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Posted by on Jun 14, 2005 in At TMV | 0 comments

GUEST VOICE: A QUICK Way To Find Your Favorite Blogs

TMV’s NOTE: Punditdrome is one of our favorite sites. At a glance you get an incredibly diverse series of blogs of varying viewpoints. And you can click to see other pages of blogs. It’s well laid out, well-thought-out and easy to view. But since it’s not just of ONE view point there is a question: does this run counter to how many people view blogs — only wanting to read their OWN viewpoint? In this provocative GUEST VOICE post written below, Punditdrome’s creator Scott Ferguson discusses the theory behind his site, news aggregators and ponders whether his site should evolve into something different:

Scott Ferguson is the proprietor of the website PunditDrome, and the blog Classless Society. In his day job, Scott is a technical writer and knowledge engineer for a firm providing accounting services to investment managers.

Of Gerbils, Webs, and Aggregation

By Scott Ferguson

Have you ever thought of yourself as a gerbil? Set your indignation aside for a bit. Close your eyes and visualize. Reflect on a gerbil’s world view.

When I was a kid young enough to have best friends, my best friend John had a couple of gerbils. His Dad made a cage for them out of scrap 1×2 lumber and reinforced house screen. They filled the cage with thin curly cedar shavings. In this environment, the gerbils created tunnels. Whenever a gerbil tunnel ran parallel to the screening, we could s them running back and forth. Or one would stick its head out of the top of a pile and sniff around. For a couple of fourth-grade boys, it was a lot of fun.

Now we are grown-ups. We have set aside gerbil cages in favor of something far more engaging — the World Wide Web, the most prominent interface to the Internet. We spend hours looking at favorite sites, writing comments for blogs, bookmarking places we go often. A browser is a tool for creating virtual mindscapes. Bookmarks and blogrolls are extensions of our superegos.

Look in the mirror. See the gerbil staring back!

For the gerbil mind, the Web is an information tool without peer. No need to become upset at the headline of an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times while you’re searching for the crossword puzzle. On the web, you can create virtual gerbil tunnels to favorite sites. You need never encounter CBS or Fox or CNN or the Times (New York or L.A. or London). Even when you do choose to look at an upsetting site, you can select the specific kind of upset you want; one that can nourish your favorite resentments in a way that no mere newspaper could.

I’m fascinated by this stuff, since it relates to my hobby: running a small weblog aggregator, PunditDrome.com. Actually, I’ve never liked the term “aggregator” because it makes me think of the coarse gravel that roads are paved with (aggregate). Using that analogy, an aggregator would treat information as a commodity, gathering it and redistributing it in an even mix. But blogs are not information commodities. Blogs are labors of love. They deserve more respect.

The Associated Press is a true news aggregator. As you may know, only a portion of their articles are staff written. The rest come from the member newspapers in the AP cooperative. In the blogosphere, I think a true aggregator would be kinja.com, which data scrapes blogs and flows the headlines together in a continuous stream. By the same token, Drudge is not an aggregator. He basically disassembles the front pages of the major media and re-edits them into an alternative top-down view of the news. His value added is not in aggregation, but in his service as a self-styled managing editor of everybody else’s news. What he does is intensely subversive and beautifully, brilliantly elegant. When the next generation writes the history of American journalism, Matt Drudge will have more ink than John Peter Zenger.

What I do with PunditDrome is a little Drudge, a little Kinja; although I only put in a fraction of the effort of these oth sites’ proprietors. I pick the feeds of blogs that I like, and the proprietary software I’ve developed (along with
www.hazman.us”>Hazman Halid
) extracts enough from them to give me a flavor of what they’re writing about. Fresh content floats to the top where it’s easy to find; yet the blog abstracts are kept clustered by blog, so that you can see the internal conversations of each blogger as they develop their content.

I think PunditDrome works pretty well, but how come I don’t get many more than 150 uniques a day? I think there are aspects of the user interface that make it a bit obtuse — people aren’t encouraged to go much deeper than the first page. Haz and I need to rethink this.

A more serious issue with my site is the main page, which contains blog abstracts from the very liberal to the somewhat conservative, and a sampling of everything between. The feedback I’ve gotten (particularly from conservatives) is that this diversity is annoying. The subtext of these complaints is that they want the main page to be a comfortable affirmation of their views; so why include a blog like Daily Kos?

This “gerbil world” characteristic of the Web at once fascinates and horrifies me. As McLuhan predicted, this neural network is turning us into a society of artificial tribes, based on affinity and prejudice. While I have great affection for tribal societies (my deceased partner’s family is Oglala Lakota), their cultural expression is rote; encouraging conformity and providing no support for the kind of intellectual curiosity that fosters great things.

To a person who chooses to avoid information that is not consistent with their worldview, the Web is less a tool for communication, and more a mirror for narcissistic reflection. How will this affect society over the next generation?

Among the daily 150 uniques, there are two distinct groups that visit time and again. Some journalists love the site because it presents a decent cross-section of blog opinion without any axes to grind. CNN was an early adopter, and NBC, Gannett, and the New York Times show up once in awhile. And bloggers themselves who are featured on PunditDrome — part of the 10 million crying in the wilderness — are grateful that SOMEBODY finds their blogs worthwhile enough to promote.

(If you have suggestions for improving PunditDrome.com , you can include them in this comment thread, or email me at [email protected] . Thanks!)

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