Linked

[cross-posted at the TechLearning blog]

Two weeks ago I reported on my second effort to catalog the edublogosphere, to put some shape and form to the amorphous network, to try and measure the largely unmeasurable. Some of my blogging colleagues raised various concerns and objections. Here’s my take…

  1. As is described quite clearly (and eloquently) in Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means, the Internet and the education blogosphere are both examples of complex, self-organizing networks. As such, they have multiple hubs of varying sizes, each connected to each other and to multiple individual nodes (i.e., blogs and web sites). [click on image for larger version]
    Linked
    Some hubs are connected to thousands of other hubs and nodes; we might call these superhubs (e.g., A-D). Other hubs (e.g., E-H) are connected to less than a dozen nodes. The key here is that many nodes never would come into contact each other except for the hubs. For example, edublogger 1 only finds out about edublogger 2 because edublogger A highlighted and linked to something edublogger B wrote about edublogger 2’s post.
  2. The hubs and superhubs are the essential connectors, the glue that holds the network together. For example, if edublogger 2 quits blogging, the only one that loses access to that voice is edublogger B. If edublogger C stops blogging, however, the rest of the network not only loses access to that person’s voice, it also loses access to the voices of those edubloggers to which only C linked. If edublogger A quits blogging, the network loses access to edubloggers E and F as well as all of the individual edubloggers to which only they were connected (at least until those nodes get reconnected to other hubs). The process is all very fluid, shifting and changing with each hyperlink.
  3. There are advantages to being first, but over time quality wins out. One of the reasons that edubloggers like Will Richardson and David Warlick are superhubs is because they were some of the first ones in the education blogosphere. They had first-mover advantage and have had time to build up their audience compared to the new edublogger who started yesterday. That said, over time their advantage begins to diminish as others enter the network. If Will and David’s posts didn’t continue to be of high quality, people would link to other bloggers instead and Will and David’s audiences would dwindle. Hubs and superhubs must have ‘sticky’ content in order to retain their roles in the network. It’s a testimony to many of the top edubloggers that they’ve been able to be consistently good, as defined by their audiences, for a long period of time.
  4. If you are interested in making change, the hubs and superhubs have important roles to play. Why? Because they’re the ones with the ability to reach many. They’re also the ones with the ability to bring important ideas generated out on the fringes of the network into the mainstream center of the network.

