Popularity != Authority

Submitted by Blake on Wed, 12/22/2004 - 15:18

I was reading something Seth Wrote via LISfeeds this morning and noticed his link to the Top 100 Technorati. 'Twas there I noticed something I hadn't earlier when I wrote my thoughts on popularity. Technorati calls their Top 100 list "The most authoritative blogs" ranked by the number of sources that link to each blog. My question is, can we say a site is authoritative because it is popular (i.e. linked to heavily)?

This reminds me of journal citations, power laws and impact factors. Things that are cited most often are considered the most useful. But is that the case here? I was looking down the list and noticed a few things. I regularly read, but never link to, 2 of the top 20 blogs, I've never heard of, nor read, 10 of the top 20, and the vast majority of the top 100. No, I should not be the guy in charge of ranking the most important blogs, but I should have, at the very least, seen the site at some point.

There is an implicit assumption made here that a link means something, that it's a vote of confidence, maybe a link of agreement, or admiration or even acknowledgement of knowledge. They add all that up, and call those sites that are linked to most often authoritative. It follows the same theory as Impact Factors, but follows none of the careful, deliberate, well thought out methods. A link is not the same thing as a citation. While a link can help us to determine the popularity of a page, or site, a link should mean little when determining the authoritative powers of any site, it should be simply one piece of the puzzle. Something tells me ranking a SuicideGirl, the NBA, and Evanescence in the top 100 most authoritative blogs in the world means there is a problem with these rankings, or at the very least, we can't call all these sites authoritative. If anything, many of these are the sites that are the most biased and therefore least authoritative sources of information available on the web.

In some ways this list just follows the ratings we see on TV. People are drawn to simple, flashy and shallow, and this list reflects that very well. A list of truly authoritative blogs would first start with some sort of categorization. Political blogs on one list, computer blogs on another, search engine blogs on a third. The authority of each blogs could be based not just on the raw number of links, but rather on a scale more closely resembling PageRank. Many factors need to be considered outside of the idea that link==authority.

Popularity and authority are not the same thing.