The Independent View: What’s up with Wikio?

This month there has been an earthquake in the Wikio Political Blog Rankings Top 50; almost a third of the sites have moved by more than 20 places, and roughly another fifth by more than 10 places. There are plenty of new entrants, and quite a number of sites seem to have simply “tanked” in this list.

Mark Pack asked if there had been a change in the algorithm this month, so I’ve done this guest post. The answer is that yes, the algorithm has been “tweaked”, in Wikio’s words. The main tweak seems to be that a greater weight has been given to Twitter links in the calculation of “Wikio Score”. So far, this Twitter weighting has not been reflected in commentary on the rankings on political blogs.

I’ve been the “consultant” (i.e., unpaid host, but I get a link on the home page) for the Wikio Political Blog Rankings for the last 18 months or so, in a role designed to help Wikio keep in touch with the political niche.

These are my thoughts on the November rankings.

What has changed

I see four trends in this list:

A new political landscape brought in by the election working through to the blogosphere.

A rise in blogs which are prominently and regularly “retweeted”. For reasons explained below, I think the main trend here has been a long term (18 month) development of an increased left presence on Twitter, which has been made visible now by the changes to the way the ranks are calculated.

A falling away of individual blogs, particularly on the right (eg Tim Worstall, Dizzy Thinks, Old Holborn and other ‘libertarians‘, and others), with certain exceptions, particurly on the left (eg Jack of Kent, Bloggerheads, Tom Watson). For a couple of those exceptions, the jump can be traced to a ‘good month’ or particular stories.

An increased presence media blogs in the list. Personally, I’m not particularly keen on this, as I support independent commentary.

Is this a “changing of the guard”?

That is a question from Socialist Unity, and also Left Foot Forward, and also raised by Caron.

In short, yes it is, but in this case the impact of political changes has been magnified by changes in the method of calculation. The change is real, but it is perhaps not quite as big as it looks.

It remains to be seen whether a “re-tweak” next month, or a change of online strategy by any sites which have fallen down the rankings, will cause a move in the other direction.

History

It is useful here to remember something of the development of use of Twitter amongst UK Political Bloggers, and in UK Politics.

Twitter is now established, despite occasional outbursts by columnists with space to fill (these are both from 2009). One of the more serious earlier political uses of Twitter was back in 2008 by the Sokwanele Group to monitor violence in the Zimbabwe Elections in the spring of that year.

Amongst UK political twitter users, the stand out early examples of twittering MPs were probably Tom Watson, who made extensive use of the service for consultation in his role as a Minister, and Lynne Featherstone. They both adopted Twitter in early 2008, and innovated in the way they used Twitter, in addition to being early adopters.

Amongst the Tech community, Twitter was adopted earlier. For example, I had my account from around March 2007, but I didn’t spot the potential of Twitter for politics until roughly a year later; others did spot that potential, and used Twitter throughout.

Over the last 18 months, there has at been a trend on the left, especially by sites with significant numbers of contributors, to use Twitter collectively. I’d identify both Liberal Conspiracy and Left Foot as exemplars. I could date that trend to the ‘appointment’ of Kerry McCarthy as ‘Twitter Csar’ in April 2009, but equally to the deliberate and targetted use of Twitter by Derek Draper in the early days of Labour List; they seem to have learnt the necessary lessons over time.

Does this matter?

A ranking itself, and how that ranking is calculated, does not matter. It does become important when the value attributed to a particular list is over estimated, or misinterpreted, or overused for political penis size competitions.

People. perhaps especially media people looking for quick summaries, use rankings as a way of making assessments and/or judging value and so when a ranking become established as an “authority”, there are arguments about it. But Wikio ranks are just one way of doing that amongst many, from “what’s been LibDigg-ed” to “what does Dr Pack recommend on his blogroll”.

One benefit of the Wikio rankings over the last couple of years has been that there have not been many arguments about them. They are an assessments of popularity by links from other blogs, which roughly reflect prominence of sites, and provide a good route for people to find blogs about politics from a range of viewpoints.

The rankings have changed enough to remove inactive blogs, and allow new ones which are popular to come to prominence over a few months. There were weaknesses – the top three or four positions seemed to be fixed with superglue, and some prominent sites (eg Slugger O’ Toole) never appeared near the top.

But by comparison with 2007 or 2008, when there were interminable arguments about “traffic”, and who was or was not counting it accurately, it worked.

Now there is a greater Twitter element in the algorithm, the balance of advantages and disadvantages will shift. The listing may be more volatile, but will perhaps introduce a wider range of new sites. It may be more manipulable, but it may reflect a prominence over days or weeks, rather than months. The jury is out, but the environment has certainly changed.

Do I need to make any changes myself?

That depends on one factor: how important are these rankings for *you*?

Does your site need to be in the Top 10, or 20, or 100, in the Wikio list, which in turn depends on who uses the list, and what they use it for. Are you in the right Wikio list – there are almost 30 categories. Politics is competitive, so perhaps you can focus on a different aspect of your writing?

If so, then you may reconsider your approach to your site, and how you promote it, to achieve your objective.

The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.

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This entry was posted in Online politics, Op-eds and The Independent View.
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