Over the past week, I’ve continued testing various tweaks and enhancements to the Ecosystem’s ranking algorithms, and am now ready to explain what changes have actually been implemented.
First, though, a statement of principle. The goal of the Ecosystem is, and has always been, to provide as accurate as possible a measure of the relative popularity of blogs. It is imperfect: it is now, always has been, and always will be. But as long as it is taken with the appropriate grain of salt, I still believe it can provide a useful metric of how blogs are doing in their quest for visibility and recognition throughout the blogosphere.
But keeping the system relevant requires more sophistication than it used to: simply counting links doesn’t cut it. And a large reason for this is that some bloggers have started to find ways to succeed in raising their link counts which really have nothing to do with raising their actual popularity in the blogosphere. And that’s the disconnect that I’m continually trying to close: to make it as hard as possible for someone to raise their Ecosystem ranking without it being due to a real gain in their “true” blogosphere popularity.
It’s an unreachable ideal, but hey, it keeps me off the streets.
A few notes on the changes:
– To complete work on the latest changes, I had to perform another hard-reset on the link database yesterday, and so we will be slowly accumulating link data back up to the standard 7-10 day window over the next week. But it is my hope that this is the last full-reset I’ll need to do for a while; my apologies for the annoying jumping around your rankings have seen over the past week.
– I also made a significant change that, unfortunately, has the result of demoting many blogs on the lower ends of the Ecosystem. From now on, the “Insignificant Microbe” category is devoted solely to blogs with zero inbound links. Many of these blogs had crept up into the higher categories — thereby bumping up the blogs above them even further. Having shoved the zero-link blogs down to Microbe status, everybody on the bottom end of the system also slid down a bit.
– To allow bloggers to verify their link counts, I have now re-enabled the functionality that allows you to view the full list of links that the Ecosystem has detected going to your blog: simply go to the Details page for your weblog, scroll down, and you’ll see a link to ‘show all links’. If you are unhappy with your new link count or ranking in the Ecosystem, check here first: if there are links missing from other Ecosystem-registered blogs, let me know what they are. If there aren’t, then chances are your blog is where it is supposed to be.
Finally, some additional detail on the changes themselves. Listed below are exerpts from the newly-updated FAQ, which describe the specific changes that have been implemented that affect how blogs are ranked. Please take a look; comments and feedback are of course welcome.
What is the ‘nofollow’ tag, and how does the Ecosystem handle it?
The nofollow tag is an attribute that was introduced by Google to help reduce comment and trackback spam. When the Ecosystem sees a link marked as ‘nofollow’, it is completely ignored (the link will not be logged at all). Most weblog software now marks inline trackback links as “nofollow” by default, which means that the Ecosystem will now ignore inline trackback links that it finds on a weblog’s front page. This is by design: in recent times, “open trackback” posts have become widespread, and have led to a distortion of the Ecosystem rankings, particularly for bloggers who made a deliberate habit of trackback-pinging multiple ‘open trackback’ posts for every single one of their own posts (and thereby getting 5-10 “free” links for every one of their posts, grossly inflating their ranking). By ignoring inline trackbacks, the Ecosystem only counts links which a blogger has personally added to their page, which is a better indicator that they find them valuable — and that the linked blogger deserves ‘credit’ for them.
Note that as the policy for TTLB is now to ignore inline trackbacks, the ‘nofollow’ tag is recommended for use so that the Ecosystem can properly identify them. If you choose not to use the ‘nofollow’ tag and have inline trackbacks on your front page, the Ecosystem may default to other, cruder methods of weeding out the inline links, which may result in non-Trackback links being missed.
What is the difference between the “link count” and “link score” shown for my blog?
The link count for a blog lists the raw count of links found pointing to that blog (with the exception of ‘nofollow’ links, which are totally ignored as noted above). In the past, the raw link count seemed a good measure of blog’s relative success and popularity, but in recent times, the blog world has grown more complicated, with more intricate patterns of linking that can distort such a ranking system — sometimes deliberately, sometimes simply as a consequence of the natural evolution of the blogosphere.
To address this issue, TTLB now calculates a link score for each blog which ultimately determines where the blog falls in the Ecosystem rankings. Unlike the raw link count, the link score attempts to correct for issues such as the following:
Blog Networks: Recently we have seen the rise of ‘networks’ of blogs, often founded as commerical ventures, such as Weblogs, Inc. and Creative Weblogging. Frequently, blogs in these networks include not only permalinks to other member blogs in their blogrolls, but a rolling list of posts from their sister blogs as well. Networked blogs, therefore, immediately end up with a signficiant number of links that don’t necessarily say much at all about how popular they are to the general blogosphere, which is what the Ecosystem is attempting to measure. So: TTLB now adjusts a blog’s link score to ignore links that come from sister blogs in the same network.
Excessive links from blog-to-blog: One link from blog A to blog B shows that A thinks B is interesting. Two or three links from A to B shows that A thinks B is really interesting. But how about 10 or 20 links? We’re now seeing small, informal groups of blogs which seem to link to each other’s every post, thereby inflating their Ecosystem rankings. In addition, given that it is quite easy, and frequently free, to set up a blog, there have also been blogs which seem to serve little purpose but to link to other blogs and provide them a rankings boost. So, to combat these problems, the Ecosystem now puts a limit on how many links any blog can provide to another blog before it flags those links as suspect and ignores them.
Excessive links from a single blog in general: Should a link from a blog with 2,000 links to other blogs be worth exactly the same as a link from a blog with only 200 outbound links? A link is a recommendation; it says, “Go look over here, and you’ll find something interesting.” So should a recommendation from someone who says everything is interesting be considered as valuable as one from someone who seems to choose their recommendations with more care? I say “no”. And so there is now a cutoff point for total number of outbound links a blog can have, after which, each additional link causes the “weighting” of a link from that blog to decrease slightly. As I know this is a controversial measure, I’ve made the limit very conservative: by my estimates, less than 5% of all blogs will be affected by this limit. So unless you link to more blogs than 95% of the blogosphere, you don’t have to worry about this change.