Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
February 23, 2009 9:33 PM

When The Comments And Links Go Dry

When everyone is linking to everyone and everyone has their own publishing platforms to share their thoughts, what happens?

One of Google's amazing gifts is how it is able to take one page of web content and assign some level of authority to it. Many people (specifically in the Search Engine Optimization world) debate how valid and valuable this PageRank truly is, but in a world of fewer choices, it's the best we have (and the majority of people are still doing their everyday searches on Google). Their search engine works, and that's why people use it.

We tend to forget that Google came before Blogs, Twitter and online social networks. It was never intended to understand the semantics of all of these personal publishing platforms, how they connect, who they connect to and which ones have more value over another one.

Let's accept the fact that Blogs are still new. Let's accept the fact that every tweet on Twitter is highly indexed in the search engines. Let's agree that everyone's time is becoming more and more compressed as we're publishing more and more with less and less time to comment and add additional insights on other Blogs. That was one of the clear messages in the comment section on the Blog post, Mass Media Lazy, and it's abundantly clear if you look at the majority of comment sections on other Blogs. You can even feel the pace and speed in spaces like FriendFeed shorten and compress. Overall: more people publishing with less time to link and comment on anywhere but their own space.

If the way to build traffic was always by having a robust community of people commenting and linking out (and getting links in), what will be the metrics of success in the future? 

Personal anecdote: I wish I had more time in the day for all of the ideas and thoughts I want to Blog about, but never get the chance to. I spend a good chunk of my time making sure I link out appropriately and that your reading experience is highly "digital" (meaning good hyperlinking). I also love getting comments. There is no doubt that strong and well thought-out comments add energy to the conversation and incite newer pieces of content - on the Blog, Podcast and even Twitter.

But, there's only one metric that counts (still).

It's still about the first (and only) metric that really matters: are people reading? Does anyone care? (that being said, let's agree that there are many people who Blog simply to put their words out there, and they don't really care about building an audience, etc...) You can measure audience with some basic web analytics tools (like Google Analytics), and you can also better understand who is subscribing via RSS with something like FeedBurner. Metrics like how many comments your posts get or how many people link to your content are still valuable today, but what about tomorrow? At some point, there's going to be too much published content online to the point where both the links and comments will not add any significant level of authority to your piece of content over someone else's.

Can Google get clogged to the point where comments and links don't really carry all that much merit and weight?

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Malcolm Bastien
    Mitch Joel

    I think I get your point, but if you think of Google being the big algorithm that it is, assigning value to what it finds, then more content online might be a challenge for some, but in the end it will be a bigger sample for Google to look through to find better quality information.

    As far as dealing with how we produce content... Maybe blogging is a bad habit we've worked ourselves into. People have always been able to do a lot with only a little content online (how many people digg up articles only based on the headline). So for people to contribute on your ideas, maybe all we really need is life-streaming (like SweetCron) - we are just reluctant to make the commitment to switch.

    I think you can say blogging is "new" just as much as you could say that it's outlived its purpose. We now have a better idea, and a need for something different.

    Reply
  • Posted by Nicky Tillyer
    Mitch Joel

    It's a bit like a tweet I posted (@artrox) - there is SO much content now online that may or may not become picked up by Google - but at the end of the day the good stuff rises to the top and gets circulated around and around and the sh1t really just sinks into obscurity.

    The links and relationships are more valuable to keep a conversation flowing and growing. Not necessarily google.

    I can honestly say unless i am searching for something specific, most of my valuable information comes from podcasts, RSS, Twitter links & RT and email news services.

    To that end Twitter is BRILLIANT but can be difficult for the rest of the twitter crowd to follow a conversation flow only seeing disjointed responses.

    Maybe that's the magic though, and that's the way to re-juice the flow - tap into some half conversations and see what little germs of ideas get sparked in your own brain!

    Then go blog about it...then tweet it...then see if it matters to those that matter or sinks!

