Sunday, May 28, 2006

The role of a blogroll: community network or chosen few?*

Lately I've been having a bit of a think about the blogroll over there in the sidebar. When I started this blog, I decided I wanted to keep my blogroll nice and short. I had seen blogrolls that seem to list everyone the blogger had ever read, and I found it a bit intimidating. If I am looking for new blogs to try out, I tend to use links from blogs that have a short blogroll, because (a) I can skim through it easily and pick the one or two links that sound best, and (b) I assume that these are the "best of the bunch" in that person's view, and so the chance of getting something I really like through this random link-clicking method is much higher than it would be if I picked something from a blogroll of hundreds.

Recently, though, I have found myself wanting to expand my blogroll. A lot. I've had quite a few new commentators lately as well as a whole heap of people linking to me, and in many cases I want to link to their blogs, while in other cases I feel I "should". It's only fair, right? But even now that would probably make my blogroll twice the length it already is, and if I get linked to by more people in the future, it will only keep growing, until I can see myself ending up with a blogroll of the sort of length I was trying to avoid.

So I started thinking about the purpose(s) of a blogroll, and I realised that for me, at least, there are two. First, it's obviously for recommending blogs that I think are the absolute best I have come across. And secondly it serves to connect me to my sector of the blogosphere. It says "these are the people I hang out with" in the sense that I read their blogs, they read mine, and we comment at each other. And that is helpful for the reader too, since it tells them to an extent what sort of blog to expect mine to be: who is influencing me, who my audience is, who I might be referring to.

And the problem is that the set of blogs on my blogroll for the first purpose doesn't always overlap with the blogs that are there for the second. There is no sense in which I "hang out" with Dooce, for example. I read and worship her blog, but she's never likely to visit mine, and her readership is so diverse that me reading her blog doesn't define me as part of any specific community. Many of my commentators here (can I say "many", when I only have ten or so?) have excellent blogs that I do want to recommend to other people. But although it hasn't actually happened yet, there's always the chance that I'll get a regular commentator and reader whose blog I really dislike, and don't want people to think I am endorsing. But if they really did read and comment here regularly, I would want to link to them as a way of saying, "Here's someone who helps define my blog".

Maybe you can see where I'm going with this. I'm thinking about having two blogrolls: one for "blogs I want to be when I grow up", and the other for "people I like to hang out with". The only thing is, I don't want people to think they are on the "people I like to hang out with" blogroll because I don't like their blogs and am not recommending them. Rather, they are there because I feel like I am in some sort of community relationship with them, whether that is because I hang out at their blog a lot, or they hang out at mine. I am still recommending their blog, but with qualifications: "If you are into the sorts of blog that make up this sector of the blogosphere, then here's one that resonates with me that you might want to take a look at."

So in short, I don't want to offend anyone, but I do want to go back to having at least one list of links that was what I originally envisaged my blogroll as being: a short list of the absolute best blogs I have come across on the web that may or may not have anything in common with mine, but that I highly recommend to any visitor, no matter what online community (s)he identifies with.

Any feedback would be appreciated.

* I've spent so much time lately devising thesis chapter titles that I am now incapable of coming up with anything that doesn't involve a colon, a question mark, and/or an attempted pun.


Badaunt said...

It is an impossible situation, and I have ended up more or less neglecting my blogroll because I can't keep up. I thought of using the Bloglines blogroll function, but that would have made the blogroll ridiculously long. And I have ended up in the situation you describe - where I am linking to blogs that link me even though I don't necessarily keep up with that person's blog myself. (This is generally because I don't have TIME to keep up with all the blogs I subscribe to. Bloglines seems to have stuck at 5300-odd unread posts, and they keep being added to as fast as I read.)

I also use MyBlogLog, though, and now and again go to see what people click on. People very rarely click on my blogroll, I've found (except the language teaching links). When I really think someone is worth reading and want to recommend a blog (or a particular post) I've found it is far more effective to link to them in the body of a post. Those links DO get clicked on.

So, basically, it doesn't seem to matter all that much. The best solution I've seen (but not tried) is to have the blogroll on a different page, and make it as long as you want. I don't know how that would work with Blogger, though.

