Hak Pak Sak

Stephen Lewis on Infrastructure, Identity, Communication, and Change

Technorati Authority, Google Juice, and a Hand-Painted Piece of Peach-Shaped Soap

Posted by Stephen Lewis on June 6, 2007

This spring, an acquaintance who is a specialist in weblogging and web-identity ran a search on technorati for my long-running weblog Bubkes.Org, a site that platforms my still photography and my subjective comments on historical and aesthetic coincidences. The results were (and still are) grim. At the time, Bubkes.Org barely tipped the technorati scales with an “authority” rating of only 5 and a ranking of about 1,000,000th amongst the weblogs in what technorati calls the “known universe.” My acquaintance’s conclusion: “On the web, you and Bubkes.Org do not even exist!” Well, since then, I have learned otherwise, Bubkes.Org and I still display vital signs and I’ve come to realize that there are other universes and forms of web identity that are beyond the ken of technorati and that defy description in terms of links and clicks alone. A partial proof: Bubkes.Org was recently awarded a lovely piece of hand-painted, peach-shaped, genuine Turkish soap! An explanation follows…

Edirne

Hand-painted, fruit-shaped soap is the traditional tourist souvenir of the Turkish city of Edirne – ancient Adrianopolis, the capital of the Ottoman Empire prior to the 1453 conquest of Constantinople, and today a romantic and somewhat sleepy city nestled against the Turkish-Bulgarian-Greek border at the junction of the rivers Meriç, Tunca, and Arda. A month ago, I was in Edirne with a group of colleagues from my alternate world of architectural, urban, and Ottoman history. We had gathered there for a drive across the rich agricultural land of Turkish Thrace up into the sparsely-populated Stranca Mountains to Demirköy (the “Iron Village”) the site of a nineteenth century iron ore mining and smelting site now under excavation by the Netherlands Institute in Turkey.

Tea Gardens and Cyberspace

Some of my colleagues in the world of Ottoman history are just as puzzled by my interest in web-related issues as some of my colleagues in the web, tech, and telecom worlds are by my interests in the infrastructures of past ages. For me, however, the infrastructures of the physical world of the past and the web of the present can be placed on the same continuum. Ottoman roadways and caravanserais, bathhouses and fountains, tea gardens, coffee houses and bozahanes (gardens for drinking boza, a tart beverage of fermented millet) formed networks and nodes for the movement and interchange of goods and information.  Not least, Ottoman public works and tax and tax-exemption systems may prove to provide models relevant to contemporary issues of web governance and ownership. (More on this in subsequent entries).

“We Met On the Web”

My work in history and in web identity/infrastructure often collide. On the way back to Edirne from Demirkoy, during a stop at a tree-shaded tea garden in the town of Kirklareli (Ottoman Kirk Kelise and Byzantine Sarante Eklesiai, i.e. the town of the Forty Churches or of the Church of the Forty Saints — this in itself a study in mutations of identity), I struck up a conversation with one member of our group, a graduate student at the University of Thrace. When the student told me that she was writing her dissertation on the surviving Ottoman monuments of present-day Bulgaria I suggested she look at Bubkes.Org. As I began to spell out the URL, she cut me short: “Bubkes! Of course I read it! And you must be Stephen Lewis Hoca; I’ve used your work in my dissertation!” (Hoca, by the way, is a Turkish honorific for both secular and Koranic teachers.) It was only then that I noticed that she was wearing a t-shirt decorated with a silk-screened drawing of two smiling spiders and the caption: “We Met On the Web” — apropos apparrel for a chance encounter of two web acquaintances in a traditional Turkish meeting place. Later that day, back in Edirne, she presented me a piece of hand-painted soap in the shape of a partially sliced peach, thus initiating, as it were, a new rating system that transcends the limitations of technorati.

(Actually, the student’s recognition of Bubkes was only one in a series of such events. The more I move away from my desk and computer and out into face-to-face encounters in the worlds I post about on Bubkes.Org, the more I encounter people who know and use both the site and the links it provides and who thank me for both.)

The One-Way Web Still Exists

The point of all this is not that Edirne soap outweighs technorati authority but, rather, that there may be measures of web impact and web identity other than how frequently one’s weblog is mentioned or linked to from the weblogs of others. There may even be measures of identity and worth other than the Google paradigm of searchable terms and the number of clicks a URL receives. Quality and importance of material and the impact that material has on the lives and work of others might provide alternative definitions of web identity and the worth of weblogs and websites.

There are many bloggers and users of the web who are more interested in generating, spreading, and gathering worthy material and solid information than in posting and gleaning links or engaging in closed-end meta-discussions. There are also many people who still use the web as one source amongst many and who manifest their identities and engage in conversations in more traditional offline forums — print publications, meetings and conferences, and within the contexts of their individual work, peer group and personal relationships — as well as online. Some do this by choice and others by necessity. The further one moves away from North America, Western Europe, and the wealthier countries and cities of Asia, the fewer the numbers of people who do or can blog or who even have access to serviceable internet connections enabling them to interact on the web. Even in an economic powerhouse such as Turkey, few students have direct or frequent internet access; most are dependent on short trips to crowded, noisy, and uncomfortable internet cafes more conducive to IM chats than to research, reflection, and serious writing.

Cultural Barriers

Cultural barriers also play a role in restricting online feedback and conversations and in confounding any measures of the impact of websites and weblogs. When I asked the Turkish graduate student why she never submitted comments on any of the Bubkes.Org entries germane to her dissertation topic and why she never emailed to ask me for photos, she replied: “But you are Lewis Hoca and I am just a graduate student.” The student did not picture me outside of the rigid Turkish educational hierarchy nor magine my personal commitment to the web-ethos of making knowledge and work public and “open source.” At first she did see me as a peer, a fellow (albeit perpetual) student who requires intelligent feedback to refine ideas, verify and expand knowledge, and make the good editorial choices. Still, by presenting me with a piece of genuine fruit-shaped Edirne soap, the graduate student provided me with a far better incentive for continuing Bubkes.Org than even a mega-leap in my technorati rating would have ensured!

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3 Responses to “Technorati Authority, Google Juice, and a Hand-Painted Piece of Peach-Shaped Soap”

  1. Ric said

    Your experience illustrates my contention that the real currency of the Web is attention, for which links are merely one manifestation, and as you have found, an imperfect and incomplete measure. In the Western world we sometimes assume that everyone on the net has the same access to and comfort with the virtual conversation – your experience in Turkey highlights both physical and cultural barriers to that, that Technorati has no direct means of overcoming.

  2. […] Searls extends the discussion initiated by Stephen Lewis about how some content can get completely filtered through lens of numbers and popularity. And how the numbers can miss the real impact that the Web can have. A very good […]

  3. […] Searls extends the discussion initiated by Stephen Lewis about how some content can get completely filtered through lens of numbers and popularity. And how the numbers can miss the real impact that the Web can have. A very good […]

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