Lots of people have a blogroll -- a list of blogs which the blog or website owner reads -- on the front page of their blog or website. I happen to think it is a practice which sets a poor example to students whom we instruct to set up a website as part of an assignment.
Here are the reasons that I don't have one myself.
Reason 1: Marketing
I think from what may be called a marketing point of view, having a blogroll on the front page is rather silly. To my mind, it's the equivalent of a store displaying a list of other stores outside the main entrance! I know (before you contact me to tell me that I "don't get it") that one of the factors that makes blogging vibrant is the link journalism aspect, but I don't think that a blogroll is the right way to incorporate it. Certainly not on the front page, anyway.
Reason 2: Context
When I see a list of blogs on someone's website, I have no idea why I should be interested in them. This is especially so when the subject matter covered by a blog is not obvious from its name. Why would I wish to inflict the same kind of confusion on others?
Reason 3: Maintenance
Having a blogroll means having extra site maintenance to do. I follow hundreds of blogs, and every so often some of them move to a different server, or give up the ghost altogether, which results in the main URL leading to a page containing the new URL or, worse, an error page.
It's also conceivable that one or two URLs might end up pointing to a third party website that advertises porn or web hosting deals or other irrelevant rubbish. (It has been known to happen: a geography education website officially approved by an education agency in the UK was sold off, and the URL then led to a pornography site.)
I just don't have the time, or the inclination, to keep checking the links in order to avoid these kinds of problems.
Reason 4: Reputation
This is closely linked to reason number 3. Listing blogs is, of course, to recommend them. If they suddenly go off the rails in some way, or even simply post an article with which I am in strong disagreement, that could reflect back on me. I'd rather not take that chance.
Reason 5: Creating an impression
To my mind, one of the reasons for displaying a list of blogs he or she reads is, I suspect, a blogger's way of signalling how well-read he is. It is the equivalent of having rows and rows of books which one has never read, or just dipped into once or twice. If you really have read all these blogs, or do so on a regular basis, surely the best place to demonstrate that fact is within your own posts?
Reason 6: Being honest, and being seen to be so
This is very much tied in to reason number 5. I don't have the time to read all the blogs I follow on a regular basis. Would it not be dishonest, in some sense, to give the impression that I do?
My best effort involves dipping into my list of blogs two or three times a week, and skimming through a sample of them to see if any of the blog posts catch my eye.
Those people who list dozens or even scores of blogs in their blogroll -- do they really expect me to believe that they read all of them all the time? And if not, why bother to display them all in the first place?
Reason 7: Originality of thought
If someone lists dozens of blogs in their blogroll, and reads them all assiduously, doesn't that imply that they have little time left for some original thinking? One of the reasons I follow the people I do is that they don't just react all the time, but come up with stuff all on their own. Assuming that I'm not the only person who thinks like that, why would I wish to give the impression that I don't have an original thought in my head?
Reason 8: No hard feelings
Another reason I shy away from having a blogroll is that I'd be concerned about leaving people out. Silly, perhaps, but I sometimes feel slightly "miffed" when I notice that someone who I know reads my blog hasn't listed it in their blogroll. I shouldn't wish to upset someone else in a similar way!
The best way to link
The best place to link to other blogs, in my opinion, is from within a blog post. That addresses all the points listed here. It provides context, and therefore a more sensible reason to send the reader off to someone else's blog. To continue my store analogy, it's a bit like a particular department in a store recommending other stores that provide complimentary goods and services. That happens in the right place, and also at the right time -- after you have actually entered the store!
As for dead links, in my experience, blogs may change their URL, but quite often the location of the original post remains. But where that is not the case, or where the website gets taken over by a holding company or worse, the likelihood is that a reader will inform me when a link doesn't work, so I don't feel the need to be doing maintenance all the time.
And I think it's a more honest approach. I'm not saying I read hundreds of blogs all the time, just that I read a couple for that particular article.
Hopefully, that also gets across the point that I do have original thoughts too, that I don't merely rely on others to post something to which I can react.
And, of course, by referring to nobody as part of a list, I upset nobody -- or everybody!
The Federal Trade Commission Ruling
According to an article I read recently (http://daneblogger.com/bloggers-disclose-reviews/), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has revised its guidelines, and has determined that bloggers who review products, receive payment for it, and then fail to make a disclosure about it, face a fine of up to $11,000.
