oh, the homogeneity!

No, this isn’t my post on the Sandbox competition results. That’s probably coming, though. (It’s going to involve the word ‘paradigm’. Be warned.) No, this is about Automattic’s latest attempt to tell us how to categorise our posts.

You know, when I look at the most popular tags on the front page, I don’t see ‘Cars’ or ‘Business’. I see ‘Music’. I see ‘Books’. I see ‘Food’. Apparently Automattic don’t see these topics, or think they are important enough to merit their own ‘department’, and would prefer for us to tag such posts as ‘Entertainment’ (books are entertaining, right? along with music and tv and movies and celebrity gossip and games and concerts and theatre and I don’t know, did I miss anything that can’t be shoved under that header so as to further deprive the tag system of any usefulness?). Or ‘Family’, presumably, for ‘Food’, because, you know, families eat. Obviously too many people are writing about music already. We need to encourage them to write about cars.

I was puzzled by this for approximately thirty seconds before I realised that a post on ‘Cars’, linked from the front page so as to capture some of that random traffic from the cookie-free masses, is going to have higher paying ads than one tagged ‘Art’.

Just as every wordpress-related decision nowadays is made in the interests of wordpress.com, so every wordpress.com-related decision is made in the interests of increasing revenue. There is nothing wrong with this, of course. They’re a business. Making money is their job, and if they can’t do it properly then all of us on wordpress.com are screwed. So it’s in everyone’s interests to make this look like a place where middle-class American men chunter on about cars and finance and technology, rather than one where people chat about unprofitable things like culture.

Allow me another thirty seconds in which to be depressed by this, please, before moving on?

29 Comments »

  1. sunburntkamel said

    surely automattic also can’t condone the ‘Music’ tag, since it’s closely associated with the ‘MP3’ tag, and if a post featuring a leaked M.I.A. (or whoever) track made it to the front page, they might be liable for a couple of those 6-figure DMCA lawsuits.
    further rambling on the subject.

  2. Andrea said

    At least they admit it’s weak and haphazard. (but still, depressing.)

  3. Root said

    You obviously notice the complete lack of stuff that women, minorities, and foreigners might be interested in. Do you see *Relationships*? *Food*? *Iraq*? *UK Premier Division Football (Soccer) * ? No way.

  4. Also, why do featured blogs have to be family-friendly and not use bad words when, officially, there is nobody on wordpress.com under the age of 13?

    Oh yeah, advertisers. Again.

  5. Andy said

    Thanks for the suggestions — as I said, the departments aren’t set in stone. We couldn’t possibly expect to get it right the first time.🙂

  6. Root said

    Departments aren’t set in stone? You are kidding. You are just apeing every other media model. Real life isn’t put into categories. Unless you are like the Wall Street Journal or something.

  7. We couldn’t possibly expect to get it right the first time.

    Personally I would have started with actually looking at the most commonly-used tags, rather than thinking ‘hmm, which tags would we like to be commonly-used’?

  8. Andy said

    Departments aren’t set in stone yet. Some unreleased features of the News system require a fairly static set of departments, so we had to start with a list and run with it. Expect at least two feedback-driven iterations before we fire up the litho. Then we’ll really be apeing.

    Many of the most popular tags seemed too overarching or nebulous for use as Departments: Life, News, Thoughts, Personal, Random. We decided to control the department names rather than rely on mob folksonomy. Then again, many of us will never use appropriate categories and thus never be featured. Example: my personal blog.

    What we’re doing now to fill out the departments—we include posts with related tags in the rankings, e.g. the Entertainment list includes posts tagged Books, Movies, Music, and others—may become the more usual way for posts to be featured. We will probably publish these related tags and they won’t have to be set in stone.

    Hopefully we will open up the system for user-generated queries so you could rank all recent public posts tagged “wank” or whatever. Those queries are currently very expensive but it’s something I want to do.

    The new taxonomy system will be merged into WordPress.com soon and you’ll have separate Categories and Tags. I don’t know how that will change the departments but we’ll try to make good use of both.

    To dispel your theory about the “cookie-free masses” being funneled into high-paying ad zones, I ask you to test it yourself. Disable cookies and click from the front page to any blog. You won’t see ads that way. You’re crying unsubstantiated wolf again.

    And thanks for providing the strong counterpoint, as always. Composing comments on your posts is often very productive in terms of ripening ideas.

