Sex site Kinkly has just announced its best sex blogs of 2016 – in an attempt to celebrate great blogging, and introduce you to new sex blogs that you may not have heard of before. The list is a good way to say well done to some of the bloggers who’ve written great stuff this year, spread the love to blogs that may not get noticed elsewhere, and hopefully get more people reading awesome things. However, ranking the best sex blogs is a blunt tool, and there are some problems with the system. After a hell of a lot of chatting about this yesterday, I wanted to write down a few thoughts on blog lists and rankings.
The following post will probably only be of interest to you if you write a sex blog, so if you don’t feel free to let your eyes glaze over or head to today’s other post, for kink of the week, which is way sexier.
Best sex blogs: the benefits of a ranking system
Most people like hearing that they’ve done well, and so much of our lives involve being scored or ranked for particular things. From the first time we get a good grade in school, through essay marks at Uni and performance reviews at work, being able to quantify your achievements is a satisfying thing. Personally, I am obsessed with quantifying things, and putting numbers on things to clarify what I mean by ‘good’ or ‘successful.’ Right now, I have a piece of paper on my fridge listing all the pubs in my local area, which my friends and I have scored out of ten for a variety of different categories. I also have a list in the living room of German Haribo sweets ranked from best to worst, with aggregate scores based on rigorous taste tests.
More pertinently, I pore over my sex blog traffic: getting genuine thrills when it goes up, or kicking myself if it flatlines, even if that’s just for a week. When I was first blogging, getting included in lists like Kinkly’s, or Molly’s top 100 sex blogs (previously run by Rori at Between My Sheets), meant a lot to me. Not only did they give me traffic, they also gave me a boost in the same way I’d get a boost if I got a good mark on an essay at Uni, or if I ran a pub that got 10/10. Not everyone responds well to being ranked or scored, but some people really do, so there’s a benefit there even if it’s hard to quantify.
On top of this, rankings can be genuinely useful in promoting your work, particularly if you’re starting out. Being able to say to an editor you’re pitching to: ‘hey, I was in the top 10 bloggers on this list’, can get their attention.
There are many cool things about the blogger lists, so if you’re on one make the most of it, and congratulations!
Best sex blogs: the down-sides of a ranking system
Inevitably, there are down-sides to any blog ranking system, and when the Kinkly list came out yesterday I noticed immediately a couple of my favourites who weren’t included, and I was pretty gutted for them.
The difficulty with lists generally is that they’re always going to be blunt tools. One person isn’t really ‘better’ than another, and nor is one blog objectively better than the next. Just as there’s no ‘objective’ definition of what counts as sexy, so there isn’t really an easy way to decide whose words are sexier, more useful, more engaging than someone else’s. Besides, although the lists are an excellent tool for spreading the word that there is great sex writing out there, we’re all still working within a society that puts ‘sex’ in a silo away from everything else. It’s hard to get cut through if your blog is ‘adult’, so we all sit together in the ‘naughty’ corner: sex educators alongside erotic writers alongside sex toy reviewers and so on.
What’s more, there are waaaay more than 100 great sex blogs out there. Unfortunately, the only way everyone can be included in a list is to make that list incredibly long. As it takes a huge amount of time and effort to put together a list, some people are going to be missed off it.
Systems are sometimes useful. Systems are flawed.
Yesterday, I was chatting to a friend about the ranking system. I was chuffed, I explained, to see some of my favourite bloggers get well-deserved recognition in the Kinkly list. At the same time, I was absolutely gutted for some of those who weren’t included, who I thought really deserved to be there. I explained that one of the things I most love about Molly’s list (2016’s version will be out soon but you can check 2015’s top sex bloggers here) is that she retires those who’ve won in previous years – clearing the way for someone new to take the top spot. But as we were discussing it he looked at me with a blank expression before eventually saying:
“Thing is, it’s not for you, is it?”
His point being that, while all the bloggers – both listed and unlisted – will no doubt have feelings about the list and people’s places on it, readers still want rankings. When I want to find a good restaurant in a town I’m visiting, I Google ‘best cheap food Brooklyn’ or what have you, not just ‘food Brooklyn’ – people have a tendency to search for ‘best’ or ‘top’. We can point out that we’re all different until I’m blue in the face, but people will keep searching. I’d much rather searchers found Molly’s list, or even the Kinkly list, than something thrown together by an SEO “expert” who knew nothing about sex blogging but had spotted a golden opportunity.
