On Sunday I was pleased to see that Washington Post staff writer Dan Zak had transcribed my poster in his article on MTV’s Real World filming in DC. So pleased in fact, that I spent about an hour writing and formatting a blog entry about the article.
Fast forward to this afternoon. I decided to go back to the article to see what kind of reaction Dan Zak’s article made on-line. The metrics for ascertaining this information is somewhat straightforward; the more comments the article generates, the larger the reaction. This, however, only gives the basic information of who decided to comment on the Washington Post website. The second metric that can be used to gauge the popularity of an article is to see who is blogging about it.
Since the Washington Post’s print edition does not make it’s way out of the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia to other parts of the United States and the rest of the world, bloggers are an integral part of the Washington Post’s digital distribution model. As a way to track this digital diaspora of off-site responses to an article, the WashingtonPost.com has a link posted in each article that is supposed to show who is blogging about the article you are reading (see red arrow above). This link is managed, err, powered by a third party called Sphere, which is supposed to track instances of when bloggers use the URL of a specific article in their blog entry.
So why wasn’t my blog entry mentioned? Does this third party widget not work as well as it should? Are the 206,000 websites that Sphere.com says are using their product not really getting the best product they thought they were receiving? Or is there some form of censorship that is being employed at the Washington Post to scrub out blogs that the web editors don’t want their readers to see?
In my opinion, I think Sphere.com is not working to the best of it’s theoretical ability. I say this because I would rather not think there is some sort of censorship taking place– but I will not rule that prospect out. In my original blog entry I made sure that I hyperlinked to the article, used the entire name of the article, included the name of the author, and I even sent a trackback to the URL on the WashingtonPost.com. Combined together, all of these factors should have put my entry in the “Who’s Blogging” listing. But, alas, its not.
This has some important implications. First and foremost, the author of the article is not able to fully see the extent to which his article was covered on-line. His boss might incorrectly assume by reading the Sphere.com information that the article had minimal on-line reaction and possibly make future editorial decisions based on this partial & incomplete information. Secondly, WashingtonPost.com readers are unable to see other opinions about the article. Instead they are only offered the opinions written by other WashingtonPost.com readers (which I’ve griped about before) and not writers who have their own established blog and dedicated readership. Lastly, since I was not given credit for writing the sign transcribed in the article, I was further excluded from receiving any residual credit, and the WashingtonPost.com readers were never informed of why the sign was put up in the first place.
In conclusion, I hope the WashingtonPost.com and/or Sphere.com fix this widget or refrain from this type of subtle censorship. This exclusion of other viewpoints only hurts their readership and stifles subsequent information discovery. My opinions are just as valid as those expressed by the commenters on WashingtonPost.com and its disingenuous to present a link that appears to give accurate information about who is blogging about an article, when it’s clearly not showing all the bloggers who took the time to participate in the discussion.
Hey there Nikolas. I say we assume Sphere sucks. I found your blog post because I have an RSS search for my name in my Google reader — If someone is writing about my work, I want to know and be able to respond. I certainly don’t rely on the Sphere widget, which barely picks up anything. I haven’t checked this out, but I will nevertheless posit that Post Web management is not censoring the blogger filter. They’d have no reason to. We need all the hits and bouncebacks and chatter we can get.
Thanks for actually linking to my story, and to washingtonpost.com. And it was intriguing to know that you had posted eight signs — not just one. I’m glad I caught the sign; for me, it was very important to the story.
Comment by Dan Zak — 8/18/2009 @ 10:58 pm
This confirms my theory that every Journalist (with a capital J mind you) is such an e-narcissist that all you have to do in order to catch their attention is blog about them with the proper keywords…
Comment by UPSET THE SETUP — 8/18/2009 @ 11:54 pm
Nik, the CSS with the strikethrough for the visited text doesnt make sense from a usability perspective. just saying.
I do like the old school ANSI BBS thme you got going on.
Comment by UPSET THE SETUP — 8/18/2009 @ 11:55 pm
Thanx for the constructive feedback.
I have changed some of the CSS to address your comments ;-)
Comment by Nikolas Schiller — 8/19/2009 @ 12:10 am
Thank you so much for your response. It really means a lot. I, too, have Google Alerts set up for roughly the same reason as you (did you know that it is language specific though? As in, it only picks up English language responses unless you set it up for other languages). There was a message sent to the on-line staff at the WashingtonPost.com this afternoon, so I hope something comes of this observation. And while I have been censored in the past, not on the Washington Post perse, I agree with you that the paper needs all the hits, bouncebacks, trackbacks, pings, etc. as possible. Also, I am really glad the sign was important for you because the topic of the sign is very important to me! There were actually 10 put up, but a couple have been taken down over the last month. Nonetheless, please keep doing what you are doing, because I enjoy it.
Comment by Nikolas Schiller — 8/18/2009 @ 11:32 pm