TechMeme: It’s Not the Size of the Audience…

    October 10, 2007
    WebProNews Staff

This isn’t a discussion that will necessarily have a neat conclusion – that’s sort of the nature of debate. But A-list bloggers dogpiled on the value, or lack there of, of headlining on TechMeme, and branched out to a more robust discussion about the value of quality (lesser, niche) traffic over the pounding servers get when headlining elsewhere.

The Diggs, Slashdots and BoingBoings of the world send a deluge that quickly washes away, to nutshell the argument, but niche-followers are loyal. On the other hand, what good is a handful of cheerleaders?

Well, that may depend on your motivation for publishing in the first place.

The discussion begins at the Guardian, set in motion by Bobbie Johnson’s musing on the release of last week’s TechMeme Leaderboard, which shows the top 100 online publications appearing on the site. Johnson noted that TechMeme didn’t generate near the traffic of the aforementioned buzz-networks, among others.

He writes:

But for the people who jostle for position on the site’s top 100, what’s the use of being part of an aggregator that aggregates but doesn’t send readers your way?

And so begins the discussion as to whether TechMeme is worth its hype among the A-listers. Robert Scoble calls it "an echo chamber" that sends a fraction of the traffic that Digg sends, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, if you lean Aristotelian in your world view:

I don’t want a big audience. I want a smart audience. So far I’ve gotten exactly that from TechMeme.

Christopher Coulter, who, according to a quick Google search, may be a frequent antagonist to Scoble’s ideas, had no trouble articulating how both sides of the traffic game can be spun:

When traffic low, claim "superior" audiences or "community", when traffic high, claim the trend has finally taken hold, you of course, being the first to know. It’s a great shell con-game — you never lose.

Well, that would be the cynic’s viewpoint. Whether or not bigger is better (and that’s a debate that can go on – crassly – all night), said echo-chamber extended beyond TechMeme as reports of similar trickle-down-traffic experiences came to light.

Nick Carr says:

Techmeme seems a lot bigger than it really is, at least to some of us.

And at TechWag:

We have been on techmeme twice now, and it has driven less than 1% of all traffic to the web site. We may be user generated content web 2.0 heaven, but we are still increasingly reliant on web 1.0 search engines, and the very few top social networking sites. The top referrers to the web site, Google, yahoo, msn, live, and direct, long before we get to Digg, Slashdot, or other sites that tend to send spiky traffic.

Louis Gray qualifies the traffic question at least a little by mentioning how the primary readership following TechMeme are RSS subscribers, thus naturally reducing the traffic.

So, at least among this small niche crew, there seems to be a general agreement that traffic is not the motivator for headlining at TechMeme, reducing it down the aforementioned intimate-gathering versus drunken-massive-orgy debate.

Then what is the value of TechMeme? Well, it could be a case of credibility by association. Dan Blank, Director of Content Strategy & Development for Reed Business Information, comments that TechMeme has a PageRank of 7, therefore passing along some nice authority with its links.

Dave Winer, always the contrarian, adds a little game theory to the mix, by noting TechCrunch’s overwhelming presence on the site:

Since Arrington’s pieces tend to rise to the top of the page, pieces that link to them become more visible (they show up in the Discussion links), and the chances that another blogger is going to point to them go up. All it takes is one or two of those pointers to promote your piece to the top level, and that really boosts your visibility, and now that the Leaderboard is there, it could make that status semi-permanent, creating an even greater incentive to point.

As to whether a bigger audience is better than a smaller audience, that all depends on if you’re publishing for money or for conversation – if it’s the conversation you want, it doesn’t really matter.