It’s a been nearly a year and a half since Luna and I decided to close ShopaholicFeed.com. It certainly wasn’t an easy decision, but we decided to shut down the service because we felt that feeds were no longer a good way to look at new content in SL.
As other big feeds have shut down over time and newer ones popped up to take their place, we’re still standing by our decision.
What Are Feeds For?
This was the first question we asked ourselves when creating ShopaholicFeed and was also a question we asked ourselves before we shut it down. For most residents, the purpose of a feed is to aggregate the content they might care about. As bloggers, Luna and I realized that feeds also serve another important purpose: for bloggers, they are a way to reach a wider audience and promote content.
A Trip Down Memory Lane
The oldest SL feed I know of was the WorldofSL Planet, which was in existence when I first started reading SL blogs back in late 2007. I’m pretty sure it was founded sometime in 2006.
Back then, there were very few ways to promote your Second Life blog. Flickr was still debating whether or not to shut down SL accounts because they weren’t actual photos. Twitter had just started to take off after SxSW 2007 and Facebook started to get features like wall post attachments and fan pages later in 2007. Plurk wouldn’t come until the following year, in mid-2008.
At the time, an aggregator made a lot of sense. Getting all of your Second Life news in one place was perfect funnel for both the bloggers and readers. But even in 2007, WorldOfSL owner Tao Takashi realized he needed to curate the content coming through his aggregators. Some people just wanted fashion news, others wanted none of it. Thus the creation of the fashion sub-planet at fashion.worldofsl.com, which focused purely on SL fashion blogs.
By the time Luna and I decided to start ShopaholicFeed, the landscape of the SL blogosphere had changed quite a bit. The number of SL blogs and bloggers was growing and growing every day. Flickr had given up on trying to boot SLers, which gave bloggers plenty of space to store images. Meanwhile, WorldofSL had been somewhat abandoned, no longer accepting new blogs. Other aggregators had been created but had gone on break while others were unstable, slow, and just unreliable. And while Facebook, Twitter, and Plurk were around, they hadn’t gained a critical mass of followers to make them useful or reliable distribution channels.
Because of these changes and, in some cases, the lack of changes, Luna and I decided to create ShopaholicFeed.
We realized that people wanted a reliable feed that brought them the newest and latest but also gave them the information they cared about. That’s why we started our category feeds, splitting out the fashion bloggers from the community bloggers, and then the designers from the stylists. We were proud to host the first feed for Men in SL as well as one of the first for Home & Garden.
We also knew that bloggers wanted a place to make their voice heard. Categorizing bloggers helped curate content for readers but at the same time made more space for bloggers to be in the spotlight. We did our best to be all-inclusive and tried to be as fair as possible to all bloggers. We respected the intellectual property of bloggers, asking first before taking and always linking back to the source.
Fast forward to 2011 and the playing field has changed even more radically.
SL bloggers have plenty of tools to self promote and share their content with others. Twitter is nearly ubiquitous but has passed by most Second Life residents. Google Plus came and went, kicking avatars to curb much like Facebook and Flickr had in the past. And, of course, there’s my.secondlife.com, Linden Lab’s home-brewed social networking site, which is kinda just .. there. Plurk, on the other hand, has embraced Second Life residents to the point that we can list SL as our location and we have our own dedicated front page sections.
In almost the reverse, it is a lot harder to run an aggregator. Search engines have never liked aggregators. They are basically “content farms,” taking other people’s content and consolidating it. This means that both the original source and the aggregator are penalized by search engines for having “duplicate content.” Since the very beginning, Luna and I have been mindful of this dilemma. We wanted to be high in search indexes but we did not want to overshadow the blogs that provide us with content. While we realized it would affect our search standings, we never allowed search engines to index any individual posts from the feeds. We only submitted curated pages like our category and tag archives.
Google went even one step farther with its Panda algorithm update in 2011 (and even farther with Penguin in 2012). Google’s revised page ranking algorithms heavily penalized sites they deemed were content farms. Thanks to our careful consideration earlier, the changes didn’t hurt our feed very much. It actually sort of leveled the playing field for us. But, they were a reminder that Google didn’t like aggregators and didn’t want them.
And, of course, the Second Life blogosphere was still growing. Before it closed, metavirtual.us boasted some 1500 or so blogs. We pruned our feeds much more aggressively, but we still had some 700-800 active blogs at any given time. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that there are some 1500 active English-speaking blogs in the SL blogosphere at any given time. Including other languages like Japanese, German, and Portuguese, that number could easily double.
Funnel or Firehose?
These trends haven’t changed. New blogs and new feeds start as older ones fall to the wayside. There’s more and more content and trying to get it all is like drinking from a firehose.
Certain categories and topics still need support. When we started the men’s feed, there were only three or four active male blogs for SL. That number has grown to a healthy few dozen, but cannot hold a candle to the number of female fashion blogs there are out there. Home & Garden is another topic that needs some love. Ours rarely had any posts on it and the dedicated SL H&G feed has long since fallen off the face of the internet.
Other categories, like the aforementioned female fashion, or our designer feed, are the exact opposite. Overflowing with posts and blogs, readers actually want the list curated to a manageable set. They don’t want it all. They just want the important bits.
Re-evaluating our position, Luna and I decided that the feeds were no longer able to serve the needs of the community. A one-size-fits-all approach really couldn’t work. That is why we decided to close the feeds.
As the blogosphere grows, it is harder and harder to curate a list of blogs. One person wants to read about fashion, someone else wants to know about technology, while yet another person wants to know about the latest happening in their RP community. Even bloggers do not stick to just one topic. Many a fashion blogger have written the odd home furnishing or slife story post.
The best solution is to do it yourself. You can use Google Reader or a similar RSS reader to follow your favorite blogs. You can skim Flickr and Plurk for the latest content from your friends, and keep track of it all with services like FFFound or the newly relaunched Delicious.
We believe this is why so many smaller feeds have cropped up. Owners are basically sharing their Google Reader lists with you. But here’s a little secret: Most feeds run off WordPress, so you can export all of the links yourself and import that same OPML file into another RSS reader like Google Reader. Just don’t use use that knowledge for evil.
Looking at your friend’s feeds (whether via RSS, plurk, whatever) creates a “filter bubble”, an echo chamber that basically feeds itself with more of itself. But most people are totally okay with that — we want more of what we like anyway.
Growth can occur organically in two ways. Over time, certain people emerge as influencers. They find what they like, and you trust their taste, so you’ll follow what they follow. The other is this wonderful thing we call search engines. If Google’s SPYW algorithm gives you more things from your bubble, try an anonymous search engine like DuckDuckGo. Bloggers just need to make sure that their content gets indexed so you can find it when you need it.
Either way, what matters most is creating awesome content and taking pride in your own work. Good content can stand on its own and other people will definitely find it.
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