Finding the diamonds in the rough in the "blogosphere"

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I’ve been giving a lot of thought over the weekend to the problem of finding good content buried amidst all the noise on the Internet, especially when it comes to blog articles from lesser-known sources. (This is true for readers looking for quality content, but it’s also true for authors seeking readers.) Although I’ve been struggling with this problem for a while, this recent post from Louis Gray really resonated with me:

In essence, the incentives, for the most part, do not tilt in favor of writing unique stories or doing the required research necessary to get a full story, to get quotes from a source, or find data points that back up analysis.

There are going to be pockets of the Web that harbor original ideas, a focus on quality and data, and there are going to be other places where copying, scraping, and shortcuts are going to rule the day.

via louisgray.com: Growing Grumblings on Tech News Don’t Address Incentives.

I run into this problem when, as a researcher, I seek useful analysis on topics I am investigating. Google tends to turn up sources with high “PageRank,” which reflects a certain “wisdom of the crowds” when it comes to breaking stories, but stumbles when looking for more specific content, or insightful analysis. I often have to wade through what Mike Arrington of TechCrunch calls “fast-food content” from content mills of various sorts (including, often, well-known blogs).

As a result, I turn to sources I know (like SSRN or blogs I already know who are not quite on target) and spend inordinate amounts of time painstakingly, manually finding decent sources of information (which usually means big blogs). Usually I miss the odd, insightful posts from “little guy” blogs.

Note that turning up top blogs in niche is not too hard (Alltop is a good place to start). Many of them are quite good (the crowd is good for something), especially for getting the pulse of a niche.

But what happens when you want something beyond the latest and greatest happenings? What about all those little blogs out there that occasionally produce brilliant content, but are never going to compete (and probably aren’t trying to) with TechCrunch (or even louisgray.com)?

Regular journalism (Salon, for example) can be good for this (especially in politics), although the lack of links to sources makes it difficult to use such pieces as launching points for more research. (More academic articles are better for this, but can be long, complex, and specialized.)

Some ideas, thoughts, and sources:

  • I encourage well-known bloggers and big blogs to link to lesser-known, but insightful posts on blogs — even if the small guy is not an up-and-coming, next-big-thing discovery. (It would be great if journalists could do the same, but since traditional news outlets seem unable to move forward to embrace the Web, I don’t hold out much hope for this.)
  • Digg and Reddit can sometimes turn up good content, but this is another case of crowdsourcing not always producing good results. Content that rises tends to fall into certain patterns and appeal to a certain demographic or mindset. Good, but uninteresting-to-the-masses articles tend to get classified with spam.
  • StumbleUpon can be better than Reddit or Digg at allowing niche content, but because it tends to feel random, it’s use for specific research is limited — I’ve never had much luck searching it for useful content.
  • Google (and its competitors) should consider finding a way to “de-rank” content mills in some fashion. (Yes, I know they provide a good deal of revenue via advertising, so perhaps this will never happen.) Meanwhile, Google Blog Search and Google Scholar are useful, if imperfect, tools.
  • Web tools like AllTop and PostRank are useful tools, although both tend to highlight top blogs in a niche, not top posts (which is still very useful).
  • “Bog rolls” are still useful sources, even if their use is dying off, but again tend to turn up niche blogs, not specific content.
  • Academic sources like SSRN, or PubMed, are useful for certain kinds of specific research, but they can be too specialized and too in-depth.

Any other ideas? I’m still looking.

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5 letters to the editor on “Finding the diamonds in the rough in the "blogosphere"

  1. Well, seeing as I found this post through a link on a friend's facebook page, I would go with "ask a friend". If you asked each of your friends/twitter followers/facebook friends to recommend one blog, that wasn't a "big blogger" you would probably discover some new and great sites!

    Kirsten Wright
  2. I assume that you're not finding what you're looking for within university or college websites either and that's why you're interested in scouring the lesser known blogs for quality content. Are many professors or lecturers in your fields of interest blogging, either within or outside the confines of their employers?

    Sources can be a significant problem within blogs, especially smaller ones when the author is presenting more opinion than anything else.

    I think Kirsten Wright has the right idea: "ask a friend". However, I'd do that beyond the confines of your own blog. Message boards, Ning groups, and online communities are still worth looking in as well.

    Mark Dykeman
  3. Good ideas from both of you. Certainly people I know–online or otherwise–are excellent sources, especially in areas I regularly pay attention too (Twitter excels at this, of course). But that tends to be fairly random, too, so it isn't always as useful when looking into specific topics, or topics I don't follow as regularly.

    As to the source issue–I normally look to blogs more for opinion and analysis anyway. They are good for sparking ideas and new directions,

    Thanks for your thoughts!

    Kristopher Nelson
  4. Hi Kris,

    I would love to invite you to check out Thoora.com! 

    I don’t intend this comment to be spammy in anyway but Thoora is a algorithmic curated news service specificially designed to find all the voiced talking about any given story and rank them based on reaction. Because we rely on our algorithm and not an editor we don’t favor top 10 news sources or popular bloggers (even if we do have some favorites out there). 

    I don’t want to clog up your comments with any more of my pitch but if you have any questions please do not hesitate to reach out to me at saul@thoora.com and let me know if we are close to digging up the diamonds for you!

    Saul Colt
    Thoora Evangelist!
    http://www.thoora.com

    saul@thoora.com

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