Techmeme: A Cautionary Tale

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for the past several weeks as I watched this blog drop from high 40s on the techmeme leaderboard to the 50s, to the 60s, to the 70s, and now as of this weekend, off of it completely. Yes, my ego hurts when this blog no longer ranks as one of the most important tech blogs. And I am trying to keep that in check as I write this because I think there is something important going on at techmeme that we need to think about as we look forward to emergence of the "curated web".

I’ll take full responsibility for not writing stuff that the top tech blogs think is interesting enough to link to. I realize that what gets on techmeme is the stuff bloggers are writing about and linking to. If this blog has become boring, then that’s my fault.

But there is something else going on. When the techmeme leaderboard was first launched about 45 days ago, there were about twenty blogs written by one person on it. The top "individual blog" was Dave Winer’s scripting news in the mid 40s, Scoble was in the mid 50s. Matthew Ingram was in the 40s or 50s too.

Today, Nick Carr is the top individual blogger at 22, Scoble‘s in the mid 40s along with Matthew Ingram. But after that, there’s maybe five or six individual bloggers on the leaderboard. It’s filling up with the likes of CNET, USA Today, Bloomberg, PR Newswire, and so on.

Not that that is a bad thing mind you. But the site has changed. I still go to it every day to take the temperature of the tech blog scene, but I don’t see my friends on it so much anymore. No Jarvis, no Calacanis, no Rex, no Feld, no Doc, no Ash. And I certainly don’t see their posts anchoring memes anymore.

So what happened? I think it’s pretty simple. Everyone knows that you can write to techmeme if you want to be part of the conversation. Can’t think of what to write about? Go to techmeme, grab one of the memes, write a post that links to it, and your post will get picked up on it. Dave Winer predicted this would happen four days after the leaderboard launched.

Mainstream media wants to be part of the conversation as they should. It’s not surprising that they are using the same tricks the bloggers have been using for years. And they are using them effectively. The links on techmeme are getting more mainstream every day.

The other thing that has changed is that many of the blogs I "grew up" with are not individual blogs anymore. Rafat has a team, Arrington has a team, Om has a team. ARS, RRW, SAI, Valleywag are all group blogs. They are much better at putting out a stream of blog posts all day long, but they aren’t the same thing as Mike and Om blogging along with me. And you can’t compete with an army of bloggers on the techmeme leaderboard.

For years, I’ve been using curators to filter my web experience. I can’t and won’t subscribe to the hundreds (maybe thousands) of blogs I want to stay on top of. I realize that everything I write here, or on, unionsquareventures, or at newcritics, won’t be read by every reader/subscriber. I know that all of you are doing the same thing as I am. We are relying on the world of social media curators to surface up the things that are interesting and we read that.

Techmeme has been the killer social media curator for my world of tech blogs. Lore has it that it was created using Scoble’s OPML file. It doesn’t matter to me if that’s true or not, I love that story. Because my OPML file was unusable until I found Techeme and after that I stopped reading feeds and started reading curated feeds.

But curated systems will be gamed. Everything on the Interent will be gamed. And user generated content won’t stay "user" generated forever. The pros will crash any party that’s worth crashing and make it their

I don’t think this is a bad thing, it’s just worth noting.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Sam Sethi

    Like many bloggers – aka human aggregators – it takes a great deal of time and energy to stay on top of the noise, decipher it and distill it back in a post. It is therefore not surprising that blog networks (like my own) are cropping up with bloggers joining together to try and earn money. Of course the existing media networks are going to enter this space to compete for advertising dollars and audience.As techmeme moves away from tracking the individual voices of bloggers it does create an opportunity for an alternative to appear which tracks only the indivdual 100. That is partly what we are trying to do on blognation but we are collating that alternative list now.

