What’s my problem with lists of best websites?

Last week I received a link submission for The Map Room: a list of 50 best blogs for geography geeks. The Map Room was ranked 15th. There wasn’t anything wrong with the list so far as I could tell — I’m modest enough about what I do that I don’t care what my own rank is — but it didn’t quite smell right, simply because a site named Online Engineering Degree was an odd source for such a list. It wasn’t the first time I saw that kind of disconnect; usually I saw it as a way to gain incoming traffic to boost a site’s ranking — in other words, search engine optimization, which for me is a dirty, dirty term. So I ignored it. I can’t post everything, and I’ve let far better links get past me.

The list was then reprinted in full and verbatim on Mapperz, a map blog I rather like. It’s important to say that I like it, because Mapperz is a little annoyed with me right now, for reasons that will become clear in a moment. It’s also important to say that it was well within Mapperz’s rights to post it. There are more than 100 blogs in my map blog directory, and it would be stupid if we all agreed on what was and wasn’t post-worthy. The Mapperz link made the rounds, on Twitter and elsewhere, and ended up on MetaFilter (where links make the big time).

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Gizmodo’s prank

Gizmodo’s prank at CES was wonderful: they walked around with a TV-B-Gone turning off televisions at display booths and even during presentations. Many of Gizmodo’s commenter’s aren’t happy about it, but I’m delighted. In too many fields, journalists (including bloggers) are too damn close and cozy with their subjects, because their subjects are also their advertisers. It’s always a good sign to see someone willing to bite the hand that purportedly feeds them. Ostensible displays of independence are always appreciated.

Update: Banned!

Update #2: The point is not to suck up to the consumer electronics industry; if it takes a dumb prank to signal that you’re not completely servile to the industry you cover, so be it.

Update #3: Gizmodo in its own defence:

[W]hen I see some fellow press damning us for the joke, I feel sorry for them: When did journalists become the protectors of corporations? When did this industry, defined by pranksters like Woz, get so serious and in-the-pocket of big business? … Consumer electronics tech journalism is very tricky. Those who strictly cover commercial CE depend on a powerful handful of companies for the very lifeblood of their content. That’s a dangerous position. …
Many of our harshest critics have done far worse than clicking off a few TVs. I’m talking about ethical lapses such as accepting paid junkets to Japan by Nikon, or free trips to Korea by Samsung. Turning a blind eye to Apple’s mistakes when they didn’t make an iPhone SDK and sought to lock down the handset. Stock prices torn downward by publishing incorrect leaked info. Writing about companies that also pay you for advertorial podcast work. All of these examples are offenses from the last year. And I consider those offenses far worse than our prank, because it ultimately it puts the perpetrators on the wrong team. As one reporter put it while chiding me, “Journalists are guests in the houses of these companies.” Not first and foremost! We are the auditors of companies and their gadgets on behalf of the readers. In this job, integrity and independence is far more important than civil or corporate obedience.

Repeat after me: Journalism. Is. Adversarial.

Web traffic, audience and engagement

Scoble wonders whether “engagement” can be measured like audience. There’s something to this: some audiences, Scoble writes, click on links more than others. In my experience, when DFL was getting more than its share of coverage, print, TV and radio audiences had much less impact on my traffic than web sites: making Sports Illustrated in 2006 got me one or two comments, at most. But it also depends on the content: both The Map Room and DFL got huge traffic spikes when they were posted to MetaFilter; Snakes on Film got a tiny fraction in comparison. Whether the link resonates with the audience in question also matters, in other words.

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