There are a few sticking points here, specifically:
1. How will they enforce it on overseas bloggers?
2. What's the position of someone who reviews products on their blog, on behalf of a magazine or website? Every time I've reviewed a product for a magazine or website, I've been allowed to keep it, except for hardware. That hasn't influenced my review, and it's just normal for that to happen anyway. Do they count such software and books as 'gifts'?
3. As above, but when it's on your own behalf. Whenever I review software, or a website that is subscription-based and fee-paying, I usually insist on having access to the real thing. I cannot in all honesty review the free, trial version, and then on that basis recommend the paid-for version. For all I know, once the 30 day free trial period is over, everything goes haywire. By the same token, it would be unfair on the company for me to dissuade readers from buying it on the basis of my experience with a trial version.
If you don't think this is the right way of looking at it, and that trial versions are OK to review, consider this: would you think it acceptable for me to recommend, or not recommend, a book on the basis of having read a few pages on Amazon by clicking the 'look inside the book' link?
4. Do the same rules apply to journalists?
5. If you write a blog about films or theatre, are you supposed to declare that you were given a press pass to see the production? It should be obvious to anyone with common sense that that is probably what you've done, especially if you write several reviews a week.
Is the FTC ruling a good thing?
Notwithstanding those questions, I think it's a good thing for the FTC to insist on bloggers (and other writers) being 'clean' in this respect because I for one am pretty sick and tired of constantly having to declare that I am not on someone's payroll. It's very tedious, when writing a positive review of a product, to have to say, "By the way, I'm not being paid to say this."
I have to say, on the whole I try to resist the temptation to write something like that because I know I'm honest and have integrity, and if someone else doubts it, I think that's their problem. (I'd be interested to hear what you think of that way of looking at things.)
I think there is actually nothing wrong in paid to write a review, as long as it is agreed that the fact of payment, and the content of the review, have no relation with each other. As that is impossible to prove, I think it better to avoid that situation altogether, unless there is a disconnect between you and the article under review. For example, if a magazine, or a website specialising in product reviews, pays you to write reviews regardless of what the product is, or what you say about it, that's fine. At least, that seems fine to me. It's probably not fine from the FTC's point of view.
If you're a blogger, how can you act in a way that is not only above board, but seen to be so? I would recommend the following:
If you are asked to publicise an event in return for a free ticket to attend, that places you in a very difficult position, potentially. Try saying this:
Send me the details of your conference. If it is (a) about the subject I write about and (b) looks like it will be of interest to, and benefit, my readers, I will probably give it a plug on my blog. If you then choose to send me a free ticket, that's up to you, but I will plug it, or not, regardless of your intentions in that regard.
The important point here, in fact, is that it's the 'seller' who creates the potential problem, albeit inadvertently.
How should you respond if you receive emails from companies or their PR agents asking you to publish details of their latest offering? They may even offer to write an article for you, including case studies.
I suggest the following. Firstly, check whether their product or service is something you would actually wish to publicise. Use this rubric, or something like it:
1. Is it to do with, or involve, the subject I write about?
2. If 'yes', is it likely to be of interest to my readers and RSS or newsletter subscribers?
3. If 'yes', is it OK, ie above board, and useful (ie not a solution seeking a problem)?
Assuming those criteria are met successfully, why not tell the company that it has three options:
1. They can send you the product for you to review. The review may be good or bad, as your obligation, in my opinion, is to your readers, not to the company. It's a risk they take.
2. If they don't like the sound of that, inform them that they can place an advertisement. Tell them that it will be clearly signposted as an ad, and that they have to agree that their ad will meet the Advertising Standards Code in the country in which the blog is published (disclaimer: everything in this article, including this, is my understanding of the situation, but I'm not a lawyer so don't take my word for it!).
3. Alternatively, suggest that they write an article or case study, which will be clearly labelled as a sponsored article (ie advertorial), and for which they will pay you.
In the case of book reviews, if you know the author, declare that to be the case, especially if you end up recommending the book. In the UK, the ICT (educational technology) scene is tight-knit enough for it to be reasonably likely that you will know, or at least have had dealings with, an author of, or contributor to, a book. I think it's sensible to make that clear if it happens to be the case. (See, for example, my review of Information & Communication Technology: Inside the Black Box http://terry-freedman.org.uk/artman/publish/article_1292.php.)
I don't know about the legal aspects of these suggestions, but they just seem to me to be eminently sensible. I think it's a great shame that, by implication of the FTC's ruling, some bloggers have been ill-advised enough to receive payment to write positive things about a product without declaring their (conflict of) interest.
What do you think of such matters?