  2. marcel weiss

    that is spot on. Some time ago I started filtering some of the feeds I’m subscribed to. For example I can’t stand Duncan Rileys posts on techcrunch. so I filter them out. All the emerging teamblogs are throwing out way too much posts per day and forgetting a few very important lessons in blogging: 1. Blogs also function as filters. There is no such thing as filtering then you publish 10+ posts per day on news in your niche.2. I started reading blogs like techcrunch because of the voice. arrington was good, really good, in tracking down hot new startups. and eventually he became an authority. now, then you bring in new authors you have to be really careful because you can easily water down what the blog used to be about. readwriteweb does a stellar job in hiring great blogger. techcrunch recently not so (imho).a lot of the hassle would be solved if blogs with high output would provide topicrelated feeds -channels so to speak-.but still, the landscape is changing. (funny thing is we here in germany are around 2 or 3 years behind and it’s interersting to watch those different states of blogging evolving)

  3. vincentvw

    Admit it, you’re trying to get onto Techmeme with this post! Aren’t you? Aren’t you!? :)But I think if this post does get onto Techmeme it will point out the exact problem you’re addressing and I hope that Gabe finds some kind of fix for it.The formula for a meme should not be what bloggers are writing about news on Techmeme, but what bloggers are writing about bloggers that are writing about news that ends up on Techmeme, because their news is important (if that makes sense).But perhaps this is already happening, we just don’t see it?

    1. fredwilson

      if I wanted to get on techmeme this morning, the better way would have to write about the amazon ebook thing and link to that storyFred

  4. Maurice

    I’ve switched to these days – seems to be the best of both worlds for me

  5. Bob Warfield

    Fred, if you want to stay plugged in and really on top of things as they develop, you’ll have to get past curated feeds like Techmeme. Simply put, they’re always doomed to be late to the part because they’re just the echo chambers of the real blogosphere. I know it’s hard, but it’s worthwhile to seek out 100-200 blogs (nobody can keep up with Scoble’s 800-1000 and it isn’t even clear he’s very happy doing that) really unique blogs.Keep reading Techmeme, but start winnoving blogs that never say anything new that isn’t on Techmeme. I went through the exercise and discovered that it takes very few blogs to stay on top of what’s going on in Techmeme because of all the duplication. Once you’ve eliminated all that duplication, you’ll have a lot more time to resonate with fresh new ideas that haven’t been Techmemed to death.This is all natural. We see the same behaviour in evolutionary systems. It’s what led me to write about punctuated equilibrium and the Internet:http://smoothspan.wordpress…Cheers,BW

  6. Kendal H

    Your still the first blog i check every morning and whenever i check my feeds on firefox, so don’t worry, your not boring.

    1. fredwilson

      That is a matter of debate and that’s fine with meFred

  7. allen stern

    Actually for a good bit of time, I was the highest ranking individual on TM. I’ve dropped to the 60s because of the changes that TM made in the last couple of weeks. One additional note about the blog networks, they can create their own streams on TM very easily. I am not saying they are doing this purposely, but it can be done.And remember Fred – there is a difference on TM between lead, related and discussion in terms of the leaderboard. Discussion gets you no credit.I still hope to meet up sometime Fred – not sure if there is some reason I get ignored by you, especially since I am the NYC social media blogger 🙂

    1. fredwilson

      My apologies if I am ignoring youNot intentionallyFred

  8. rod /

    If you’d like an alternative to TechMeme, take a look at its mine)TechWatching is an algorithmic curator in the style of TechMeme, but with a few tweaks. TW places less emphasis on newswires and msm publications, for instance, and adds an element of randomization as to which story in a topical cluster is the “lead” – meaning that its not always going to be TechCrunch on top – the goal was to offer an alternative that was more likely to surface smaller blogs while not missing the important topics of the moment.At the moment, TW is still in shakedown mode, refreshing only hourly, and with regular tweaks to the algorithm – so please be patient if it breaks or seems to get stuck in a rut for a time.Interestingly enough, the process of stitching together the front page creates a great keyword index of blog posts – I’m thinking about opening up that data set as a standalone vertical blog search engine as well. I’m not an architect, however, so I’m a little daunted by the scale of the data repository required compared to the relatively minor needs of the rolling 7 day snapshot that TW uses.I’ve also deployed an instance of the TW system at – which targets the automotive industry.Anyway – thanks for sharing your thoughts on TechMeme – groupthink is an interesting social phenomenon to observe.Regards,-R

