Techmeme: We Find the Sites You Already Visit

Tim Bray on Techmeme:

I go there and see the same stories about the RIAA and Paul Graham's latest essay and what Apple might be doing, the same stories that are on Slashdot and Ars Technica and boring old ZDnet too. Plus a smattering of whatever Scoble & Winer & Arrington & Calcanis and their posses are up to.

For all of the attention paid to the Techmeme leaderboard this week, the latest popularity contest for self-fascinated, high-traffic techbloggers, there hasn't been much scrutiny of the manner in which Gabe Rivera creates his site. Techmeme, which publishes a software-generated roundup of tech news based on links stories receive from favored sources, isn't entirely automated. Rivera begins with a "seed list" of hand-chosen sites, as he explained to Wired News earlier this year:

I do use lists of sources to help my system determine which sources to monitor. Essentially, I'm telling it to "find more sites like these." These aren't exhaustive lists, or even close to exhaustive, and therefore not "white lists." ...

The full set of sites it monitors is constructed automatically, and even changes in real time based on linking. A small "seeding" list I construct manually is used to help the system build the complete list.

Rivera's good at making it sound like an egalitarian discovery process is going on, but Techmeme isn't exactly Lewis and Clark heading off into uncharted territory with a blank piece of paper and a pencil. The site's About page breathlessly declares, "At this moment, the next big story in technology may reside on a blog you've never heard of or a news site you don't have time to scan." Or it may reside on Engadget and TechCrunch, sites discovered 42 times on Techmeme the past week alone.

The Techmeme I want is one that identifies the 100 most-linked sources in technology, then pretends they don't exist. Show me the blogosphere that would exist if Robert Scoble finished journalism school, Mike Arrington remained in the domain name trade, Jason Calacanis became a psychologist and I pursued a career in modern dance.

There's an element of democracy in Technorati rankings and Google pagerank, since they're based on incoming links and the rank of those linkers. TechMeme's leaderboard, on the other hand, is determined by the sites Rivera chooses for his seed list and the stories they link. If he published that list, I expect you'd find the same people and publications who end up on the leaderboard. What goes in one end comes out the other. If you put turkey between two slices of bread, you get a turkey sandwich.


So you kinda restated what I wrote here: Basically, that the list is biased by how the site is configured, which includes seeding lists.

Still, there are several sources on the Leaderboard not included in the seeding lists, and many sources in the seeding lists are not showing up on the Leaderboard. And so that list does represent something very novel. There were alot of surprises in there for me anyway.

I personally like your concept of the news-minus-top-100. Not sure about its viability as a news product though...

Final note (and I've said this before): it's funny that the only complaints I get about big sources dominating Techmeme come from bloggers. Never from nonbloggers, which make the bulk of Techmeme's readers. (Never!)

Thanks for the link. I don't doubt that your code throws some curveballs at you, but for my tastes Techmeme is too much of a closed loop.

Gabe, it's hard to know what's not there. That is, there's something of a logical problem, in that if a blogger writes a great blog post, and sees it ignored by TechMeme in favor of "Scoble: Arm-Farting Is The New Black", then of course they know about the issue. But since the post wasn't heard, very few other people will know how that blogger's work was futile.

[Disclaimer: Nobody's entitled to an audience, etc. etc. The point is that it's a rather trivial statement to say roughly that people who don't know what they're missing don't complain about it (well, maybe it's a sad statement :-()]

Rogers, TechMeme "serves the A-list", as I put it, that's always been well known and in various ways admitted. That's where the money is - or at least the attention.

Techmeme has grown from 10,000 to 140,000 visitors in the last 90 days, according to Compete, but I think that anyone trying to serve tech-blogging obsessives will hit the law of diminishing returns. The market's oversaturated -- does the world really need 1,000 gadgetphiles with strongly held opinions on iPhone bricking? -- while web users are getting younger and moving away from the publishing model where you blog for an audience of readers and into one where you social network with friends.

Whaaa? 10K to 140K? I see the graph, but I disbelieve. There's got to be an error in there somewhere. I'm very dubious that it has 140K visitors.

Elsewhere, I think what's happened is that individually-written blogs are being out-attentioned by online publications.

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