    Reply
  • Posted by Renaud
    Mitch Joel

    Comment No.1: it seems like a good part of the social media (incl. blogs) users act with Google in the back of their mind (more pages, the best keywords, more inbound links...). So Google can only be happy with it, and becomes more intelligent thanks to it...

    Comment No.2: Google ranks websites relative to each other. That's the basis of their business: competition. Google is happy if "the bar gets higher", since all this good content will draw more people on the web.
    The real question is, will Google remain the "center of web"? I think it will be more and more valuable as a tool to make sense of all the stuff out there...

    Reply
  • Posted by Justin Palmer
    Mitch Joel

    Great points Mitch. Might explain why my blog has been growing in readership but comments have really slowed.

    Reply
  • Posted by Creator
    Mitch Joel

    I think web 2.0 as we know it might disappear in a year or two. Web 2.0 is already facing a crisis, as more and more Internet users become publishers and less and less turn into readers/commenters.

    The signs are pretty obvious; it's harder than ever to start a real discussion (if you get some comments at all), it's harder than ever to keep your audience's attention until the end of your articles, it's harder than ever to create a community.

    But how could possibly be different when people start behaving online as though they are having ADHD (including me)?

    The very same things that made web 2.0 so awesome are making it now dysfunctional.

    Reply
  • These are all great points if we look at where we're at now, but going forward is really what interests me. Do you think readers are going to be able to find anything and be able to discern what has value (and what doesn't) to them?

    I also know that Google and other search engines have tweaked their "secret sauce" to make it better, but as the links and comments dry up, it will have a massive effect on it as well... at least I think it will.

    Reply
  • Posted by Cosmos Creatives
    Mitch Joel

    But people who tweet still put up links in their tweets, still spread ideas, still evangelise about good/great/terrible websites.

    These links do get traffic, with one big difference- the comment page has shifted to conversation rooms like FriendFeed and Twitter.

    Webmasters will simply have to keep a tab on these mediums as well.

    - Edward J

    Reply
  • Posted by Etienne Chabot
    Mitch Joel

    May be I tend to "idealize" Google as a perfect organization, by maintaining this extraordinary capability to relentlessly adapt to new trends, new threats, etc. But, I do not think they will become clogged to the point where comments and links don't really carry all that much merit and weight. Those are the ADN of the web. Google will figure out a way to serve their users with what they are looking for by continuously looking at new algorithms, new free tools/ products, etc.

    Reply
  • Posted by Howard
    Mitch Joel

    You're doing a great job. I look forward to reading your posts and as I launched my website I'm starting to see how much comments are important to comment and discussion. Your blog communicates two-ways instead of just your thoughts. I appreciate that you value input and feedback.

    I think for Google comments and hyperlinks have become important in new ways. For example, usually when someone is linked their authority on Technorati goes up, which I hear is important to Google Rankings.

    To be completely honest it's a hard thing because ultimately engagement is only as good as somebody's reach or ranking. Most of the "bigs" in the blogosphere show that maybe 5% of their readers are actively engaging and I think that's really unfortunate.

    Reply
  • Posted by Mark
    Mitch Joel

    The other challenge here is that a lot of the dialogue that was happening via web pages and blogs is now happening via comments and twitter (your post here is a great example of this!). However, twitter and most blog comments nofollow links, which technically the search engines shouldn't be following. So, much of the dialogue, linking and recommendation happens in a space where Google is deliberately blind. I think the weighting of nofollow will decrease in time - it will be more of a suggestion to search engines rather than a command.

    Reply
  • Posted by Philippe Carrier
    Philippe Carrier

    Good content flows from good sources.

    Google certainly helps to find things, but most of us just start from point A (a site, blog, etc. which we think is good) and follow the daisy chain to other relevant content. We can do that without Google. We need all those nifty algorythms when we don't have a starting point!

    Even if there were a hundred times more blogs, a thousand times more content on the web (which is inevitable), we would all gravitate to the best sources.

    And let's not forget word of mouth!

    Reply
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