  9. We decided to control the department names rather than rely on mob folksonomy.

    Oh, so now we’re a mob who don’t know what’s best for us? See, this is the fundamental problem with web 2.0. It’s very easy to spout off about the wisdom of crowds, and no doubt it’s the kind of trendy forward-looking thing that investors like to hear, but to put it into practice you have to suspend your own control-freak tendencies. Geeks find that really, really hard. They can talk the talk, but they can’t walk the walk.

    The new taxonomy system will be merged into WordPress.com soon and you’ll have separate Categories and Tags

    So you’re finally admitting they’re not the same thing and the current implementation is a fudge? Good to know.

    If you stop hooking categories into the global tags system, I might be persuaded to use relevant tags. Categories = internal, tags = external. (I don’t care whether you count legacy categories as categories or tags. Whatever’s easiest for you. Old posts won’t be showing up in tag searches anyway.) You need a clear distinction between the two or there’s no point having a dual system; people will want to know the difference and you’ll look pretty stupid saying ‘um, there isn’t one’. But you probably know that already.

  10. Root said

    I have to say frankly: This sucks. And WW is right on the money. You have just freakin integrated cats and tags on com as you have in 2.3 alpha. And now for your investors you reverse yourselves and refer to the biggest breakthrough in net info marking as *mob folksonomy*. Jeez. The content of the blogs on com – get this – belongs to the freakin author. Not to bloody Autocrattic.

  11. Go Wank! said

    Hey Wank,

    Just wondering if you were going to comment on how wordpress staff just noticed this morning that the comment count wasn’t correct, an issue that’s been known and reported of eons?

    http://en.forums.wordpress.com/topic.php?id=14358

    Past accounts:

    http://en.forums.wordpress.com/topic.php?id=2396

    and others

  12. Root said

    Traditionally this type of disconnect has always been met with a response in the *did you report a bug to the trac?* or similar. This fails to take into account that thousands of bloggers are capable of articulating a bork on their blogs but could not find their way to the trac, and have no interest in doing so. Consequently the constant user feedback the forums generate is often unharvested. For com users of course there is no trac.
    So the is a lacuna anyway.

  13. sunburntkamel said

    i do love the “cars” tag on this post😀

  14. […] so if "You won’t see ads that way" then WHISKEY-TANGO-FOXTROT (3 times) you are sending people out […]

  15. I wondered when someone would take note of that tag and even guessed that it would be you who did sbk … lol😀

  16. options said

    there (and on the ‘apology’) is supposed to be a pingback from “mob folksonomy” isn’t going anywhere new as well.

    weird glitch, might be caused by messed timestamp in that post, sorry.

  17. Comments on Global Tags Are Mess

    what I am actually concern
    with is the fact that GT in
    its current implementation
    breaks WP.com’s blogs
    navigation (and therefore
    usability) even more than it
    was. the whole buzz
    around GT is actually just
    on the modest line located
    in the pos…

  18. Andy said

    By “mob folksonomy” I refer to the several popular categories which have no semantic value in aggregate and thus would make terrible news departments, e.g.:
    Blogging
    Life
    News
    Personal
    Random
    Thoughts
    Writing

    You make some pretty wild assumptions about the character of someone who generally does nice things for you.

  19. Root said

    That is the point. The way people collate their own thoughts into tags does not aggregate into good news departments. That is because the folk writing are bloggers not journalists.

  20. Andy said

    No, Root, the point is that a lot of people do categorize their posts in meaningful ways and the News Departments reward bloggers for that kind of social behavior while helping readers find what interests them.

    We further helped bloggers by telling them how to get featured and how not to get featured so they can work toward whatever they prefer.

    And for those who for whatever reason don’t use these categories, there will always be the original BOTD rankings which disregard categories and which, incidentally, powers the top featured post (the one with the excerpt and the 128px avatar) which changes around 50 times a day.

    Did you think that just because a category has a lot of posts (that is the driving force behind the front page tag cloud) it will be interesting to passers-by? That is obviously not an accurate mapping.

    Until I discover the golden Interestingness algorithm for post categories, we will publish what we think are interesting departments and learn from that. Food turned out to be a very nice addition. Music and Books are already included in Entertainment but they may graduate to full-fledged departments.

