Breaking the 80/20 Rule
November 8, 2004 at 1:10 PM
Over the past few weeks I have been conducting an experiment of sorts. It's a test of the 80/20 rule; 80 percent of the most vital web industry information can be accounted for not by 20 percent of all web sites (and, perhaps, by only 20 individuals). I have been reading through a collective list of about 380 something RSS feeds for the past few weeks, searching for new and unique news related to the web industry. I am by no means a fan of glorifying the already glorified A-Listers, however, after the last two weeks I would say I think the rule is fairly accurate. There is a lot of useless and regurgitated news out there. Now, if you are expecting me to list the blogs I found to be vital you are sadly mistaken... that would only perpetuate the problem. I think the news within this industry needs to be more diversified, not more consolidated. So how do we do that? Well, it starts with you; what you write and what you read. Think about that for a moment and then share your thoughts in the comments area.
Only 380? Get back to me when you're getting feeds for 3800. Then you'll have a feel for overload.
Phil: nice.. hehe. We're talking web industry only (i.e. feeds for web designers, web developers, and IA, etc)... I don't get into the other topics such as PM feeds, programming feeds, general web industry news feeds that read more like press releases.
I don't think the original vs. regurgitated issue can be simplified that much. For instance, I enjoy highly regurgitative blogs written by folks who include esoteric sites in their reading list, and I don't enjoy highly original content that spurs links and discussion for the sake of links and discussion. I guess it sort of depends on what your aims are, do you read blogs to find gems of information that would be interesting and useful, or are you trolling for a place to speak your mind? Neither is wrong per say, but I think the landscape of motivations for reading and writing blogs is complex, ever-changing, and not in need of anything other than self-governance.
I run a "parrot blog" mostly as a place to "bookmark" interesting stuff for my own personal usage, but other Web designer friends of mine read my site because they trust me to filter content for them. Regurgitation may not always be a bad thing, as long as you inform people you are regurgitating :)
I think the key word is "news" and you're right to point out that only about 20% of blogs that publish newsy posts are "vital". But for me the true value in a blog is in the insights and analysis on top of that news - and that's where blogs have the most value for me personally. It's how I try to write my blog - I don't 'do' news, I do analysis (or so I like to think). I do rants sometimes too... ;-) Interesting - I read your article just after this one, where a self-described media dinosaur rages against blog "news".
"I think the news within this industry needs to be more diversified" I agree that we need to become more diversified, with more blogs creating fresh content, but to be fair, perhaps the A-Listers simply speak up on it first. It isn't fair to demean posts by a bloger that reference another discussion, if they add a new spin and valid information to it. But the question remains, how do we diversify the web writers to include more individuals? Active readership and commenting can help a lot, I believe. Many people feel their site isn't read enough, so they fail to invest the time to write quality, original posts. The A-Listers have a duty, Joe Schmo doesn't have anyone looking over his shoulder telling him to write well, or rewarding him when he does. Now, a course of action... Non A-Listers need to start diversifying their reading, and become active in the sites that do put up quality content. A-Listers can do a public service by creating an environment conducive to growth of the little guy. What do I mean by that? I mean that they ought not propagate their monopoly, but share good third party sources when they can (and many do, via a side blog). If we do this, then the web will be a more solid net of information, don't you think?
Question for you: why do the news sources require more diversity? I don't see a problem with the source of web news coming from 20% of the sites-- that helps insure credibility as the main sites have wider audiences that can quickly confirm or refute the news, then spread the information from their own sites. I also don't see a problem with regurgitated news-- give yourself two seconds to scan a feed and if you've heard it before, then you can skip right over it.
The ease of creating web content makes this kinda inevitable, in my view. There are people who blog infrequently and do an interesting job (Clay Shirky, Joel Spolsky) and others who have different goals. As this medium evolves I guess we'll see new "ways of publishing". The wiki, threaded posts and some of the forum ideas come to mind, as do ideas akin to Google's page rank. I for one am very happy with the blogosphere. I gave up on newspapers some time ago, just targeted wrong; mailing lists and newsgroups didn't seem to work anymore... so blogs have given me something that was missing. (I'm still wrestling with how to make the contributions that I want, without spending too much time doing it!) As people get to grips with the long term reality of blogs, I think we'll see greater selectivity. One category that will gain popular is Blogs with infrequent, original content.
"the news within this industry needs to be more diversified, not more consolidated. So how do we do that? Well, it starts with you; what you write and what you read." - Nick After being inspired by this post on this high profile site of yours Nick, I see the following options for me: - continue foraging for something new - create something *here* by commenting - create something *elsewhere* - log off and do something *real* If suitably inspired, the first and last are not options and it's time to create. I like going to the 20% of sites that create this effect on my psyche. I see the "create vs consume" paradigm as central to our online lives, and it's something I try to balance as it's always nice to contribute! Since splicing my del.icio.us bookmarks into my posts I am prompted every day to create and post something new, otherwise my blog would be more link-log than original content! I agree and am comfortable with the 80/20 rule, as it means I don't have to go mindlessly roving around looking for newsworthy stuff, it gets either made or found for me by the ~20% I do read. Why didn't I write this on my own site? Because it's inconvenient for both me and your readers to continue the conversation that way. Positive reinforcement for the 20. But what would be nice is a "what I said elsewhere" functionality being more prevalent, allowing us to "own our words" slightly more by housing links to our external comments in one spot. So when people did visit our small niches of cyberspace, they'd have a wider pool of thoughtful content to choose from. God knows i've just put more effort into this comment than my recent "me-too" link-posts! I remember seeing a "said elsewhere" implementation somewhere, can someone jog my memory?
80/20 yes maybe. Another phenomenon which is bad IMHO. Mono-lingualism of the A-list. Many people from different cultures and languages are making the effort of reading english weblogs and to put links to them. BUT how many english webloggers make the opposite effort? I know a few of them, too few. 80/20 oui peut-
Nick, it sounds like your are ready for the highly touted attention.xml that Technorati is working on.
This is actually something that has inspired my partner and I. We quickly noticed most blogs/rss feeds offered no large difference in news postings. It seems many either replayed news or gave a poilte 'nod' to someone else's information. What we see is a great opportunity to create a bit more diverse news, even for some seemingly tired categories. We ourselves enjoy standards based web design, and love writing about it. So we decided just talking around basic issues wasn't enough and dove into more complex ideas surrounding the topic. How do you market valid pages, what are the usability issues surrounding a black page background, how can you be creative with a limited numbers of layout options... you see where Im going I'm sure... We've just started but gotten great responses already, and this week we will place our 3rd article on the site (averaging 1 per week currently seems to be enough to generate attention). It's just a matter of seeing that this is a demand... people still want new information. You just can't be lazy anymore to get anywhere near the A-List... It's nice to see people pointing these problems out though as I think the face of blog/rss news will change soon.... our site
There's a problem with very large information sets, the challenge of sipping from the fire hose. When you have this much new material coming up, nobody, not even the New York Times, can parse it all. So you're forced to define your personal event horizon, that small straw of sources from which you sip and, by their proxy, the small sets of sources from which they sip. Choosing sucks, but you have no choice. Two eyes, two ears, and 24 hours a day force it. So we choose. First by trial and error. Then by referral. And then we max out but the referals keep coming. So it becomes a zero-sum game. Someone has to come off the blogroll to make room for someone else. Tradeoff city, parting with old friends, betting on new ones. Link to me! Link to me! Link to me!