Why I read Boing Boing

Ben Metcalfe has a Bash of Boing Boing (and other ‘A-list’ blogs) that spreads itself across two posts.

I find it an extremely odd propositions in that we (the audience) are being asked to value the aggregation decisions of fairly arbitrary and otherwise insignificant (in the wider context) group of people.

I literally think in the back of my mind “why do I care what three people called Xeni Jardine, Cory Doctrow and Mark Frauenfelder think is witty, amusing, clever or important”?

Regular readers of my blog probably know that the phrase “via Boing Boing” is very commonly used around here, so it won’t come as much of a surprise that I’m going to stick up for it.

For me, Ben Metcalfe is asking entirely the wrong question to himself. He shouldn’t be asking, “why do I care what three people called Xeni Jardine, Cory Doctrow and Mark Frauenfelder think is witty, amusing, clever or important?” The actual question he should be asking is: “Do I find this interesting?” If Ben Metcalfe answers “no” to that question, then that’s fair enough.

But I answer “yes” to that question. Now, I’m not just saying that because I feel obliged to because they’re in the A-list. Infact, having just looked at the Technorati top 100, I find that I only regularly read three of those blogs, and I occasionally look at a few others. But I haven’t even heard of most of them.

Boing Boing isn’t all good. I certainly don’t go through each post with a fine tooth-comb. But I find about 20% of the links they post very interesting. For me, that’s a much higher success rate than, say, Digg (top link on Digg at the moment: “Best line ever on South Park”… hardly earth-shattering) or del.icio.us (as much as I like del.icio.us).

Sometimes Boing Boing is infuriatingly boring. Sometimes they post something that I saw about three years ago. I guess you can’t be too angry about that though — that’s just a side-effect of the vastness of the internet. But it’s that very vastness of the internet that makes a website like Boing Boing so useful.

Ben Metcalfe continues:

I’d actually much rather value a list of what my friends think is cool and a list of the overall most interesting on the entire Internet via ‘wisdom of crowd’/etc.

I’ve dealt with ‘wisdom of crowds’ (Digg, del.icio.us) already. As for friends, it is true that I find a lot of good links from my friends. But that can only be a part of your internet consumption. I trust my friends to give me a good conversation in the pub, or to save my life when I’m drowning, and all sorts of cheesy bollocks like that. But can I rely on them exclusively to tell me what’s cool on the internet? Certainly not. That’s why a website like Boing Boing remains popular.

In his other post, Ben Metcalfe takes issue with the fact that Boing Boing (and other podcasts and blogs like it) merely aggregate content, rather than creating it.

the general observation and frustration that I would like to throw into the mix is that so many of the considered A-List of bloging, podcasting and vloging are those who simply ‘aggregate’ other people’s content.

For example:

BoingBoing (blog) – the most popular English-language blog out there is merely a repository of links. They even ask contributors to write suggested content to accompany the link. In reality, I feel Cory, Xeni, Mark and Co add very little value to proposition other than to sort through their inbox and post up what tickles their fancy or has been built by their mates.

That is indeed true. But is there anything wrong with that? You may as well say something like, “Why should I trust the news to tell me what’s relevant and interesting in the world? They’re not making the news; they’re just telling us what it is.” The thing is, you do get people who say that. But I think most people would agree that the news is a pretty useful place to find out what’s going on in the world. Not perfect, but pretty good nonetheless.

By the same token, Boing Boing is a useful place to find out what’s interesting on the internet. Not perfect, but pretty good nonetheless. And I don’t think Boing Boing pretends to be anything else.

As for the ‘self-perpetuating’ nature of the A-list, I’m not so sure about that either. It might be true to some extent, but here’s what David Sifry wrote in the State of the Blogosphere earlier this year:

With so may blogs and bloggers out there, one might think that it is a lost cause for new bloggers to achieve any significant audience, that the power curve means that there’s no more room left at the top of the “A-List”.

Fortunately, the data shows that this isn’t the case.

Thanks to the Wayback machine, here’s a look at the Technorati Top 100 as it appeared on November 26, 2002 (bear with me if the wayback machine is slow). Then look at it as it appeared on December 5, 2003. And again on November 30, 2004. And again on April 1, 2005. And now look at it today.

Let’s take a few examples. Have a look at PostSecret. It is the #3 site on the Technorati Top 100 today, with over 12,000 sites that have linked to it in the last 180 days. It didn’t even exist on the chart in April of 2005. Or look at The Huffington Post. It is #5 on the Top 100. It too, didn’t exist on the chart in April of 2005. Or look at the #47 blog in April, 2005 Baghdad Burning. This blog still is regularly posting, but has fallen to #304.

All of this isn’t to say that everything about the ‘A-list’ is great. As I said, I only read three of the ‘top 100’ blogs. A lot of them simply don’t interest me. And I have no doubt that in the blogosphere a hegemony of the sort that bloggers often criticise the ‘mainstream media’ for is emerging. But a lot of popular blogs out there are quite valuable — and I think Boing Boing is one of them.

5 comments

  1. Hear, hear. I don’t have time to trawl the web in search of interesting sites, and Boing Boing by no means throws up 100% quality stuff, but it delivers to me a sufficient enough signal to noise ratio that it’s worth my subscribing to the RSS feed. It doesn’t pretend to be anything other than an interesting compilation of stuff, which it is.

  2. I gave up on Boing Boing when it became little more than a vehicle for Cory Doctorow’s latest obsession (or book) and Xeni Jardin’s incessant sex links. Now I rely on Boing Boing indirectly, i.e. I only pick up on links from it via other blogs.

  3. I’m sort of with Simstim; I rarely read it directly, but enough people put up links with a (via) in there that I appreciate what they do.

    And Ben’s wrong as well, it’s not just reprints and links, sometimes they do real reviews and occasionally proper journalism. BUt I’ve said that in a comment at his already.

    I just don’t have the time for everything cool. Boing Boing can be cool, but it’s far too busy.

    What we really need? An “a-list” of just UK blogs. Then we can really find out if Sim is the 4th best in Cardiff.

  4. […] Even though I just criticised Digg less than a week ago, I decided to subcribe the the RSS feed recently. And now I’ve just registered on it. Maybe you can blame this on summer boredom, but I only registered so that I could bury rather than actually ‘Digg’ something. I’ve only found one or two interesting things on it. Despite Digg’s good reputation, there are a lot of turds managing to float to the top. […]

  5. I do agree with you on defending BoingBoing (I mean, the answer to “who cares what these people think is important?” is probably “all those people who read the site and respect their opinion), but I think that Digg is still an interesting project. As with a lot of the sites around right now with reduced/distributed editorial control, it can take a little more effort to get goodness from them, but a lot more stuff can be there. It’s just a different way of doing things.