Sunday, October 5, 2008

Contributing to the Mass Media Conversation

Kim Roach from BuzzBlogger wrote an interesting post at Problogger today. The post, entitled "How to Get Featured on the New York Times, CNN, CNET and Newsweek," talked about three separate services, but the one that caught my eye was Sphere.

I forget when I set Sphere up on this blog (look for the "Sphere related content" text at the bottom of this and other posts), but I pretty much forgot about it after that. I just checked my Google Analytics, and found that Sphere had sent me some traffic here and there over the last several months.

For example, my January post Uncruel and Usual Capital Punishment, Part One got some traffic from Sphere. However, at this late date I can't figure out why; if you click on the Sphere: related content link for that post, you get items from the past month, not items from January.

So how does Sphere send you traffic? This is what Kim Roach said:

There is a third and final way to get your blog featured in major news sites like CNN, The Wall Street Journal, and Newsweek.

All you have to do is link to a story on one of these major news sites and they will link back to you at the end of the article....

For example, you can go to the bottom of any CNN story and see a drop-down box that says: “From the Blogs”. This box includes stories that have linked to this article. You can get hundreds of extra visitors by positioning yourself to show up here. All you have to do is link to a CNN story and you’ll get your own spot of fame.

However, what Roach didn't say is that Sphere also attempts to incorporate guards against spam-linking. Back in 2006, Barry Graubart wrote:

Sphere aims to improve the relevance of blog search by applying improved algorithms so that results are ordered by relevancy, not simply chronology. Sphere uses a combination of inbound and outbound links, metadata for the post and the blog and semantic text analysis to gain insights into what the blog is focused on. The combination of semantic analysis and analysis of inbound links also helps push blog spam to the bottom of the results (since no reputable blogs are likely to link to spam posts).

Graubart then detailed how Sphere looks for related content, then came up with this conclusion:

For an example, take a look at what happens when I apply Sphere It to [a now unavailable] A.P. article on political parties fundraising for the [2006] congressional races.

The results are 17 blog posts from the past day talking about the fund-raising efforts of the two parties, none of which seem to link back to the underlying AP article. The results are what you might expect to find using an enterprise classification application like Autonomy, as opposed to a simple link-based search.

In fact, that may be how I discovered Sphere in the first place (although, truth to tell, I can't recall). I think I wrote a post which happened to have some relation to a major media post, and I suddenly began getting hits from Sphere.

Obviously one's ability to attract Sphere love therefore depends upon the relevance of your post to the major media material, and not just the mere fact that you linked to it. But if CNN or Newsweek had written about lately, I would have worked to increase my chances of love on this post.

So, do I use this information? More often than not I link to blogs rather than mass media publications - is it worth it to see what the professionals say on a topic? And, more importantly, is it worthwhile to add Sphere to my vertical blogs on the Inland Empire, music, and NTN Buzztime? I'll mull over those questions in the next few days, and perhaps try an experiment or two. We'll see what happens if I engage a different party in the conversation.

Sphere: Related Content
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