Syntagma Digital
Editor, John Evans

New Design for Syntagma Network

We are about to unveil our long-awaited new design for the Syntagma network, following on from the launch of our three network magazine portals late last year.

Thord Hedengren, who designed the portals, is also producing our new network look. The idea is to carry a similarity of design features from portal to site, creating a distinctive Syntagma style. As a network that started out on the Wal-Mart principle of “pile ’em in ‘n’ stack ’em high”, this will be a major departure for us.

But then, Petticoat Lane to Bond Street was always our secret trajectory.

We’re getting a draft of the designwork this week, so it shouldn’t be too long before Syntagma joins the fashionistas at the top of the style league.

Watch this spice [sic].

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Has PageRank Finally Melted Down?

I’ve sometimes thought that Google’s great project of delineating and mapping the entire internet was time-limited and would some day explode in its face.

The fact is, no matter how much they expand their datacenter infrastructure with cheap Dell computers, the number of pages on the net will grow faster — probably exponentially faster. The question now exercising us is : has the process of melt-down begun?

A few days back I wrote about the current PR regrade and described it as “weird”. Many of our WordPress sites have remained untouched at PR0 despite clocking around 500 backlinks on Google’s own link: operator. Other, very successful sites have lost PR for no apparent reason.

At first I thought we were being penalized for some factor hidden away below the radar. But others are complaining too, including The Blog Herald and some SEO experts.

I won’t repeat the two examples I gave before, but take our three magazine portals. The first launched, Allusionz, has many more backlinks than the second, Phi. Both sites have been ignored. However, the last site launched, LifeTimes, with fewer backlinks, has been given a 4.

I could go on. Frankly a system with this number of anomalies is worse than useless, it’s positively harmful. Content businesses need to plan ahead. If a crucial metric goes haywire it makes it much more difficult. Better that Google admits it’s overwhelmed and either sorts the system out or withdraws the PageRank measure altogether.

So I ask again, has Google botched this regrade, or has the famed algorithm become so overworked it no longer functions logically?

Has Google suffered melt-down at last?

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Weird PageRank Regrade Underway

I know a lot of people who pay scant attention to Google PageRank (Page as in Larry Page, not as in “a page”). Until now I’ve been broadly satisfied with the system despite the occasional anomaly. Considering the billions of “pages” out there (not you Larry), it’s only natural they foul up a few.

The system began around a decade ago when the aforementioned Larry applied the academic citation system to the Web (see my short piece on the process here). He revolutionized internet metrics and established eventual Google control over it. He must have been as happy as Larry.

So, although we don’t know all the parameters used in their Algorithm, we do know that backlinks (sources not total links) are the main measure of a site’s importance.

Currently, a PR regrade is going on, and it’s amazingly weird. At the last one in September, nearly all our sites more than three months old were set at 5, a respectable score to attract advertising. This time, quite a few are being downgraded to 4 for no apparent reason.

Take our most popular site, Royal Anecdotes, which attracts between 12,000 and 19,000 unique visitors a day. It has a healthy comments section, which has become more like a forum. The site is linked to by lots of other high-volume websites, yet remains at average levels for the network according to Google’s link: operator. It’s currently showing a PR of 4, down from 5, despite fresh daily postings of original material. Inexplicable.

This site, Syntagma, is showing over 1000 backlinks on the dodgy link: operator, but was pinned back to PR4 on six of Google’s datacenters and the toolbar two days ago, off from its previous 5. It’s now recovered to 5, but it should be much more, possibly a 7, certainly a 6.

The same is happening all over the network. Clearly we’re being penalized for something. Could it be the Text Link Ads at the top of the site, in index.php? Could it be something else?

Google’s top man in charge of the index would surely know. So Matt (Matt Cutts), why are you doing this to poor old Syntagma? What have we done to spook you? I know you’re not the “fat lady”, but we’d be grateful for a song.

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Glam Media Swallows b5media Retail Push

It has been announced that b5media’s lifestyle channels are joining Glam Media’s retail-oriented blog network as affiliates. The press release begins :

“NEW YORK and TORONTO– January 9, 2006 – Glam Media and b5media Inc. announced a partnership today to bring content from b5media to Glam, the largest fashion and style network on the Web. Select b5media blogs will join the Glam Network of over 250 affiliates …”

Well, it has a familiar ring to it. The push into the retail sector is a sound one and follows Syntagma Media’s efforts in this direction during the second half of 2006.

Here’s the deal : Join The Glam Blog Network.

I recall we had a few similar offers at the time I was writing about it, but decided to remain independent while building our own infrastructure in-house. Affiliate advertising works for some, but is hardly the stuff of mainstream media. Of course, b5’s imperatives are now driven by the needs of venture capital, so will inevitably take a different route.

But joining someone else’s network was never part of our retail plan — joint ventures are a different matter, of course. I wonder that a long press release was deemed appropriate here.

However, we wish Jeremy and Co much success in this field. It’s a tough business, but well worth extending a tentacle or two out of the tech blogosphere.

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Keith Waterhouse on Blogging

I work hard at not writing about blogging these days, but something always turns up and I’m forced to relent. This one is irresistible for a number of reasons.

Keith Waterhouse is a British National Treasure. He’s incredibly old, being the author of that 1950s smash hit novel and film, Billy Liar. He claimed to be one of the “Angry Young Men” — all the rage in those days — but his sense of humour prevented him ever being angry enough.

He went on to become a very good journalist and playwright, defender of the apostrophe (everyone’s entitled to some eccentricity), and author of a long-running column in the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper.

And it’s to the latter we turn for his views on blogging. Yesterday, he published a piece titled, “Blogging our way to the true story”.

He begins characteristically : “And a happy blogging New Year to bloggers everywhere. I don’t think.” That’s Keith for you. Sharp and to the point.

He continues, “Meaning I cannot be doing with blogging, bloggers or blogs.” He quotes an example of a typical Christmas blog : “Tarquin, as well as being Head Boy, is now First Triangle in the school orchestra, which gives him a place in next year’s Carnegie Hall and Hollywood Bowl all-schools production of Peter and the Wolf.”

But even worse, he says, is the rise of the grandiosely termed Citizen Journalism. “They print hearsay as hard fact. They lift news items from orthodox sources and embellish them in their own wild words. They twist the newspaper writer’s motto, which is Get It First, Get It Right, to read : Get It Second, Get It Wrong.”

Blimey, someone’s rattled his cage. I hope it wasn’t me.

But he has a solution to this morass of unseemly garbage into which he despatches all bloggers : “To all pejorative references to the phrase ‘Citizen Journalist’ please add : ‘– unless they have a camera’. … I make an exception in the case of photographs.”

Here he goes on at length about the Saddam Hussein execution : “The bloggers were there, though, armed with picture-snatching mobile phone cameras. The official photo coverage … was grisly enough. The bloggers’ contribution — grabbed at the gallows … shocked all right thinking people. … the sheer brutality of the scene takes[s] us back to the public hanging of felons at Tyburn in the 18th century.”

In other words, blogging is OK so long as it tells us a truth that mainstream media is locked out from. Bloggers are forever condemned to be bandits and outlaws, stealing banned information and news of private events that the law and other agencies try to conceal from us.

Well, it’s a tidy gap in the market, if a bit hard to live up to on a daily basis. If this is the view of an old-time journalist and general good egg, blogging does suffer from an image problem. But then, we’ve been saying that here for a long time.

I can’t help feeling that if Waterhouse rewrote Billy Liar for our times, Billy would be a blogger.

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