Smarter Blogroll

The Smarter Blogroll was a project that I did with Danyel Fisher during a summer internship with the Community Technologies Group (the members of which have since joined other groups, mostly VIBE) at Microsoft Research. We started looking at interesting ways to link different bloggers together, considering a bipartite social network tool where one type of node was individual blogs and the other type of node was the topics they were discussing. Through the course of several discussions, paper mock-ups, and prototypes, we ended up with a somewhat different tool designed not for authors of blogs, but for readers of blogs.

Blogs often contain a blogroll, a sidebar with links to other blogs. Ostensibly, a blogroll is the list of other blogs that the author reads. However, when many blog rolls number in the hundreds, some linking to over one thousand blogs, it becomes clear that the blogroll serves functions other than the author’s reading list. A blogroll can be a declaration of interests, a means of referring readers to related material, a list of social ties, or a statement of approval. However, blogrolls generally list only the names of other blogs, which can be quite inscrutable. For instance, what to Eschaton, Crooked Timber, and Apartment 11D all have in common? By the names, one would never guess that all three feature political discussion. Our approach was to scrape the RSS feeds for all the blogs on a user’s blogroll, run a simple topic extraction algorithm over the content, and present the user with the Smarter Blogroll, wherein blog names are annotated by a list of up to the five most salient recent topics. By clicking on any of these topics, the list expands to show the titles of recent posts about that topic, the titles themselves being permalinks directly to the post. Thus, it becomes possible for the user of the blogroll to quickly scan through the list and get a general gist of what his or her blogs are talking about. Similarly, it enables a new visitor to a blog to get a general impression about the interests of the creator(s) of the blog, as well as quickly navigate through the blogroll to find posts about topics of interest.