So, in response to some of the objections…

  • It’s not just an issue of ‘popularity.’ Because we voluntarily visit / subscribe to blogs, content wins out over superficiality in the end. High-ranking blogs are there because others value their voices. You may not think an individual blogger is interesting, but others often do in large numbers. So Terry Freedman says, “Quality not quantity.” And Vicki Davis says “meaningful” is more important than “popular.” But as item 3 above notes, these supposed dichotomies actually are conflated.
  • I see knowledge and identification of the hubs and superhubs as important for facilitating change. Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach advocates focusing on impact, not just ranking. To me, impact and ranking tend to blur since I think about large-scale, comprehensive reform of schools, not just localized change. Most of us are change agents – whether our agenda is K-12 technology, home schooling, back-to-basics education, or whatever – but it’s hard to make change when no one is listening. If I want to influence the educational technology arena, I need to catch the attention of folks like Will and David and Sheryl and Terry and Vicki and also be able to point educators to them. If I want to influence the homeschooling arena, I need to catch the eye of SpunkyHomeSchool. And so, again, I believe that impact and ranking are somewhat intertwined.
  • Each of us has our own reason(s) for blogging, and of course we always must respect those. I would never presume to either guess others’ reasons or judge the legitimacy of those motivations.
  • Maybe it’s the academic in me, but I think there is worth in someone doing a systematic study of the education blogosphere. It doesn’t have to be me, but someone ought to be able to cite some basic statistics about what’s going on. For example, those of us who advocate educational blogging gain legitimacy from the fact that we know that there are 50,000+ education blogs rather than just a few hundred. In other words, we have the numbers to show that educational blogging is not a fad; whatever form it takes down the road, it’s here to stay. I also don’t know how else to identify the hubs and superhubs other than to do what we did. Although we may have missed some blogs with smaller audiences, I’m fairly confident that we got all the big ones (maybe not in the right ranking order).
  • I personally feel that there is no better way to recognize and honor voice than to share new and powerful voices with others. When I see interesting, illuminating writing, I want to share that with others and to do my part to help those writers gain large audiences. Sheryl said “What is important is giving our students and teachers ‘voice.’ We need to focus on helping them develop as communicators and writers, not rankers, so they have a place at the policy table and can help to leave this world better than we found it.” I concur, but I disagree that ranking is unimportant. If we want students and educators to ‘have a place at the policy table,’ the inherent nature of a complex, self-organizing network almost demands that those folks become a hub or superhub in order to gain the attention of policymakers. Policymakers rarely, if ever, listen to folks who represent small constituencies, so the larger the audience we can give powerful bloggers, the better.
  • I could have listed just the top few dozen edubloggers in my results, but I didn’t. Instead, I included every single URL that we found so that others could find new voices and bring them to the attention of the hubs and superhubs. I will continue to do this and encourage others to do the same. Indeed, illustrating that perhaps I was deeper in the ‘echo chamber than I suspected, I found some new hubs and superhubs that I didn’t even know existed (for example, how many ed tech bloggers knew about The Panda’s Thumb or Classical School Blog or that they were reaching large audiences?).
  • Terry is right: Technorati has many issues. But until someone points me to something better, that’s the best I have. I, too, am somewhat confused by the different rankings that occur when different URLs are used for the same blog, but I don’t know what to do other than to provide an online form that people can use to fix or include their URL for next time.

So with all due respect, Vicki, Sheryl, and Terry, I understand and respect your perspectives but I don’t share them, at least not on this front. As always, I appreciate everyone’s input and welcome further suggestions for how to improve this ongoing project. Many thanks…

8 Responses to “Linked”

  1. Scott, thanks for sharing this! In regards to #3, isn’t it possible that the audience of Will and David increase because they are the people that introduce others to blogging? I’m not saying that their quality has gone down, but isn’t it possible that another reason for their exposure is that they’re hitting conferences at a higher rate than Average Jose Edublogger?

    Thanks again,
    Miguel Guhlin
    Around the Corner-MGuhlin.net
    http://mguhlin.net

    P.S. I’ve slipped in the Technorati rankings. I’m not as authoritative as I once was. Sigh.

  2. I think Miguel has a good point. I saw both Will and David at Maryland’s MICCA conference in April. I never read an edublog before hearing them speak. Now after several months of reading their blogs and other blogs I have my own blog.
    Will and David are the ones who opened the door to blogging for me. (And from what I read on several initial posts of first time edubloggers, they opened the door for many others, too.)

  3. Oh, yes, absolutely, just like I have a bunch of principals and superintendents reading http://www.LeaderTalk.org now. But… they’ve got to keep being “sticky” to keep folks from meandering away later!

    And, Miguel, I still read you religiously!

  4. Ok, I couldn’t resist and wrote a bit more about this here:
    Peas in a Pod
    http://www.mguhlin.net/archives/2007/08/entry_3530.htm

    Laughing,
    miguel Guhlin
    Around the Corner
    http://mguhlin.net

  5. Yes, I agree that there needs to be a stickiness factor.

    I have only really gotten into – ok, immersed myself in! – edublogging since about February of this year and it has escalated exponentially in the past month or so with the bit more free time on my agenda that summer brings. I find myself swimming in blogs to read, reply to, and track. There are certain blogs that I keep returning to and others that I forget about.

    Staying with the water imagery…the effect that each element has within a complex system is very much like a drop of water in a pool: it ripples out to eventually affect other parts of the system, whether we are conscious of it or not. I think that the extent to which one, in our system, blog affects another depends on how close to a hub each blog is.

