One could say many things about blog-tracker Technorati and its founder, David Sifry, but the worst charge, I think, to make, is that he helped popularize a delusion particularly congenial to the self-involved world of the Valley: That links to your website somehow matter more than traffic. A newly hired CEO may fix the business, but he's unlikely to repair the damage that idea has wrought. Now, Techmeme has launched a similar tracking service, the Techmeme Leaderboard, that will surely make things worse.
Unlike Technorati, which tracked the entire blogosphere, Techmeme only tracks a limited set of tech-centered blogs. And make no mistake, all the tech blogs, Valleywag fully included, scramble for top position in any discussion that appears there. (Techmeme differs from most other memetrackers by presenting stories in clusters, highlighting the original story that generates the most blog discussion, and secondarily listing the blogs that link to it.)
The result? The top of Techmeme's Leaderboard lists TechCrunch, a tech blog which enjoys a surfeit of attention from sycophantic entrepreneur-bloggers. And why are they linking to the site? Some may genuinely enjoy it, but I'd argue that most of them are hoping to get TechCrunch editor's Michael Arrington for their startups by linking to his posts. It's a smart strategy, on both Arrington's part and the entrepreneurs'. And Techmeme, founded by Gabe Rivera, who used to crash on Arrington's couch, merely serves to complete the circle. (It should come as no surprise that Arrington himself broke the story of Techmeme's new feature.)
But does anyone believe, for a moment, that TechCrunch is somehow more important than Engadget or the New York Times, the No. 2 and No. 3 news sources on Techmeme's list? It's not, of course. Nor is it better read — not by a long shot.
Techmeme itself enjoys an exceedingly small, if devoted audience. Most of its readers, I believe, are tech bloggers like me, who read it more to check the rankings than to discover news. I love Techmeme, but I also recognize that it's not a big source of traffic.
So why all the fuss about Techmeme's new top-blogs list? By ranking blogs on links, not traffic, it reinforces the founding myth of Technorati: It's not who reads you, it's who blogs you that matters. And by limiting itself to tech blogs, Techmeme confirms most tech bloggers' sheltered worldview. Why pay attention to the world outside, or cater to mainstream readers' interests? The only people worth caring about are the ones already on your blogroll.