The reason the lists are so effective in terms of boosting traffic is that they capitalise on SEO for terms like ‘best sex blogs’, and cater to people’s inherent desire to hunt for the ‘best’ thing. So some of the tangible things that people get out of the ranking, such as a boost in traffic, could disappear completely if the ‘list’ were just a jumble of links (and if they were listed alphabetically you can bet some SEO bellend would set up a bunch of sex blogs which began with ‘A’ – like you used to get plumbers called AAA+ Plumbing in the Yellow Pages).
Solution? Transparency, consistency, alternatives
I don’t think there’s an easy solution – rankings are a blunt tool, but they’re still a tool that can do a useful thing if wielded well. Some of the ways to mitigate the issues above are ones which I know Molly in particular has thought long and hard over, and implemented to make her system as fair as possible: retiring past winners, total transparency about the criteria for entry and how blogs will be judged, transparency about who is doing the judging, all that stuff. I know Molly’s also considered just ranking the top 10 blogs, and ditching the ’11-100′ rank, because when it comes down to it who can truly say that this blog is the 66th best and this other the 67th? But people asked her to keep the rankings, so she did. I remember conversations I’ve had with Molly about the top 100 sex blogs – how ridiculously hard she works to make sure as many people have the opportunity to enter as possible, and just how many many blogs she reads through, and how much thought has gone into the rules of entry. I’m biased, but I think that Molly’s list is incredible, and it provides a net huge value – to readers and to bloggers who might struggle to get noticed in other ways.
Kinkly is a trickier one. Dangerous Lilly has articulated some concerns about lists and ranking, so I only really want to add some specific issues with the Kinkly ranking system. It could definitely do with improvement around transparency of how blogs are judged, and better rules around when blogs are ineligible – at the moment, for instance, there are some blogs on the list which have stopped posting altogether, which must frustrate those who are still posting but aren’t included. What’s more, the inclusion of sites like Slutty Grrrl Problems (catch me another day on why that site is appalling and absolutely should never count as a ‘sex blog’) is more than enough, I think, to make people question whether the list is as useful as it could be. I’ve emailed Kinkly about this, and I hope that they can improve the list in the future – realistically if the list didn’t matter or make any difference, people wouldn’t be frustrated by the problems with it.
What’s more, ironically the very act of having a ranking and a list means that those who come further down it (or don’t appear at all) are often understandably nervous about criticising it. No one wants their totally legitimate critique to look like sour grapes – so if there are issues (which there are with the Kinkly list, I think), it’s important for the people who rank well to say something.
Alongside speaking up about her concerns, Lilly’s suggested putting together a new kind of award, one which is run by and for sex bloggers as a way of congratulating and supporting each other. I think it’s a great idea – there’s always room for more and better ways to boost each other, and I’m looking forward to finding more amazing blogs through it. Removing the numbers means there are some cool new possibilities – sex blogs recommended based on particular niches like ‘best campaign’ or (American bloggers taught me a new word) ‘most salty.’
In the meantime, though, I spent most of yesterday gnawing away at the issue of lists and ranking and what it means – whether I should pull out of the Kinkly list so I can support it as wholeheartedly as I do Molly’s (it’s waaaay easier to support Molly’s because I’ve been retired from it, so promoting it doesn’t feel like I’m asking for votes, alongside all the things I said above about transparency). And I think I’ve come to the conclusion that lists, while flawed, really are valuable.
They’re a blunt tool, but they do a useful thing. But they’ll never be perfect. So where people aren’t included, for many of us (and me especially) it gives us a bit of a nudge to share those people’s work more often. The lists aren’t really for me, but they do remind me to go and visit other people’s blogs, and share the work I love.
Check out my blogroll in the sidebar (or below if you’re on mobile) to see some other blogs I love. I’ll update this soon too because I haven’t updated for a while, so I’ll be adding a few more people over the next week.
Also, I realise that in trying to be positive I’ve ended up fence-sitting in a lot of this post, but I wanted to make it really clear that I think this year’s winner – Dangerous Lilly – is an incredibly well-deserved first place. Relentlessly scrupulous and dedicated, she questions absolutely everything when it comes to sex toys. She refuses to say ‘I know’ until she truly, really knows, and then she shares that knowledge with other people. She’s a great blogger.