  9. John Furrier

    great post Fred. sites like Techcrunch don’t qualify as a blog any more’s a webzine with trackbacks and comments. Techmeme is great but like it’s early days it isn’t a conversation anymore… it’s writers working hard to bump their way to the top of the noice mountain…i would like to see the ‘real’ conversations. The NYTimes and CNet don’t have conversations – they may start them but they don’t participate. What I have always like about bloggers is their unique voice and the participation… the best of the bloggers talk with their audience –

  10. Mack D. Male

    I write about memes that are on Techmeme, and I link to Techmeme, but my blog is never listed as part of the discussion. I’m fine with that, however, and I think your post here explains why…Techmeme is increasingly about the mainstream. It’s great for finding a bunch of articles on a topic, but not so great for finding a bunch of individual voices.

    1. Robert Scoble

      I still read about 800 feeds every evening and publish the best stuff that catches my eye at…What’s really interesting is that companies have figured out how to game the blogosphere. Amazon’s Kindel is a good example of that. They put all of our blogs on it. Gave us exclusive early looks at it. And then invited us all to the press conference this morning where a TON of blogs came out from it.But you put to words trends I’ve noticed happening for some time.

      1. fredwilson

        I have no idea how to what you do Robert. I am in awe.Fred

      2. andydavies

        I guess what we need is a tracker built around what people are sharing or starring using Google Reader, perhaps also linked into the social book marking sites like delicious and Magnolia…

  11. Mark Evans

    Fred,You make an excellent point about how one-man (or one-girl) blog shops are being pushed to the sidelines by the mainstream media. While it’s simply the evolution of the medium, it is somewhat disappointing to see blogs written by a (single) person losing the spotlight. That said, it is impossible for most individual bloggers to compete because the TechCrunchs and GigaOms of the world have so much more time, resources and energy. If anyone doing an effective of competing against the Big Boys, I would argue Mathew Ingram would be a candidate based on the quality and quantity of his blogging, which explains why he still ranks high of the Techmeme board.

  12. Shayan

    techmeme, reddit, digg and others are all great as long as we can prevent users from cheating the system … they kind of remind me of Yahoo and other search engines in the early days which had very simple ways of ordering the search results (and many took advantage and got better rankings for their sites), and then came about the more complicated Google page ranking with much improved results (yes there exist SEO but half of SEO is to improve your site as well, and you don’t really get on top of the list that easily)I think as time goes by *someone* will find a way to make it harder for people to cheat the system and give news that is more relevant

  13. Peter Kafka

    Fred, seems like you have to distinct complaints here:1) You liked it better when guys like Om Malik and Mike Arrington were working solo. Fair enough, but Mike, Om, Rafat et al have moved on and are now trying to run small publishing companies. As other commenters have noted, there are pros and cons to that approach. One easy way for Techmeme to make itself more relevant to you, though, would be slice up the leaderboard by author, not publisher. So Mike’s techcrunch posts would mean much more than, say, Duncan’s. 2) People are trying to game techmeme. As other commenters noted, I think the best way to game techmeme is to write about techmeme. Your post, for instance, will likely get much more attention than if you were one of the dozens of people writing about the Kindle today. The pile-on effect you’re noting doesn’t actually do much for the “discussion” links in terms of visibility and/or traffic, from what I can tell. And I’m not sure that the dozens of posts on the Kindle means that people are trying to game the system — a more benign interpretation would be that people are writing about a significant new product launch and that it’s pretty newsy.

  14. Josh Catone

    I think there’s a problem with noting any correlation between this change and the launch of the leaderboard. The leaderboard didn’t give us any insight into how Techmeme works — we already knew approximately how it works. And the leaderboard didn’t change anything about how Techememe works. So everyone already knew that if you link to the things being talk about on Techmeme, you were likely to see your blogs get in on the action. (I don’t you were really making that connection, Fred — just using the leaderboard to quantify the change you observed in meme leadership, but Dave did, and you linked to him in this post.)