    For example, I found out about the dy/dan’s 4 slide contest through Scott’s blog, which in turn I had found through someone else’s blog a few months ago. I had never read Dan’s blog before this contest, but because of Dangerously Irrelevant’s stickiness I return to it and found the contest. I honestly don’t remember the blog that brought me here, but without it I may not have found Scott’s blog and in turn may not have found out about Dan’s contest. So, even though I can not remember that original blog that brought me here, it was important and certainly affected this system.

    Phew – confusing…no…complex ;)

  6. Sorry– put my comment in the wrong place. hmmm wonder if I will push my Web site ranking up by having it linked in two comments?

    Well written Scott! There are several points you made with which I find myself in agreement, but I can’t ignore the fact that by nature of the tools, ranking theory is flawed.

    Alexa, the site popularity and ranking measurement metric, and well known Technorati are both biased for many reasons cited by many experts. Here is one such recap– http://www.clappingtrees.com/archives/2007/03/perspective4-of-alexa-dmoz-technorati/

    Let’s assume for all the reasons you list that ranking is important to study. Technorati, in my opinion, simply provides a lousy basis for accurately ranking blogs.

    For example, with Technorati, while it works somewhat as a collaborative ranking system, only site owners who create a link to other sites get a say as to what blogs are popular — site readers (who don’t own a blog) don’t have any way to have their voice heard.

    Even if Technorati was a dependable tool that ranked consistently, I would have problems with the survey data in terms of the reliability of the ‘random’ sample. Technorati users are a pretty small percentage of web users, and certainly aren’t representative of the readers of most of the sites and blogs that I read.

    Another issue in using Technorati as “the” tool to determine impact is that if you’ve had a blog for any amount of time and have moved URLs for any reason, Technorati seems incapable of re-grouping URLs for a single blog. Additionally, as in my case, Technorati picks my blog up as two different URLs, with significantly different rankings, (35,790 vs 26,639) each having unique links. This is the exact same blog, with the exact same content.

    There is a ton of duplication between the two and thusly my blog is pretty much just broken up into two pieces which certainly must make it hard for anyone trying to assess the overall reaction to my writing over the past 2 years. According to Technorati’s FAQ “We are unable transfer or combine links from different URLs at this time.”

    Also, when you look at the blogs that link to you in Technorati you will notice that a pretty high percentage of those listed are your own posts. (just a quick look at your blog Scott showed 4 of the 20 posts on the first two pages of blogs linked to you were your own posts.) I don’t know what’s going on here but as the basis of “blog popularity” this data seems pretty suspect to me.

    Some even feel there is a There’s a MOVEMENT out there to fool Technorati!
    http://dave-lucas.blogspot.com/2007/07/ethical-blogging.html

    I think what really shaped my thinking on ranking was my daughter’s experience and as an outcome- rank doesn’t “blur” or correlate to impact for me.

    When a 24 year old’s post on spices and cupcakes can push her blog to a higher rank than the substantive posts by Will and David something is wrong with the system. I blogged about it here:
    http://21stcenturylearning.typepad.com/blog/2007/02/does_traffic_ma.html

    All that said… visibility and exposure is important if what you are saying has the ability to provoke positive reform, as obviously your writing does Scott. Thanks for adding to the thinking on a topic that needs much more study to fully understand the outcomes.

    However, a point of clarification–
    You said, “Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach advocates focusing on impact, not just ranking. To me, impact and ranking tend to blur since I think about large-scale, comprehensive reform of schools, not just localized change.”

    For the record, most of my day-to-day work with CTQ and other clients is spent on policy work that has national impact, so I share and appreciate your large scale comprehensive perspective. You can check out the work I do here- http://www.21stcenturycollaborative.com/projects.html

  7. Sheryl, thanks for the thoughtful reply. If you have suggestions for tools that I can use that are better than Technorati, I’m all ears. Otherwise, as I noted, I’ll go with it because it’s the best I can find, even with all of the flaws and limitations that you and Terry cite.

    On another note, I know you’re working toward systemic change too (we all thank you!). I didn’t mean to imply that you weren’t. Sorry if my post read that way.

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