Techmeme is not Brilliant

Jason Calancanis says “Techmeme is Brilliant“, (bolded on his site for emphasis, I guess – or SEO juice, who really knows). I disagree, but then again, it’s not hard to disagree with someone who claims to have the final, authoritative and officially official definition of Web 3.0.

I really think his definition, while well written and sufficiently non-abrasive, is wrong on it’s face. In his defense of Techmeme, the company that attempts to aggregate “the buzz” in the technology blogspace, into a synopsis that is able to be fit on a single page, Jason states that:

TechMeme’s imperfection is just a magnifacantion of our own imperfections.

<snip>

In the real world some folks get too much attention relative to their ideas, while others with great ideas sometimes get marginalized. The marginalization could be based on them not being popular, their inability to communicate, or any number of reasons–fair and unfair.

<snip >

On TechMeme anyone with a great idea can take the top of the homepage. What the haters don’t realize (or like to forget for their own self-serving, self-loathing reasons) is that before Techmeme the only folks with a voice in technology were those with a print publication for the most part.

<snip>

How anyone could hate on a open system like TechMeme is beyond me. Does the leaderboard change the dynamic? Sure… it’s not a good thing to get folks obsessed with moving up the list

Alright, so Jason has stated his case. Techmeme is not really all that brilliant though. It is not consistent, it does not evaluate story merit effectively, and it is not in the least bit open.

Consistency

Consistency is important in any service that really wants to be seen as authoritative. Arguably, just about all the services that have come about during the period of the semantic web (Web 2.0, mind you) have had basic transparent principles around them. More companies use blogs. More people use Twitter. Folks have become voyeurs using uStream.tvor Kyte.tv.

With Techmeme, there is no transparency. No one is really sure what is happening behind the scenes. No one really understands how stories make it or don’t. No one really knows what weight is calculated into determining authority – not even a little hint. Breaking news from TechCrunch doesn’t make Techmeme while a long tail blogger might get that desirable headline. How does Techmeme work? Why can’t we see how it works? how is buzz determined? Who generates buzz?

Story Evaluation

I alluded to the problem in my post title The Elite 100.

Techmeme does not, as far as I know. There is no way to provide stories for consideration and in fact, selection of stories for headlines is seemingly arbitrary. For instance, my review of FeedBurner some time ago was picked up by Techmeme but another FeedBurner story – the one about Google Reader reporting its stats to FeedBurner – was a huge story everywhere. I was one of only four people who had early access to this story and I broke it before TechCrunch – but TechCrunch got the love. I didn’t get a “œcomment link” on that headline.

From an outside perspective, Techmeme seems wrong. It seems to give arbitrary weight to sources and stories. Without questioning the integrity of Gabe Rivera, Techmeme’s editor, I have to say that the whole thing smells of nepotism. The same elite sources are tapped regularly and sure the argument can be made for authoritative bias. That’s fine if that’s what it is. I expect the New York Times to have a story on Techmeme. They are the New York Times. They are “all the news that’s fit to print” yet the playing field in the internet age has leveled and in so many ways, Techmeme seems to be missing that.

Techmeme is not an Open Platform

I don’t quite understand why Jason calls Techmeme open. In fact, it is not open. Sure, it is theoretically possible to be listed in Techmeme. Sure anyone who is listed could have their moment in the spotlight. However, as alluded to earlier, there is no transparency in the process. There is no way to suggest a story be listed. There is no way to vote a story up or down as in Digg or as in Jason’s previous iteration of Netscape.

If someone can convince me that Techmeme is in fact open in some kind of way that is standards acceptable, then by all means”¦ convince me.

Otherwise, until then, my opinion remains that Techmeme is not in fact brilliant and is in fact a closed system based on arbitrary opinions of a few (if that many) select people. Sorry, Jason.

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Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

One thought on “Techmeme is not Brilliant”

  1. Aaron,
    You raise some excellent points about Techmeme’s methodology, which has never been fully explained. It is ironic that this post about Techmeme made it on to Techmeme. :)

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