  15. Susanna

    So are there any other good curated tech feeds out there?

  16. Gabe Rivera

    Fred, you seem to have multiple theses here, which is fine, but a bit tricky to untangle. Since Peter Kafka and Josh Catone above have already articulated some of my thoughts, I’ll just add this:1. Are you really sure today’s Leaderboard has fewer individual bloggers than when the Leaderboard launched? I haven’t done a tally, but the current one contains names such as Terry Heaton and Marc Andreessen who weren’t there originally. I agree we’ve seen this trend over the past two years, but I suspect the shift over the past 7 weeks has been negligible.2. The “lore” you cited above was really a miscommunication between Robert Scoble and myself. Techmeme was never based on Robert’s OPML feed. (I looked at Robert’s feed; I looked at Russell Beattie’s bookmarks too.) This post may have given the myth another year of life.3. Wow, the level of self-promotion in these comments even exceeds that of TechCrunch!

    1. Josh Catone

      Though I barely articulated anything. Wow, I need to start proofreading comments I leave on blogs. 😉

    2. fredwilson

      GabeI don’t have a screenshot of the leaderboard on the day it launched but I did write a post about it that day and kind of remember what it looked like. I’d love it if you could give us the facts as opposed to my memory of them.Valleywag was in the 90s the day it launched and is now #17 (and I am back on it at #99!!)Valleywag’s ascendency is the thing that got me focused on this effect.Fred

      1. Josh Catone

        Fred,Dave Winer had the original leaderboard list published the night before it launched. Valleywag was #99 and you were #59, according to his list.

      2. Gabe Rivera

        Leaderboards for all dates are readily available. Look for the “History” box on the right side of the current Leaderboard page.

  17. James Lewin

    What makes the Internet fascinating is that it’s constantly changing. This is also what everybody hates about it, though!As soon as TechMeme became useful, it became important and people began writing to game it. You could argue that TechCrunch owes a lot to this effect, both directly and indirectly.As people have come to realized how TechMeme is gamed, attention is moving to other places.It’s made me revisit my feedreader use to expand the range of ideas I see each day.

  18. spragued

    On behalf of Z-list bloggers everywhere, welcome to our world…It seems to be another example of the power law distribution that Clay Shirky wrote about. The myth of the blogosphere was always that it was a pluralistic ecosystem where “anyone” could have their voice heard and rise to become an authority — just like in a pluralistic democracy “anyone” could become President. But it sure helps if you’re a millionaire… Likewise, the authority of the early (individual) bloggers arose from their advantage as well-connected industry insiders who could count on their access to newsmakers for advantage. Those advantages are now moving to the MSM. So Techcrunch and Scoble still get invited to the launch events, but the deep dive on Amazon’s e-book goes to Newsweek with plenty of lead-time for them to publish in concert with the launch.Dentonian gaming aside, this is probably a trend that will continue as marketers and PR flacks seek to maximize their product exposure and the MSM turn their considerable resources toward mining news from the tech industry. I knew the world had changed when a NYT reporter actually took the time to figure out who Fake Steve Jobs was.

  19. Steven Finch

    I dont really like Techmeme because it is so biased. However, it is very difficult for Techmeme to be run by one guy, who just browses across the blogosphere. Human aggregators arent the way forward and someone really needs to establish a product that runs on an algorithm which pulls in news articles on the web via popularity and thus allowing smaller blogs to join the fold. However, there still needs to be an authority base, but as a small publisher myself i really want to know if i am on the radar or not. Techmeme doesnt do this!

