"Let life enchant you again." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Thoughts
February 21, 2011

Bye Bye Blogrolls

Compare the typical blog today with those from a few years ago and you will see one striking difference. Or, more specifically, one striking omission – the blogroll. Some bloggers still feature links to other bloggers on their front page – although increasingly they don’t. When they do, the lists are often short, and frequently […]

Compare the typical blog today with those from a few years ago and you will see one striking difference. Or, more specifically, one striking omission – the blogroll.

Some bloggers still feature links to other bloggers on their front page – although increasingly they don’t. When they do, the lists are often short, and frequently only feature big name, or high profile bloggers.

By contrast, bloggers used to post blogrolls tended to be a lot longer, sometimes a complete list of all the blogs they read, or a substantial cross-section of blogs they turned to on a variety of subjects.

The blogroll was something of identity statement, a marker to online conversations, like the friend/following lists you see on social media platforms. Or, it was a position statement, like being part of a club, or community of interest. You could scan a blogroll to get a sense of where the blogger was coming from; not just where they aspire to be.

Of course, in those days a lot of bloggers wrote primarily for other bloggers. It made sense to talk about a “blogosphere.” A lot of readers followed a fairly fixed set of blogs that they visited regularly. Moreover, there was an ethic that suggested you should add bloggers to your blogroll if they listed you on theirs (reciprocal links).

But, as more and more blogs started up, it became increasingly difficult to curate these lists and without some sort of editing, they became long and unwieldy. I stopped paying attention to them in 2007, around the time Doc Searls wrote “More blog, less roll.” Moreover, as blog designs became more sophisticated and cleaner a lot of bloggers (myself included) decided to move the blogroll off the front page.

At the same time a lot of blogs became less conversational. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter led to fewer comments on many blogs (I was noticing this back in late 2008). Increasingly bloggers came to view their work as directed less at other bloggers and more as being written for a broader online constituency, who may or may not tune in systematically to your writing.

In late November I did away with my blogroll. I’m not sure that page had many visitors and it was a pain to maintain. Although I have a core of blogs that I’ve been reading for years, the cluster of 30-50 blogs I visit on a weekly basis is constantly changing.

That said, I feel that we’ve lost something by doing away with blogrolls. In the early days of blogging there was a sense that blogs flourished, in part, because of the active and visible links between bloggers. It was a romantic ‘rising tide lifts all boats” kind of approach.

These days a lot of bloggers trying to grow their presence with few links to other blogs. Me – I’d rather share the bill (or just be a nameless face in the band) at a sell out event, than be the lone star at an empty house.

That’s why I’m going to restart my old practice of writing regular updates of the best recent blog content I’ve read, starting this Friday. It is also why, in recent months, I’ve been adding more links to every post.

The death of blogrolls broke one of the mechanisms that helped blogs grow. But, by being a little more intentional in sharing links to the blogs that inspire us we can overcome that and continue to grow the audience for good content in the fields we enjoy.

Tom 13 years ago

Good piece. I actually update ours pretty damn regularly as I use it as a basis to remind me what to read. So it us a purely selfish approach.

For a while now I’ve taken the approach if that have another blog has some good points on a restaurant it is worth highlighting that (even if their points are better and make you look stupid 😉

Fernando Gros 13 years ago

Tom – I used to do the same. But, then I switched to following blogs via their RSS feed. It’s less personal, but a lot more efficient.

And, I agree about including other views. I’m hoping more people will blog the Hong Kong Arts Festival events this year – specifically for that reason.

Spike 13 years ago

The only fly in the ointment is that most of us rely on good placement in Google search results to drive traffic to our blog. That good placement depends, in part, on Google pagerank, and pagerank is based in part on how many sites link to your site. By having a blog roll on my site, I hope that those bloggers will reciprocate and list me on theirs – so we are each helping each other out.

That being said, while I have one of the largest lists of HK blogs around, I’ve found diminishing returns in trying to scrupulously maintain it. It’s still there and people definitely are looking at it (it was one of my top 5 pages last year) but I don’t spend a lot of time on it any more.

Fernando Gros 13 years ago

Spike, when I moved to Hong Kong I dutifully added a number of local blogs to my roll and that didn’t gain any traction. In fact, I’ve only recently attracted some (small) numbers of local readers, which I suspect is down to my activity on Twitter.

I don’t disagree with the value of inbound links for search rankings. But, the times when I’ve seen a worthwhile rise in readers, or comments has typically been when another blogger has linked in to me in a blogpost. Given the choice I’d take being quoted, argued with, or criticised in a blogpost over a static blogroll link, any day of the week.

Spike 13 years ago

Sadly, I can’t remember how I first came across your blog and wish I could, if only for the purposes of this discussion. I can tell you, vaguely authoritatively, that after Google and my own meager efforts on FB & Twitter, people find my blog via blogrolls. 50 hits yesterday were via clicks on blogrolls on other blogs. And that listing on other blogs increases my Google pagerank, which means that people are finding me via Google searches that I never would have imagined would lead to me – everything from “macbook air” to Nicki Minaj. A photo that I ran two years ago of Anne Hathaway (taken from another blog and properly attributed) has brought hundreds of people to my site, presumably because when they search for her I show up relatively high in the search results.

We might start a separate debate on whether those people are one hit wonders or if they’ll return and does it even matter either way – and the answer to that is that I don’t know (but I’m hoping that 1 or 2% will come back).

You’ve never featured a significant amount of Hong Kong-specific content and that probably results in a low local reader base (and also I’ve been waiting for two weeks for you to finish your top 25 favorite things about HK). Linking to other blogs only works if people click on those links – then that blogger, if he/she checks on traffic, sees where someone came from and checks out the site and writes about it or provides a link back in return.

You also suffer from the same “issue” as me, that your content is quite broad and varied. Conventional wisdom has it that blogs that “succeed” are those that stay rigidly focused on one topic. Of course you are a man with a broad range of interests and the blog successfully reflects that.

Circling back to the blog roll, this is your space and you should do with it what you want. (Duh!) Just that I’m not sure I agree with your reasoning.

Fernando Gros 13 years ago

Spike I agree that being listed on other blogs is a good thing. And, my experience is the same as yours in that all sorts of searches drive people to my site,. You may have seen that I had a look at that earlier in the year.

Partly, I’m just being tying to be honest. Even if Google ranks blogrolls, I don’t look at them anymore. The other alternative would be to argue for them (and the arguments in favour are strong, that’s why I kept a blogroll for eight years). I just didn’t feel inspired to charge at that windmill, like I did on comments and trackback some years ago.

The Hong Kong thing has always perplexed me. I’ve blogged more posts that are Hong Kong related than either photography or jazz related pieces, for example. Moreover, I review most concerts I go to, including all the Hong Kong Arts Festival events (though I now recall my review of Clapton’s last concert went on Facebook, but not on my blog!!!). But, you are right, that I’ve never been a typical local blogger and someone wanting Hong Kong specific content every week might get frustrated here.

julia 13 years ago

I like your writing style even if someplace i can not understand well for my poor engilsh.your life is wonderful.maybe i am the only chinese fan of yours.i wish,i wish one day i can traslate your words,there will have more and more people like your words,phohots,and you.:-)

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