Saturday, December 5, 2009

Algorithmic Authority and Me

I'm a big fan of Clay Shirky. His assessment of sociology in online communities always seems spot on. When he recently wrote about the idea of algorithmic authority he continued the trend.

What is algorithmic authority? Here's Shirky's definition:

Algorithmic authority is the decision to regard as authoritative an unmanaged process of extracting value from diverse, untrustworthy sources, without any human standing beside the result saying “Trust this because you trust me.”

There is a lot more to it than that, and I invite you to read the full piece on his blog. If you want, go do it now. I'll still be here when you're done.

Anyway, I'm sure you're wondering why the heck I'm writing about it? Well, for one I think it's just an interesting idea. I think we all recognize it to some extent, but to codify it in definition and to think about how it affects us is a little different. Of course, I don't usually like to write about things on here without adding at least something of my own. The real reason I'm writing this is betrayed in the title of the post: algorithmic authority affects me greatly, specifically in reference to this blog.

When I started writing The Design of Ignorance I likened it to yelling in a paper bag. I was far more interested in blowing off stress in a productive manner, and documenting my random thoughts and ideas, than I ever was in things like readership. I certainly never plan to monetize my blog, for instance. What I did not consider was the effect that my choice of the Blogger platform would have on the potential for an audience.

That's where Google Analytics comes into the equation. Since I put Google Analytics tracking on my blog I've been able to see who hits the website, from where, how long they stayed, and how they were referred. It doesn't track RSS subscribers [Hi Justin!] but that's on purpose, if I'm ever curious about that I'll switch to Feedburner. It does show me what keywords caused someone to land on my blog, and to what page they were directed. Without question, the two biggest sources of traffic are searches for "best streaming site" and "hd stretch." As of this writing, my blog is one of the top results for either of those searches.

In short, Google PageRank has declared, using its authority, that I am one of the best places to get information on these topics. I cannot tell you how guilty and pressured that makes me feel. I don't like the idea of being an authority by fiat on topics in which I profess little authority, yet I have a strong opinion. I also hate the thought that people out there are searching for information and, upon finding my blog, are potentially disappointed.

I tried using the social searching features to promote other sites. It doesn't seem to do anything. I've modified the original post about hd stretch to send searchers in the right direction. At least I can take that approach.

This pushes me to write more on the subjects. I'm not convinced that I want to do that, even if they interest me. Yet, here I am playing amateur pundit and frighteningly I have an audience. I cringe to think of myself in league with other amateur pundits.

So, I try my best not to let this influence me too greatly. I'll continue my streaming reviews at my own glacial pace. I'm less bothered by the stretch issue, so I doubt I'll write much about that in the future.

It nags me, though. Perhaps that's for the best.

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