On Blogrolls — the Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Blogroll is an old concept, but in today’s world, they aren’t always a synonym of positive vibe.

On Blogrolls — the Good, the Bad & the Ugly
Image generated with ChatGPT

Here’s a more personal blog post than usual. It’s about blogrolls and my mental health. But before jumping into that, and in case you don’t know what blogrolls are, here is a definition coming right from ChatGPT:

Blogrolls are like shoutouts to other blogs within a blog. Back in the day, when personal blogs were super popular, bloggers used to have this section, usually on the sidebar, where they'd list their favourite blogs or sites. It was an excellent way to discover new content and show some love to fellow bloggers. Think of it as a blogger saying, "Hey, check these out; I think they're cool." It's less common now with social media and all, but some folks still keep the tradition alive.

Dave Winer wrote:

Blogrolls were a common feature in early websites. A list of blogs you follow. A checklist of places to look at. Advertising our web friendships. Blogrolls were the beginning of today's social web.

Social networks mostly killed blogging and, with it, blogrolls. But the trend might be reversing. So, yeah, blogrolls are making a comeback. And they make me feel anxious. But why, you might ask? Well, let me tell you why.

One last thing before going to the next section: I find Dave Winer’s blogroll interesting because the recommendations list is sorted by the last publication date for each entry. It's a useful twist to this old concept.

Dave Winer’s blogrolls announcement
Dave Winer’s blogrolls announcement

Blogrolls and Micro.blog

Micro.blog recently added a blogroll feature, which I quickly adopted and started to populate with my “Hey, check these out; I think they’re cool” entries. It was an exciting and unexpected addition to Micro.blog. I think nobody really expected blogroll support to come to Micro.blog, but it was super well received by the user community. After all, it makes sense for Micro.blog to adopt such a landmark feature of what was so prevalent in the golden day of blogging, right?

So, other Micro.blog users quickly joined the movement. It was fun to see people sharing their new blogroll one after the other. Until it wasn’t. The first blogroll that I read was Manton’s. Then I went to browse others. And some more. And then I started to notice a few things. First, I saw similarities in recommendations. Many blogrolls mentioned the same bloggers. I won’t name any names here—no need for that. Second, sadly, I wasn’t part of any blogrolls. I know this is stupid. I shouldn’t take it personally. But I feel bad nonetheless. Why is that? Well, there are many reasons.

My problem with blogrolls

I put a lot of effort into my creative journey. I’m very active on Micro.blog and elsewhere. I do share a lot: words, images, videos, even audio tidbits. I don’t know how many people follow me on Micro.blog, but I do get many replies all the time. I have this feeling of contributing to a community, and in return, I do feel that I’m part of this community. Returning to the blogroll concept as defined earlier, the blogroll is this little tap on the shoulder. Blogroll is a different form of “like”. With this new blogroll feature, I wasn’t on any except for one, and I did get an email from a guy who pointed me to his blogroll with a link to my blog. And yet… none of my websites were recommended, even from people I thought were very appreciative and active followers.

Now, when I stumble upon a new blogroll, I get anxious. It’s a negative trigger, and I don’t like it—at all. So I stopped looking at them. I’m taking this personally, and I probably shouldn’t. But it is what it is.

I like Pratik’s question because it points to the blogroll’s fundamentals: What raw material should blogrolls be made of?

Regarding this notion of repetitive blogroll recommendations, I feel the same phenomenon occurs on traditional and toxic social networks: popularity contests. The lack of diversity is troubling because it can be a toxic pattern. And I’m getting intoxicated. I would argue that this trend is a failure demonstration. Blogrolls should be calling for greater diversity, searching for unknown gems, and calling the lesser known. So far, from what I’m seeing, they are failing to meet this goal of being a proponent of diversity.

My take on blogrolls

First, before creating my blogroll on Micro.blog, I created a new folder called “Blogroll” on Inoreader to put all the sites I intended to recommend. The list is the first set of RSS feeds that I read in the morning. Then, I started adding my recommendations, one by one, without much thought, except for the desire to share other people's blogs. The easy thing to do was to transcribe my current recommendations, which are currently on my main website, hosted on Ghost. Then, I added a few more. Seeing that my list was getting too long, I decided to create different blogrolls: general recommendations, Apple-related recommendations and photography-related recommendations.

Ghost’s support for blogrolls is more generic and is called “Recommendations.”
Ghost’s support for blogrolls is more generic and is called “Recommendations.” Can you see that I'm recommending my own blog?

Moreover, I decided to add the following prominent disclaimer:

This is my blogroll. This is a list of blogs I visit often for different reasons, but mostly because I like them. If you are a blogger and you don't see your blog in this list, don't be sad or offended. I want to say that I'm sorry if you feel that way. Now, why not get in touch with me and share about your blog? I love to discover new things. hello@numericcitizen.me

Plus, I created a special section in my blogroll called “The lesser-knowns,” which is positioned at the top of my always-evolving blogroll. I removed a few “usual suspects.” Again, I won’t give you a name here, but you get the idea. Consider this blogroll by Michal Zelazny. You’ll find one of the best lists that fits my criteria for what should be a great blogroll: a list of potential discoveries with an excellent summary for each entry. He puts a lot of effort into maintaining his blogroll. Kudos to him. And yes, he is on my blogroll. And yes, I am on his blogroll. Two happy nobodies are recommending each other. Yeah!

One final note that I want to share: blogrolls shouldn’t be permanently displayed on the blog’s main page, like this, unless the website's goal is to be a recommendations engine of some sort. A blogroll like this should be readily accessible from the site’s navigation element. It's probably a matter of personal taste rather than a design rule, but I don’t see the value of having less content on the main page to display a blogroll permanently.

A blogroll is displayed on a website’s main page.
A blogroll is displayed on a website’s main page.

One more thing. I’m not begging to be listed on someone else’s blogroll by writing and sharing this with you. I’m simply sharing my state of mind after visiting a bunch of blogrolls from people in my Micro.blog community to find that none of my stuff was barely included in people’s recommendations.