    1. Scobleizer

      insomniamg: there’s only so much information one human being can consume, you’re right. But in my case it’s about 800 feeds which include about 6,000 bloggers (since one of my feeds,, includes 4,000 or so Microsoft employees). That comes out to about 2,000 items a day that I’m reading and I’m putting out about 1,200 items a month. All manually without any algorithms.Now, look at FeedHeads, an application over on Facebook. I have it on my profile and it aggregates about 1,000 people who are using Google or NewsGator feed readers to “share” favorite items. The app itself is often down, but points to a new kind of app that could come about: one that is as good as TechMeme in speed and is better than Digg in quality.Anyway, Web popularity is a really tough thing to do. If it were easy to do, TechMeme would have seen more variants by now.There are lots of ways to get discovered if you have a great blog, though. If you really think you have a great tech blog and aren’t getting discovered, I’d sure love to hear about it. My phone number and email address are on my blog at .

  20. Ian Lamont

    There are opportunities for alternative aggregators. At Computerworld, we’ve created a “human-powered” blog aggregator called Tech Dispenser (, and also have a daily roundup of tech blogs called IT Blogwatch (…. Both use editorial intelligence to make their top picks and links. While these services can’t keep up with Techmeme in terms of the number of blogs that are monitored and the frequency of updates, they are better than the algorithm-powered aggregators at screening out recycled press releases and other low-value content, while highlighting obscure blogs that may never appear in Techmeme.

  21. TechMerkin

    Good post Fred!I think TechMeme is salvageable, however, I proposed a solution here:http://techmerkin.wordpress…Cheers, TM

  22. BillSeitz

    I find that TailRank does a better job of filtering, but perhaps it filters too much to the people I already read…

  23. Dasher

    I think Fred is really trying to say this.Tech blogs are of two types: news providers and insight providers. I know every blog claims to be both, but it is easy to figure out which is which. I personally like to spend more time on the insight providers (as it is pretty easy to find the latest news and scoops on the internet). The blogs fred “grew” up on used to provide great insights and see trends early. But now they have just become news sites that provide “exclusive” scoops. How many of techmeme’s leaders provide great insights and analysis? Not many. It is the leaderboard of news blogs.Providing great insights is a difficult thing to do. You simply can’t throw bodies at the problem like the news blogs do. Successful single person blogs provide great insights.Fred, as long as you provide useful insights (of a VC with a clue) we will come to your blog.

    1. fredwilson

      Thanks! I will try. Its not easyFred

    2. Mark 'Rizzn' Hopkins

      To go along with what Dasher is saying (if anyone is still reading the comments on this post) -When insight providers move towards news providers, they get a broader readerbase, and therefore more money. This is a relatively simple transition to make, and we’ve seen it happen several times in the blogosphere.On the other hand moving from news provider to insight provider proves more difficult, as author’s insight tends to be far more limited in scope than what he can casually provide news about.

      1. fredwilson

        I am still reading the commentsFred

  24. Dasher

    BTW, I dont’ need curators to manage my blog readins. There are only a handful blogs that provide great insights and I can just go to them directly and read them at my leisure.

  25. Terry

    I for one do feel your blog has become boring. I’ve felt that way for some time now, but I still visit it to see if you have anything interesting to say from time to time. I used to visit every day.

    1. fredwilson

      I appreciate the candid feedback. I wish I knew what to change to spice it back up but I don’tFred

  26. AndyBeard

    There is always Megite where you can request a meme based upon your own seeds.My biggest problem with Techmeme is similar to yours, in that it seems to favour the big players that cover everything Technology related, compared to niche sites that have a huge amount of in depth historical knowledge such as SearchEngineLand.SearchEngineLand does get a lot of mentions, but is rarely the lead, and as soon as Techcrunch writes about something, even a couple of days late, it immediately becomes the main focus of the story.

  27. Robert Seidman

    I’d love to see a discussion on “what’s most important” and whether services like TechMeme good at sussing out and correctly ranking the most important issues. On a guess I’d say they’re at least pretty good in most cases compared to editors.But the thing an editor can do that TechMeme and its ilk can’t is immediately re-rank. On a guess for the broader technology sphere the most important story “right now” is that HP beat earnings. I imagine on the Washington Post, New York Times, WSJ etc technology pages, it’s already the #1 listed story. On TechMem as of this writing (and I’m sure it will change) it’s #4 and well below the fold.