StyleyGeek said...

Hi Badaunt!

Thanks for your thoughts. I hadn't thought of having the blogroll on a separate page. An interesting idea, although it doesn't solve my basic problem, since that isn't a matter of it being too long for the sidebar but just of wanting to keep two different types of blogs separate in the links list.

I think I clicked on a few people in your blogroll the first time I visited your site, so it does get some lovin'. :)

turtlebella said...

My blogroll is short too and limited to the ones I read regularly (read: several times a day!). I guess I don't distinguish between your #1 and #2 but I think that's because I just don't read that many blogs in the #1 category, really. By which I mean big-time bloggers that don't have time or inclination to visit little ol' me, even if I visit theirs (e.g., Bitch, Phd). Most of the blogs on there are people I "know" - I comment on their blogs and they sometimes comment on mine.

I am always wondering about the manners of blogrolls too though. Recently a couple of blogs I've never heard of have me on their blogroll. And I wonder if I'm supposed to put them on mine. Basically, I'm just lazy and unless I actually go and read them with some frequency I won't add them.

I like badaunt's idea of linking someone you really want to recommend in a particular post. I do this quite a lot with Woman of Color and Bitch, PhD as they are on top of all sorts of political things that I think are important.

I'm not sure I've helped you much. But I don't think anyone would be offended to be on either of your too lists. And by the way, I like the "blogs I want to be when I grow up" idea- cute.

Jana said...

The Soapbox Girls used to have two drop-down menus, one reading "daily", and one "less frequently". Making them drop-downs saves space, and dividing blogs into the two categories lets you distinguish between the chosen few and the wider community.

Lucy said...

I have an incredibly long blogroll of every blog I read because I don't want to make anyone feel bad by putting them into categories (not that they necessarily would, I just have problems with anything that could possibly be interpreted as judging). Maybe you could have a separate "recommended blog of the day" bit and rotate through the ones you think are the very best. People might be more likely to click on it then. Although, it would be basically the same as having 2 lists, but more complicated.

StyleyGeek said...

Thanks, people! Turtlebella -- I'm glad you don't think my idea would offend anyone.

Jana -- I really like the idea of drop-down boxes, but I have no idea how to implement that, especially if I want to keep using Blogrolling to create the lists. I'll have to have a hunt around and see what I can find. And "daily" vs "less frequently" as labels definitely wouldn't offend anyone!

Lucy -- I like that idea too, but unless someone writes a plugin that lets me automate it, I don't think I can be arsed. And that someone just isn't going to be me any time soon :)

Thanks for all the ideas, anyway. I might look into dropdown boxes...

USJogger said...

I think that you are way overanalyzing this.

I, personally, lean toward the short blog roll end. I don't figure anyone is going to click through dozens of links in my sidebar. But I think that you should do what you want, and not worry about having to include anyone, or offending anyone by what category you put them under. Life's too short.


StyleyGeek said...

But overanalysing things is so much fun! Otherwise what would I have to post about? :)

You're probably right, though. And I'm not in a big rush to change it, or anything; just mulling over some ideas about what will probably happen eventually.

Psycgirl said...

My blogroll is blogs I read regularly, though a few I don't keep up with anymore and should likely come down. I don't update it that often, however..... every couple of months. If someone comments on my blog, but I don't necessarily like or read their blog, I wouldn't automatically put them on my blog roll. I think you should just lump them together and not worry about offending anyone. I rarely look to see if people put my blog in their blogroll, I doubt other people do that much either.

StyleyGeek said...

I remember shrinkykitten had a post a while ago where she said she'd noticed someone had taken her off their blogroll and been upset by it. And I don't think she is the only one who feels that way.

I wouldn't automatically put someone on my blogroll who comments once or twice, but I do feel it's a little mean-hearted if someone has you on theirs, AND they visit your blog, say, everyday, leaving comments on most posts, and you still don't blogroll them. It's almost like saying "I don't like your blog".

Or maybe I'm just over-thinking the issue, as usjogger suggests.