Are Bloggers Being Gamed? – Fixing the Technorati Favorites Feature
Darren and Amit both recently wrote some criticisms about how bloggers have been doing Technorati Favorites exchange memes and how it is changing the landscape of the Top 100 Favorites list. (Darren comes in with further clarification as I type this.) Dosh Dosh wrote an insightful response that I feel covers all the issues, but I’ll throw in my $0.02, if only because I have a pocket full of loose change.
If you don’t blog, you probably want to skip this post as it is a hardcore geek out.
Technorati has two top 100 lists, the Top 100 Most Favorited list and the Top 100 Most Linked list. The Most Linked list where your Technorati rank comes from. It is reputable and hard to get on. The Most Favorited list is mostly a joke, and has been for a long time. You need around 3,000 blog links in a six month period to reach the Top 100 Most Linked list but only 200 favorites from all time to reach the Top 100 Most Favorited list.
Amit of Digital Inspiration says something that I have to respectfully disagree with:
By swapping Technorati votes, you [...] displace the legitimate members of the Technorati list
— Digital Inspiration
I disagree very strongly that the Technorati Top 100 Most Favorited list was some kind of legitimate list before the exchanges started. Out of 75.4 million blogs, there are 15 million active blogs. If you can get on a “top 100 blogs” list with the participation of less than 0.00001% of the potential votes then it isn’t a legitimate list to start with. 
Can you imagine an election passing with that low of a voter turn out? The population of Canada is 30 million people. Would it be a legitimate election if only 3000 people turned out at the polls? (Hey, sometimes it’s too cold to go outside.) The Top 100 Most Favorited list has never been a legitimate indication of the “most favorite” blogs; there isn’t enough people using it.
One issue that has been glossed over is…
Why does the Technorati Favorites feature exist?
It exists for the same reason that Technorati Rank exists, and Technorati Tags, and Technorati WTF… it’s a way for Technorati to convince bloggers to promote Technorati. There is no strong incentive for Technorati users to use the favorites feature on their own, so bloggers have to use the buttons and widgets Technorati provides to promote “Add Me To Your Technorati Favorites” . Instead of Technorati giving people a useful reason to use the service, the onus is on bloggers to promote the Technorati service in hopes people will favorite them so they can climb the list.
Someone is being gamed, but it’s not Technorati. It’s the bloggers investing time and energy into features with little or no return on investment.
What is the Technorati Favorites feature good for?
Favorites may not be the best name. If you judge the feature by how people can use it, it would have been better to call it “bookmark my blog on Technorati” (which is how I’ve always called it on my subscription options page).
- Listing the latest posts from your favorites when you log on to Technorati.
- It makes a great extension to your regular RSS subscriptions for the blogs you don’t read all the time.
- Searching within your favorites — creating custom search engines.
- Technorati favorites is by far the easiest way to create custom blog search engines, even easier than using a Google Custom Search Engine. Unfortunately you are limited to only one custom search (all of your favorite blogs) per Technorati user account.
- Bookmarking blogs with a rich set of OPML tools.
- Technorati favorites has a nice set of tools for importing and exporting OPML files. It makes it one of the best tools for bookmarking blogs.
- Displaying aggregated latest posts from your favorites using an RSS feed or a widget.
- You can put the latest posts from your favorited blogs into your sidebar. You can even filter this by specific tags.
All of these reasons to use “favorites” are very technical, and do not have much value for the casual blogger. If you asked me what Technorati favorites were good for a month ago I wouldn’t have been able to mention anything other than the Top 100 list. A large part of the reason why the various “Technorati Favorites Exchange” memes took off is because they filled a vacuum — giving casual users a reason to use the Technorati Favorites feature.
Fixing the Technorati Favorites
The Technorati Experiment was a resounding success and the top 100 most favorited list has several people who participated. Now what to do about the aftermath?
1. Get rid of the Top 100 Most Favorited List
Like I said in my first post on the subject, metrics like the Top 100 Lists create artificial goals and encourage negative behaviour in attempts to get on the list. It’s the way human psychology works. The top 100 most favorite list is also the *only* feature on Technorati that can be gamed by favorite exchanges — every other benefit from favoriting a blog is personal to that user account. Kill this artificial list and then it doesn’t matter how other people use the favorites list.
