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Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

The Techmeme Leaderboard: The Enduring Appeal of the Bestseller List

It's interesting to see the flurry of commentary on techmeme itself about the appeal of the techmeme leaderboard despite reports of the limited ability of techmeme to drive traffic, and, in general, the low traffic impact of many highly touted blogs and other internet sites.

There are a number of factors at work, but one of them is simple: bestseller lists have an enduring appeal, regardless of their validity. People's 50 most beautiful? Are they really? The NY Times Bestseller List? Where exactly do those lists come from, especially in the age of vanishing independent booksellers? The Dow Jones Industrial Average? Tell me again just why those 30 stocks matter?

A big part of this phenomenon is in what George Soros calls reflexive knowledge, things that are neither true nor false, but true or false to the extent to which people believe in them and find them useful. Soros points out in The Open Society that many of the most interesting phenomena in society have this characteristic: markets, politics, and much of history.

And there's the curious fact that bestseller lists of all kinds tend to be self-reinforcing. Once someone's on the list, they will tend to stay on the list because more people see them there. (And it strikes me that because of the way Techmeme works, as a kind of time-bound spider, one of the ways to make sure you stay on the leaderboard is, well, to comment on stories while they are on the front page of Techmeme. In fact, this post is the beginning of my experiment to see if that is true. :-)

All that being said, I do think that Techmeme is a great news source -- a quick impression of what's on the blogosphere's mind. I don't need to follow the links to get value out of it, any more than I need to go to Yahoo! Finance for more detail every time I see a stock ticker symbol and price. The headline is the news. (Put Techmeme into the lifestreaming category rather than referrer category if you want.)

P.S. With regard to referrer impact, we've found that the only site that drives book sales as a result of reviews is slashdot. I know we once published some stats comparing the effect of slashdot reviews to the NYT but I can't find it right now.

tags: leaderboard, techmeme, web2.0  | comments: 3   | Sphere It


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Comments: 3

Alexander van Elsas   [10.10.07 10:35 AM]

Tim, you are right on. For reasons very similar like the ones above the Oscar winning movies often seem to be less attractive once you actually see them.
It seems to me that most of the mathematics in these rankings is about “who has the biggest…”. This, of course, being an important measure for advertisement revenues and ego. but as an unwanted side effect, it also helps the blogging sphere to become a bounded sterile surrounding, like a vacuum. Once a few sites have become sufficiently big enough it will lead to 2 unwanted things:

1. New blogs, no matter how hard they try will not succeed in becoming read by others, as their importance is diminished by the bigger ones. Robert Scoble wrote about that earlier in his post Techmeme lists heralds death of blogging
2. Everyone links to the same sites, bringing the same “scoops” making the blogosphere more and more predictable and immune to new or creative thoughts (The Jxxxx word from yesterday being a great example of that.
I wrote a proposal to change the metrics to blog attraction, providing metrics telling me what blogs I like and which like me ;-)

Bob Warfield   [10.10.07 11:23 AM]

Leaderboards and Best Seller Lists are not quite the apt analogy. There is useful friction involved in getting onto the Best Seller List that culls a lot of marginal content. I see Leaderboards as closer to the tabloid end of the publishing spectrum:

rawnannoubtom   [10.30.07 11:45 AM]

You don't really need or want that lifestyle, it might hurt y'all slowly more.......Just tell him you
don't wanna repeat something your not too proud of z7uas.

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