visits a day), I’d be amazed. It is probably much less than that.
The League’s tactics also, not surprisingly, seem to match their politics rather appropriately. It is not clear to me how the roundup-posts of links to League posters are created, but there seems to be only two possibilities: either they represent an unfiltered list of every League member who posted, or they are being selected by the League’s leadership in some manner. (It is of course possible that there is some system of voting for posts hidden outside the view of non-members, but that seems unlikely).
So take the possibilities in turn. If the roundup posts are unfiltered, then the deal seems simple: sign up for the League, and you get extra links, regardless of the merit of your work. Make a brilliant post, make a crummy one, it doesn’t matter: you’ll get the link that is rightfully yours. I don’t think it is a stretch to call this the Blogosphere equivalent of welfare (minus the means testing — the “rich” bloggers who already have lots of links get just as much as the “poor” ones who have none)
But the alternate possibility — that the posts are, in fact, selected by the League’s leadership — is even more intriguing. If that is the case, then a system which, on the surface, purports to be democratic and egalitarian, is in fact simply a method for individuals to suborn their own judgment to that of their Leaders, who know better.
Sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it? The real-world political analogies are left as an exercise to the reader.
In case it isn’t obvious, the League’s vision of how the Blogosphere should work just doesn’t match my own. I love the idea of weblogs as a community where merit is truly what matters, and I honestly believe that if you have talent, patience, and willpower, you can and will be successful in this world. I’m not blind to the imperfections, vagaries and politics of the blogosphere, but on the whole I find they are vastly outweighed by its strengths.
I like to see strong, intelligent voices in the Blogosphere succeed — whether or not they happen to agree with my views. I’d rather live in a blog-world where the most successful blogs disagreed with me but were written with intelligence and skill, than live in one where I was surrounded by poorly written and ill-considered echoes of my own views.
That vision seems the opposite of what the League wants. And that’s OK — one of the strengths of the blogosphere is that it is a big, big place, and there is plenty of room for the League to pursue their vision at the same time I strive to encourage my own.
I am in a somewhat unique position, of course, as arbiter of the Ecosystem and the even more directly competitive Showcase. And in that role, I do my best to run fair, neutral contests where all comers have an equal chance for success, regardless of my personal views on their merit.
But that neutrality doesn’t mean I intend to sacrifice my right to speak my own mind on what the blogosphere can, and should, be. I make no secret of the fact that I’d like to influence the course of the Blogosphere’s development in directions that I think will make it a more vibrant, diverse, and ultimately useful space for ideas and information to be exchanged.
So I’ll keep boring y’all with my thoughts: and I’d welcome yours back in return — particularly, on this subject, if you’re part of the League itself. It’s all about the dialogue, after all…