2. Put a limit on the number of blogs a person can favorite.
This is a bad idea, and I’m only suggesting it to nip it in the bud. It would encourage more fake accounts on Technorati, like how Profile Pitstop reached the top 10 favorites. It would also negatively impact the way Technorati favorites can be used as a custom search engine or for OPML tools.
3. Put a time-window on the Most Favorited list.
The Most Linked list only counts links in the last six months, why shouldn’t the most favorited list work the same way?
Any statistical blips would disappear with time. It would also make blog age less of a contributing factor. As things stand, newer blogs have to work much harder to even meet the same number of favorites as older blogs.
4. Don’t show a blog below a certain Technorati Rank.
(IE: don’t show blogs on the Most Favorited lsit below rank 10,000, or 5,000, or 1,000, etc)
This runs the risk of making the Top 100 Most Favorited into a mirror of the Top 100 Most Linked list… if the lists were supposed to be the same then why are there two lists? It also would encourage people who have a high Technorati rank, but not in the top 100 to game the top favorited list.
(My answer is that I don’t think there should be two lists and most favorited should be dropped.)
5. Fix the Favorited-By list.
You can’t see beyond the first 100 people to favorite your blog because of a bug in Technorati. It makes it hard to check out the people who favorited you. (IE: 110-119 is the same as 120-129 and so on).
6. Fix viewing Favorites from the Technorati website.
If you have more than a small number of favorites then you aren’t able to see posts from any of your low authority favorites, only the higher authority favorites.
7. Give people more reasons to use Technorati Favorites.
One problem that Technorati’s Top 100 Favorited list certainly suffers from is the lack of reward for users to “tag” their favorite blogs. Doing so provides no value to the user, it doesn’t create a watchlist or add it to a Technorati Feed. You can download a nifty toolbar that lets you favorite blogs across the web and once on your favorites page, you can organize these, but the fun basically stops there. – SEOmoz
This is the crux of the issue: if the favorites feature was widely used then it wouldn’t be possible for such a small number of people to game the results. They’d be a statistical blip, not the norm. Maybe it’s a because I work in high tech, but when a user doesn’t use something the way it was intended, I usually blame the technology for being able to be misused.
Should I have called the 57,000 people who reached my blog to find help with this Windows feature stupid cheaters for using the feature in way other than the spirit of how it was intended? I’d rather blame the technology than the user. 
Cool New Features for Technorati Favorites
If finding a way to encourage casual users to use the Technorati favorites feature was easy, then something like the Technorati Favorites Experiment would have never been able to take off. Here are a couple of ideas I’ve had about how it can be enhanced.
1. Highlight search results from your favorites.
I can search within my favorites, but when I’m doing a normal search why not highlight blogs I’ve already favorited? While you’re at it change the default from “any authority” to “a little authority” — it would go a long way to making Technorati search more useful.
2. Search within tagged favorite blogs.
This would let people create multiple custom search engines using different tags, and kill the only legitimate reason I can think of for having multiple Technorati accounts.
3. Recommended Blogs.
It would be a much more useful replacement of the Top 100 Most Favorited blogs. Let me know that people who like Joel on Software also like Coding Horror and Worse Than Failure.
4. Create a Friends List feature.
Reciprocal favoriting has been the *only* reason why users have mass embraced the favorites feature. It seems to me that Technorati users want to link reciprocally more than they want to bookmark blogs. Why not have a Technorati Friends feature?
5. Promote the favorites feature.
I’m very happy to see that one of the changes that happened since the Technorati Favorites Experiment started was a nice big “add favorites” box showing up on the Technorati front page. We need more things like that. Or is it up to bloggers to promote Technorati’s features for them?
- To further de-legitimize the Top 100 Favorited List, there are sites on it like Profile Pitstop who got into the top 10 favorites quite a while back by creating fake accounts on Technorati. No one has reported it as spam.
- Not entirely true, some blogs are favorited when people import their RSS feeds into their favorite blogs. If the autodiscovery feed for your blog doesn’t match the feed people subscribe to (like me because I use wordpress.com + feedburner) then this can never happen.
- Unless it’s a family member. Then it’s their fault. :)