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Is Techmeme Overrated?

Anyone that regularly reads tech blogs knows that the news aggregator Techmeme is the topic of tons of discussion. I think the attraction definitely has something to do with the fact that Techmeme simply does a pretty good job of summarizing the day’s tech news.

But I think the other thing at play here is that Techmeme is a bit of an exclusive club. The site only tracks certain blogs that have attained some influence in the blogosphere. The dynamic this creates is that if you are a site that Techmeme tracks, you tend to read Techmeme. Sure, you find value in the content, but you also want to see if your posts are making it to the main page. It is sort of addictive.

Today, some folks have written what I’ve been thinking for awhile: Techmeme simply doesn’t drive much traffic to sites that appear on the front page.

Bobbie Johnson from the Guardian’s Technology blog writes:

But in taking a swipe at the diminishing influence of the biggest sites on the leaderboard, Winer also inadvertently points out something else that is crucial: for all that Valley-centric news junkies claim Techmeme as a crucial aggregator, it simply doesn’t refer much traffic. The Guardian features on Techmeme’s leaderboard – at position #57 as I write this. But for us, it represents a tiny proportion of referral traffic.

I’m not going to disclose numbers – the stats dominatrix here at Guardian Dungeons would have me eating gruel for years if I did – but suffice it to say that Techmeme doesn’t rank in the top 100 referrers to the Guardian’s technology pages.

Nick Carr chimes in with some actual numbers:

Even so, I have to admit that the Guardian’s Bobbie Johnson is absolutely right when he says, “for all that Valley-centric news junkies claim Techmeme as a crucial aggregator, it simply doesn’t refer much traffic.” It’s true. I’ve had quite a few headlines sit fairly prominently on Techmeme for many hours, and at most they’ll push a few hundred visitors to the story on my site. That’s squat. On those rare occasions when one of my posts claws its way up the list at Digg, Stumbleupon, or Reddit, many thousands of visits result. Even some recent headlines modestly positioned on the Y Combinator news feed have generated more traffic than a prominent Techmeme headline will.

Our experience at The Bivings Report jibes with that of Carr. We’ve gotten a couple of hundred visitors from prominent links on Techmeme. If we are secondary link on the site, we get well under 100 referrers. This is small time compared to what links on many other sites get in terms of referrers.

I think Techmeme is definitely a small, insular world. However, as Scoble wrote, it is a small, insular world that wields a disproportionate amount of influence. Important people read Techmeme. If you are on Digg, you may get a ton of traffic but the impact is short lived. Those people aren’t going to start reading your blog or participate in your blog’s community. They aren’t going to link to you. It is much easier to turn Techmeme visitors into readers of your blog than the Digg folks. You are also much more likely to get links if you are on Techmeme because (1) I suspect most people that read Techmeme have blogs themselves and (2) linking to each other is the whole point of Techmeme.

In the end, I think Techmeme is like one of those rock bands that musicians and critics love but the general public has no clue exists. Its influence far outweighs the size of its fan base.