    You usually have your tongue clearly planted in your cheek when you’re kidding but it looks like you seriously believe I have done pure evil. Although you sometimes have something constructive to say, on this issue it’s nothing but bad spin and not one suggestion offered. You might as well just ask me to stop listening to you.

  21. I don’t know, there’s just something that doesn’t sit very well with me about ‘rewarding’ conformity to Automattic’s model of the ideal blogger (use the same tags as everyone else, use the tags suggested to you by Automattic, don’t swear, don’t write about sex, in fact don’t write about your personal life at all, blog about cars instead) and presenting those who play by the rules as representative of your entire site.

    I mean, it makes commercial sense: personal journallers are a pain to deal with because they’re so emotionally invested in their blogs (as well as having zero ‘semantic value’), so you’re better off discouraging them from signing up and appealing to niche bloggers who are going to pull in more traffic and buy more upgrades. If you become known as a home for serious bloggers rather than random girls writing about their cats, that’s great. Somewhere needs to be that place. It might as well be here.

    OK, so it all seems a bit corporate, and soulless, and the complete antithesis of what blogging was originally about. You know, like writing about whatever the hell you want without approval from a higher authority. (I know you’re not stopping people from blogging about their cats, but refusing to validate the tags they use or showcase their posts on the front page is certainly discouraging them).

    But I can’t really object that much. Like I said, it makes a lot of sense from a business perspective and it’s not like there aren’t alternative homes for those who don’t like the direction you’re taking. Personally, though, I will continue to use whacked-out tags like ‘kicking baby squirrels’ and ‘i must not blog about habari’, because they’re mine and I like them. Bloggers can be awkward like that.

  22. Oh, and… people do not go to blog hosts for news. They go to news sites for news. Or individual blogs, if they’re that determined to avoid MSM. But the front page of wordpress.com? No.

  23. Root said

    Andy I am sure you are a very nice guy. You also must be awesome technically. But somehow there seems to be something about our angst that you can’t comprehend.
    No one thinks anyone has done anything evil. But to see such a fine enterprise sliding into corporate blandness is really sad. What is sinister is to be setting about subtly altering the way people approach their own content by *rewarding them* if they behave in a certain way. As Sbk has recently pointed out Freedom of Speech can not exist on the net as all the net drivers are in private or Government hands. I guess naively – some of us hoped that the fine folk of your generation would be more alive to these issues than you seem. This may seem an imperceptible and thus trivial thing to you. But it is a very slippery slope. It is the beginning of a relationship which says *You blog for free – we own and control your content*. Now to most sane people that is worrying.

  24. Andy said

    Your angst is not incomprehensible, Root. The burgeoning News system has struck a nerve because it seems to you that we’re emulating Big News, the opposite of blogging. I want to inform your perspective. I want you to know the true purpose and direction of our News Departments so that you don’t have to invent something that bleeds and will lead.

    The slope I’m trying to get people to slide down with News, which needs all the lubrication we can muster, is to entice readers to spend less time at the mainstream, party-line, media conglomerate-owned news outlets and more time considering what the unfettered journalists, i.e. bloggers, have written.

    If you think that inducing some semantic regularity in the global categories, hoping to make navigable the tumultuous seas and vast doldrums of WordPress.com, moves us in the direction of centrally controlled content, you are inspecting the wrong end of the gift horse. It is a direct blow against centrally controlled journalism because it gives them competition without sacrificing the free voices of the bloggers.

    To that end, we will be updating and expanding the categories and subcategories in the hopes that most everyone will have a shot at the limelight. But giving out free PR8 links and distributing visitors “to each according to his need” was never the point of the front page.

    As I see it, the front page is for two things: encouraging people to read blogs and making new bloggers. You, because you are already blogging here, can only be tapped for the first purpose. We try to inspire every visitor to start their own blog and we do that by featuring what we hope are the most interesting blogs. A great deal of community growth comes from this feedback loop.

    Part of what gave the News Departments their start is that other big sites have noticed the Top Posts and asked us to feed them the best stuff in certain established categories. That translates into more [topic] readers being funneled from other [topic] sites into our most interesting [topic] posts. The greatest difficulty in doing this stems from the fact that we don’t have the resources to do semantic content analysis and that bloggers rarely categorized their posts in ways that would help us generate these semantically grouped lists. Asking sports bloggers to use the Sports category, or the more specific Baseball category (which works as well), is a very small request with a very big payoff for the blogger. It’s not about penalizing anybody or telling them not to blog unless it’s about big topics. It’s about increasing the readership pool. In case you didn’t notice, the quality and diversity of featured items has risen dramatically since I published that post. And no, those feeds are not exclusively available to paying partners. In fact, if you’re clever you can find them right now.

