Mark Evans has a blog post today entitled "Why Original Blog Thought is So Difficult". In the article he essentially concedes that original thought on Techmeme is a problem (to an extent, see below) and then tries to justify why that is. I don't agree with almost anything he says in the post but its a thoughtful one and I'd suggest everyone take a look.
Here's a quote...
Given Techmeme’s well-deserved reputation as being the place to quickly discover what’s going on in the tech world, Bott’s assessment is blunt, critical, perhaps unfair but not entirely without merit. He’s right; there is an awful lot of blog posts offering little or no insight other than referring to another blog. Rather than adding to the conversation, many of these posts come across as simply noise and bandwagon jumping.
Right off I have to take issue with his assessment. I love Techmeme, it's in my blogroll, but it is in no way an accurate gauge of "what's going on in the tech world". It is at best a representation of what a certain crowd (reporters/conference goers) are talking about.
That's a crowd that misses things far more than it catches them IMHO. Facebook didn't become a popular blogosphere topic until YEARS after it had taken hold. I got more out of talking to friends in college than I did out of the blog crowd. On the corporate side, Microsoft released brand new versions of its Server OS and its Developer Platform in February (both of which are still used in the majority of companies) and there was barely a peep on Techmeme (one article about Hyper-V which never made it near the top and scrolled off by mid-day). Again, I got more out of talking to corporate types than I did from the blogs.
Beyond that Techmeme elevates non-news over actual news. For an example look no further than the constant coverage of a possible merger between Yahoo and Microsoft. I can sum up what we know about that merger in one paragraph yet it has been the lead topic on Techmeme countless times. While back on the Windows 2008 example its release (news that matters to the tech industry) got buried by the only lead Microsoft story on Techmeme that day which was how the EU had fined Microsoft (gossipy news that couldn't matter less to the tech industry)
Again, I love Techmeme but it isn't an accurate gauge of the tech industry.
Getting back to Mr Evans' post he makes several points that essentially boil down to "Bloggers are forced to post unoriginal thoughts by circumstance" (major paraphrase there, take with a grain of salt).
Here's a quote that sums up the gist of those points...
1. Writing original thought-provoking blog content is a challenge. It takes time, thought and effort. The problem, however, is many bloggers are often short of time, which means it is difficult to come up with insightful thoughts. As Louis Gray talked about in a recent post, many bloggers are time-strapped what with blogging and being on other social/content vehicles such as Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, RSS readers, etc. If you’re doing all that, when do you have time to think Big Thoughts?
The above point assumes that the failing is on the part of the bloggers. It would certainly be nice if bloggers didn't make "me too" posts but in the end the failing isn't theirs for making them but Techmeme's for publishing them. The problem is in Techmeme's process.
In my opinion Techmeme has three major problems with its algorithm right now.
1. The Echo-Chamber: Techmeme discovers blogs when other blogs that Gabe Rivera manually seeded in link to them. The problem is, despite what bloggers might say, they rarely link to people they don't almost completely agree with.
So, to give an example, you are never going to get someone who thinks social networking is all hype on Techmeme because that crowd is too enamored with the idea to give credence to someone who doesn't buy into it.
2. Barrier to Entry: This is something that is very prominent in the music industry but is just becoming more prominent in the blogosphere. It essentially boils down to this..."people suck up to the big fish even if the big fish aren't producing the best content".
So, for example, someone might read 10 posts on a topic better than what someone like Scoble wrote but will link to Scoble out of self interest (no offense to Scoble). They want his trackbacks and they want his attention so they go for him and block out new talent in the process.
3. Original News vs. Commentary posters: Techmeme doesn't seem to differentiate between original news sources and commentary sources. These are two vastly different types of post and they come from different types of site. Sites that "break news" get so much weight on Techmeme that it gives you a lot of links that essentially repeat each other (because they are all news sources "breaking" the same news).
This post has already gone on too long but this is a pretty ripe topic so you can expect me to return to it some day soon. Just to repeat, what Gabe Rivera has done with Techmeme is truly amazing. I would never dispute that. But that doesn't mean that the idea is "there yet" as far as maximum usefulness. Getting to that point is a topic that deserves more discussion.