Boris Mann

Open Source. Community. Decentralized Web. Building dev tools at Fission. Cooks & eats.


The "B" Word: Blogrolls are bare links

Lee asks about blogrolls, and gives me another chance to rant about the "b" word.

What do you think about blogrolls? Should they match RSS subscriptions? Are they useful? Would it remove value from this site to take it off completely?

Common Craft: Blogroll Conundrum

(Follow that link for lots of good points in the comments)

Blogrolls are an interesting little thing, and maybe in some way even tie into Steve Gillmour's notions of attention.xml (about which I don't know enough to have an opinion, other than I don't *think* I need it). I think we've outgrown them, even if there ever was a need. Is it for people that don't link to other people in their regular posts? Yeah, I've got lot's more to say after the jump...

I only sort of have a blogroll (aside: that's from late 2003, and I just edited to fix broken links; sorry, no custom blogroll icon -- imagine a log with an axe in it). Sort of, because the built in aggregator goes along merrily sucking in other people's feeds in various different categories, including one I even call blogroll.

But only sort of, because it in no way reflects the just under 300 feeds I'm subscribed to. Especially the 2 dozen or so PubSub feeds, which pull in "stuff" from all over the place, and let's me "read" several orders of magnitude more resources. Some of those feeds are private, but mainly it's too hard to keep updated, and doesn't really add much value. It's the same reason I don't use my weblink directory anymore: sure, the feature is there, but if I'm going to link, either I'll put it in and add some tags, or I'll make a longer blog post with my own thoughts on it. What's the value of a bare link?

I remember the always-insightful and usually thought provoking Shelley Powers starting off a blogroll debate a little while ago:

Rarely do people discover new webloggers through blogrolls; most discovery comes when you reference another weblogger in your writings. But blogrolls are a way of persisting links to sites, forming a barrier to new voices who may write wonderful things — but how they possibly be heard through the static, which is the inflexible, immutable, blogroll? Burningbird: Steve Levy, Dave Sifry, and NZ Bear: You are Hurting Us

Melanie McBride does a good job of representing the other side of the argument, that a blogroll is a feature that helps define what a blog is:

The suggestions of abandoning blogrolls, so early in the history of the form, is a very bad idea. Especially when it's coming from high profile bloggers or, at least, bloggers with influence. To abandon blogrolls is to abandon community and the links that connect diverse and unique sensibilities. Links that help others find us and help those who are not already well-connected techy-scenesters find allies and audiences. And our blogrolls are yet another thing that distinguishes us from the traditional media. I don't like blogs that don't have blogrolls. Those blogs imply that they're really only interested in promoting their own voice and don't have the time or inclination to show you who they're reading or reveal their support for other blogs via a blogroll. My blogrolls says "I like these blogs (for now)". Let's be adult and assume that if we have the time to put together a post we also have the two seconds to add or remove a link. It's really not that much work to maintain a blogroll. I make changes about once every few months maybe adding a new link every month or so. This really isn't hard work. And my blogroll is not static. chandrasutra: Blogrolls and community

I don't think a "blogroll" is much of a thing at all. What does it say, exactly? It says, here are some people I read, that you might enjoy reading too. Except, since I read through RSS, I never see those links. And if I come to your site to comment, it's just a static chunk of space on the left or right that doesn't mean much to me -- it's a set of bare links without context. How often do they post? What do they write about?

So what is the difference between a blogroll and links that happen to be websites representing people? Can't we use Or put together some more categories around this content, like a selection of people that write about VoIP.

A more generally useful application for links to blogs certainly is for putting together bundles of (what you consider to be) related blogs about different topics. But then, that's not a blogroll anymore, is it? Actually, these all sound like lists or OPML applications, don't they?

Back when there were a few double handfuls of people blogging, blogrolls were useful ornaments to help find other interesting people. In today's world of link clouds, tagging, PubSub monitoring, and millions of blogs...there are better tools.