  28. King Tut

    “I don’t think this is a bad thing, it’s just worth noting.”Nahh, it is a bad thing. Trust is lost. As is in-depth analysis. The teams who write do so for the least common denominator — the magazines (and these high-earning blogs) write for the neophyte because there are tons more of those than pros…and they write for MONEY now…not a desire to share their knowledge or love of the subject matter.This is why I stopped reading magazines (and dislike the TechCrunches of the inet) a long time ago. Nothing more than a regurgitation of old information, crappy surface-level advice, ads, and sometimes a couple new tid-bits that can be garnered from any of the “pro” blogs you read — and usually weeks or months before the magazines (or enterprise blogs) pick up on these new sites/concepts.There needs to be a source of information catering to the pro. Ignoring the Joe. This source of information won’t be able to take in much money and shouldn’t care. Otherwise, they will do the business thing – hire teams who don’t share the love, write to the masses, sell out to PR reps, corrupt the writeups to please sponsors, etc…

  29. JoeDuck

    Fred I’m not at all comfortable with the idea that the “old guard” does all the best blogging. I like some of their posts, but prefer some of the new voices. You seem to want a connection to the same old voices you’ve heard for some time. Fine, but that’s what RSS is for. Thanks to TechMeme I find a lot more new voices, and I also have Gabe doing some of the human filtering for me because he’s not going to run crappy blogs. Are some of the new voices writing to TechMeme? Sure, but the challenge there is not that there *appear*, which is great because good blogs are hard to find, the challenge is that this makes too much of an echo chamber. However the solution for that is more bloggers, not fewer.

    1. fredwilson

      I appreciate the new guard too but I want a mix of both and none of the papers I rejected years agoFred

      1. JoeDuck

        OK, I’m getting you now. Maybe I’m being naive about what makes tech tick, but I like the blend of insider views with the simplistic-but-seasoned mainstream journalism stories abuot technology you get in Forbes and Newsweek. I think those stories drive the public perception of what’s up in tech, so I definitely want them included.

  30. vanelsas

    Fred, I’m not so worried about TechMeme. The thing is, you need to use such boards in a way that works best for your own purposes. I hardly ever dive into the “breaking news” items on TechMeme. What Techmeme shows in an excellent way is that at least a dozen blog sites bring the same breaking news. So we are all looking at the same scoops. But, if you are willing to move past the scoops, then the real good stuff appears after the scoops. It is those guys that really know what they are talking about that start analysing what is happening. That is what I like best. And when you get interaction on those posts, new things emerge, new insights, new idea’s. Just look at all the comments you get on this blog. That is what makes blogging a great thing to do. I’ve written about it a while back ago already if interested:http://vanelsas.wordpress.c

    1. fredwilson

      You are so right. The bottom of techmeme is where the good stuff always isFred

  31. Tech For Novices

    Dear Fred and all othersWe are just a small blog. Actually a nobody compared to others discussing the stuff hereBut still butting in our point…..Why cant a new blog be just created and write about some of the posts with links on techmeme or feature techmeme links in blog posts and then automatically feature on techmeme?Why cant some one just try it out with our blog. To prove it either way ?PS – Dear Scoble. Why dont you see our smll blog too ? In your 8000 blogs.. let us be 8001?

  32. Sam Freedoms Controversy Blog

    Dude, IT’S A BAD THING. Why don’t you just say it? IT’S A BAD THING. Your last line tries to present you as some kind of a wandering bard who’s just passing through and reporting on a “simply noteworthy” event when, in fact, it’s like a Tyrannosaurus Rex just came and tore your ass to pieces.Oh that’s just merely my rankings being smashed to pieces and flushed down the drain by bigger entities who figured out that we were feeding on a juicy gazelle. And you got your gazelle stolen… AND THAT’S A BAD THING.It means you have to go hunting for a new hunting grounds, or a new food source. If that’s not a BAD THING relative to your online existence, please tell me what is…

    1. fredwilson

      Ok, it’s a bad thing.For me.Not sure it’s a bad thing for everyone thoughThe comments to this post suggest it isn’t.fred