Fixing the Ecosystem

Jay at Accidental Verbosity has some good ideas that might make Bear’s goals for fixing the Ecosystem easier and more achievable.

Two of them, purging non-blogs and spam blogs from the list, are obvious but difficult. Bear has indeed pruned tons of them including, finally, the Drudge Report (which I personally added as a joke over two years ago), but until there is a gatekeeper checking out new sites being added to the list (which I understand is in the works) it’s a losing battle.

Jay’s final suggestion is the best:

[L]imit the number of unique links that are counted from any one blog to another. Five seems like a good number.

What does that do? It limits the usefulness even of open trackbacks that are manual, and of hosting open trackbacks for the hosts who benefit from massive, nutrition-free linkage. It limits the usefulness of starting multiple blogs and linking yourself over and over, or guest blogging and cross-posting/linking yourself over and over

One other idea would solve some other problems that I see in the system: Counting only links to unique blog posts, not the blog URL itself. Doing this would:

    Eliminate the ranking value of the various Blogrolls for Linkwhoring. One could still join them as a symbol of unity with a cause or for generating traffic but they would no longer contribute to one’s Ecosytem rankings.

    Reduce the rankings of blogs that used to be good. Because bloggers tend not to remove links from their blogrolls, there are many blogs that have been defunct or essentially defunct for months and even years ranked rather high in the Ecosytem.

    Boost the rankings of hot startups. One rationale given for the Open Trackback Alliance and other such gimmicks is that it’s hard for new sites to climb the Ecosystem because so many long-established sites have tons of linkage. By eliminating blogroll links from the count, those who produce interesting new content would climb quickly.

For some idea how this would affect sites on the Ecosystem, I compared the unique links (“details”) counted as of this morning with the number of links to the main site URL at This is not a perfect comparison, since not all links to a site are on blogrolls, let alone blogrolls and not all sites that blogroll others are listed on the TTLB. Still, it gives a rough idea for comparison purposes:

Ecosytem Ranking and Details Blogroll Links (4587) details 2339
2.Daily Kos: State of the Nation (2974) details 1368
3.Michelle Malkin (2924) details 1120
4.lgf: who blow up da owl? (2688) details 871
5.Power Line (2656) details 1089
48. Outside The Beltway (953) details 446

For all of these sites except Little Green Footballs, roughly half of the “details” stem from blogroll links. It may well be, then, that the rankings would remain roughly similar if my suggestion were implemented. It could be, though, that high ranking sites are considered obligatory inclusions when starting a new blogroll. How does this affect the Large Mammals?

Ecosytem Ranking and Details Blogroll Links
101.The Politburo Diktat (641) details 305
102.Jesus’ General (639) details 336
103.Matthew Yglesias (638) details 183
104.Orcinus (633) details 309
105.TAPPED (633) details 269

I would note, first, that the inclusion of Matthew Yglesias’ old site (he’s been at TPM Cafe for months now) illustrates the issue of defunct blogs high in the listings. Oddly, though, even though a lot of people (including me) have changed their blogroll, his old site retains very high rankings.

Otherwise, though, the rough 2:1 ratio holds up at this level. Let’s move further down, getting to the level of sites I’ve scarcely heard of:

Ecosytem Ranking and Details Blogroll Links
700.Bettnet – Musings from Domenico Bettinelli, Jr. (223) details 49
701.INCITE (223) details 73
702.Keystone Military News (223) details 4
703.IAM(also)CANADIAN (223) details 19
704.Hammorabi (223) details 77

Finally, we see major variation in the blogroll links to Ecosystem links ratio. From this rough comparison, it appears that eliminating links to the blog itself, counting only links to individual posts, would have the desired effect of boosting the rankings of lower level (and presumably newer) sites that are not “must-add” sites to new blogrolls. Presumably, this would at least incrementally affect the higher-ranked blogs as well.

Steven Taylor and Bryan at AWS have their own thoughts on Bear’s tweaks.

Update (1200): Via email correspondence with Bear, here’s his original post from June 2, 2002 (well before the launch of OTB) detailing the launch of the Ecosystem. Here’s something that sticks out and remains as true as ever:

About this number of links thing. So are you like obsessed with finding out who is “the best” blogger ?

Nope. There’s tons of different ways to define “best” or “success” in the blogosphere. Some might say having lots of folks link to you is one of them, but there are plenty of others (and if you’re gauging your own blog’s success by any measure other than how much enjoyment it gives you, well, that way lies madness). I think it is interesting to measure links because it certainly shows what other people in the blogosphere think is interesting at a certain time, but I don’t think it necessarily tells us much about “best”.



The sheer number of posts on this subject is indicative of several things: Bloggers like to talk about blogging; N.Z. Bear’s Ecosystem is the most talked-about metric; and bloggers continually game whatever system Bear puts into place, forcing yet more changes.

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Uncategorized, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. McGehee says:

    I’ve about come to the conclusion that the real measure should be traffic.

    The fact these new ecosystem tweaks have dropped me about 350 places down the rankings has nothing whatsoever to do with this, of course…

  2. James Joyner says:

    The problem with traffic, though, is that it’s inconsistently measured and not necessarily a measure of quality content.

    SiteMeter’s problems are well documented and not everybody uses it.

    While I get a lot of traffic from other bloggers and people who read me regularly, my biggest spikes come from search engines, usually on pop culture stuff. Indeed, probably a million of my 5.5 million visitors came from people looking for videos of beheaded hostages and at least a million more came to see pictures of nude celebrities that I didn’t actually have.

  3. John Burgess says:

    I’m not too wild about the idea of devaluing links to the blog URL. Many of the links to my site are to the site, not just a particular post. I assume that’s because, as a niche blogger, my entire site is of interest due to the subject matter. While a single post may draw traffic–and my stats support that–the site also provides a guide to other content that may not have gotten the linkage. Over 25% of visitors to my site spend over 15 minutes at it, going to other articles that were invisible in terms of direct links.

  4. James Joyner says:

    John: A fair point. The odd thing is that, with a handful of exceptions, as a blog gets more “popular,” whether measured by links or traffic, the amount of time each individual unique visitor spends at the site declines. When OTB was getting 100 visits a day, they averaged somethng like 2:30 per visit. Now that I’m getting 8-10,000 visits, they only stay a little over 30 seconds. That seems to be true almost across the board.

  5. John Burgess says:

    [Snark on] Well, maybe that’s because my content is more compelling? [snark off]

    I do understand what you say, and of course regular readers are going to spend less time, though I try to keep things interesting, pointing to other pieces that update, support, or qualify a particular post. As readership expands, though, newbies tend to take a look around.

    Having been demoted at one time from Small Mammal to Slime Mold or something, and now being promoted back to Reptilian status, I’d like to consider my incoming links legitimate. They’re certainly the fruit of my effort, not scams.

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    Sorry, guys, but traffic is useless in evaluating a blog’s ranking. RSS feeds don’t count in traffic statistics.