    The fact that we seek money in order to keep the site running should not alarm you. Our revenue models are designed to be unobtrusive to bloggers and visitors alike. We’ll never be perfect but we do listen and improve and we always hold bloggers in mind. If you had found any other reliable company providing a service as good as ours, I don’t think you’d be here.

    Now can I please get back to improving things?🙂

  25. sunburntkamel said

    other big sites have noticed the Top Posts and asked us to feed them the best stuff in certain established categories

    interesting.

    as you’ve said, nearly the entire audience of the wp.com blog (existing wp.com users) can only be tapped for reading, so it makes the post relatively worthless. such a thing would be better suited to the FAQ, or a likely-unread subpage of “features”.

    point being, admonishing existing writers to write in more popular categories is disenfranchising. writing an FAQ about “if you want to be on the front page, here are the tags you should use” is less abrasive. (on said page you could even detail which subcategories are fed into the major categories, which would make your chosen few categories less divisive still).

  26. Root said

    Well I am not *here*. I run a test blog on com but it isn’t serious. I left *here* a long time ago. About the time everyone stopped pretending they were listening. Which was about the same time they started packing the CSS into the php files. A practise incidentally that is now spreading. I am interested in a curious way as to how WP develops. And it certainly gives us plenty to bitch about. But as a serious blogging platform? Forget it.

  27. Alan said

    I don’t think WP.com could ever pass as a ‘serious blogging platform’. It may be used by serious bloggers, but it’s payment plans and it’s options for customisation are weak, at best. Charging to change your CSS? You can do it for free at Blogspot. You can change your entire layout at blogspot. Domain mapping? Again, Blogspot publishes to external sites, domain or no domain, keeping you in control of the DNS, for free. When an ancient (in internet terms) site like Blogspot can give these things for free and WP.com can’t (and while I’m aware this is a software issue, but by way of example), you can hardly classify it as a ‘serious blogging platform’.

    I would venture to say that TypePad is the only blogging host that passes as professional, as it’s a payed venture that presents you with your options up front, and encourages ‘serious’ posts just by its atmosphere, while at the same time not stifling regular everyday content about girls and their cats. It’s tiered plans can get expensive fast, but they don’t hide them away in a page on the dashboard, where you can only see the prices you’re being hit with after signing up. The transparency is what makes it more respectable, and the fact WP.com lacks a lot of transparency is what makes it and its ‘upgrades’ seem almost seedy, and back alley. From the almost hidden, barely mentioned ads to the fact that WP.com charges for seemingly small, basic things that other free hosts have had forever, doesn’t make WP.com seem serious, just more of a, well…

    Closed, profit focussed corporation.

  28. We try to inspire every visitor to start their own blog and we do that by featuring what we hope are the most interesting blogs

    And my point remains: the kind of blogs you define as ‘most interesting’ will be the kind of blogs that visitors are inspired to create. It remains an effort to shape your userbase for maximum profitability, which you are absolutely entitled to do. I just wonder whether userbases are that easy to shape. Little clusters of weirdness have a habit of forming where least expected: ‘club-penguin’ is quite a busy tag, isn’t it, considering that under-13s don’t officially exist here?

    (And then of course there’s the non-English speakers. I bet Google wasn’t expecting Orkut to be populated by Brazilians, nor Livejournal its influx of Russian-speakers.)

    In short, I’m not entirely comfortable with what you’re trying to do, but it doesn’t matter because I think it’s doomed to failure anyway. The percentage of bloggers interested in being your ideal user is just too small. The reason the ‘mob’ has chosen the meaningless tags it has is because the mob wants to write about its life, and life is not particularly easy to categorise. Or monetise, for that matter.

    https://wank.wordpress.com/files/2007/08/lolcatblogging.png [because although there is an ‘img’ quicktag on the comments editor, images still get filtered and I would like to know wtf is up with that, please? why are you giving us buttons we cannot use?]

    (hopes there is not yet an equivalent of Godwin’s law covering cat macros)

  29. drmike said

    I just had a good chuckle with the News links on the front page. One link leads to a post with nudity while another leads to a spam blog with nothing but offsite links.

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