Steve at Deep Calls to Deep thinks Christian bloggers are deceiving the Ecosystem. His reason is something I've noted before. When you end up in lots of people's thematically-oriented blogrolls, you get extra links from all the people who put those blogrolls on their blogs. Sometimes people will have a few of them in their sidebar, and you'll get a few permanent links from all those people if you're in more than one of their blogroll lists. Since there are getting to be a lot of such lists among Christian bloggers, it sort of feels like bootstrapping. The links go up without anywhere near as much increase in traffic, so lists like the primary Ecosystem list that track only links are deceptive in not tracking actual traffic. So Steve thinks Christian bloggers are deceiving the Ecosystem. While there's something to his argument, I disagree with the conclusion.
The first thing I want to point out is that Steve is wrong to connect this with aggregators in any way. Aggregators increase traffic, not links (except by increasing other people's chances to see posts that they might thereby link to).
Another thing to keep in mind is that the Ecosystem has two ranking systems. One is based on links. The other is based on traffic. Getting more links brings you up higher in the link ecosystem. Is it thus deceiving the Ecosystem if you have far more links than your traffic might lead people to expect? Absolutely not. The traffic list reflects traffic, and the link list reflects links. Those who care about traffic can go to the traffic rankings to see which blogs are most popular in terms of traffic. If the kind of popularity you care about is how many people visit a blog, that's the place to look. If the kind of popularity you care about is how many links a blog can achieve, you go to the link rankings, the ones TTLB originally cared about and decided to rank first, before he discovered that people also cared about traffic and thus added another list.
Another observation worth noting is that this isn't a phenomenon exclusive to Christian bloggers. Instapundit is #1 on the link rankings by almost twice as much as anyone else, but Kos beats him by something like 2.5 times as much when it comes to traffic. That's because Kos is a community of discussion groups masquerading as a blog. As of this post, a full three blogs in the top ten according to traffic don't even come close to the top in the link rankings, and a quick scan down the list reveals quite a few disparities between links and traffic. It may be that Christians have become good at getting lots of links without that much an increase in traffic, but it's not something only Christians do.
Finally, it's not just that people can get the ranking information if they want it, and it's not just that other people are doing it. I would argue that this is part of the conventions of blogging. When we live among a community, we often will find certain conventions on how to do things. For instance, in North America and most of Europe, you drive on the right side of the road, while in the U.K. and many of its former colonies you drive on the left. Such conventions must be observed, in this case for safety, but also for mere community interaction. Many elements of language are conventions. Most conventions are behavior-guiding. I don't think even close to most moral requirements are merely due to convention, but some are. In certain parts of Asia, you take your shoes off in the house. You don't put a bag down on the floor if you're also going to put the same bag on a table. In some cultures, you don't show your legs at all, whether you're a man or a woman.
In the job market in much of the world, you present yourself in certain ways, emphasizing the ways you can contribute to the company and allowing the company to figure out any of your weaknesses themselves. Is this lying? It is deceit? I don't think so. It's assumed that the only things you'll talk about are your good aspects. That doesn't mean you're pretending you don't have any negatives. You're not expected to talk about them in that context, so it's not deceitful to do so unless you're asked about them and try to hide them then. A good job search will be able to find out what they need to know, and they'll know how to ask the right questions anyway. Your job is to make the case that they should hire you, not to give them reasons why they shouldn't, at least not in most cases. That's the convention of the job market.
There's something similar in the blogosphere. We have a convention. We link to people we like or want to be nice to. Why? Because linking to people increases their Google rating and elevates them in the Ecosystem. That's the convention. Your Ecosystem rating (the link one, anyway) reflects how many people are doing this for you. We also have an Ecosystem convention that allows people to put large numbers of people in their blogroll at once and to allow others to use the same list. Christians do this. There's the Blogdom of God for God-bloggers, not limited to Christians by the way. One of the higher-ranked members is a Christian-friendly Jew, and some of the people in it who call themselves Christians are only so in a very loose sense.
There's an evangelical blogs blogroll. There's a Protestant women bloggers who don't primarily blog politics blogroll. There are denominational blogrolls (e.g. PCA, Roman Catholic) and blogrolls gathering people of certain theological perspectives (e.g. Reformed). Sometimes it's as specific as the Reformed Charismatic blogroll. Sometimes it's as general as politically liberal Christians. Yet there are plenty of these blogrolls that have little or nothing to do with Christianity. I know that on the right side there are Blogs for Bush and GOPBloggers. We also have Pro-Life Blogs and the Conservative Brotherhood (black conservatives, libertarians, and right-leaning moderates). On the left, there's a group of liberal blogs promoted at TTLB, along with two politically neutral blog alliances that are officially based on one's attitude toward Instapundit's position at the top of the Ecosystem, though most of the people who join the one against him are doing it to promote him in a tongue-in-cheek way (one of the reasons he's so much higher linkwise than trafficwise).
This is all part of the blogophere's conventions on how people can indicate support for other blogs. They can do it en masse through these blog alliances. If someone happens to belong to more alliances, they can easily get a lot more links. If the groups they belong to don't have such alliances, some enterprising member of each group in question must do what the enterprising members of other groups have done. They must create such an alliance with an easily transferrable code for the blogroll, one that gets updated automatically as more blogs join the alliance. That's how the convention works. It's not deceptive to take part in the convention. Those are the rules of blogging and linking. It's not deceptive, because these practices are the community's conventions of accumulating and counting links. It's not breaking the rules of the community, because these are the rules of the community. May Christian bloggers continue to play according to the rules and thus support each other.
Side note: I do think there are reasons not to use these blogrolls or not to use them heavily, but those reasons depend on the individual blogger's purposes and blogroll intentions. My blogroll reflects the blogs I find most interesting and worth reading. I count a link from me not as an endorsement of the views of a blog but as an endorsement that a blog raises provocative questions, good analysis, or worthwhile information that you might not find as easily elsewhere. A good number of the blogs in the alliances I belong to do not fit my criteria, so I don't use these blogrolls whose membership I can't control. I want my blogroll to reflect what I want to highlight. I don't see anything wrong in principle with someone else's having a different purpose for a blogroll, e.g. to link to absolutely every blog that links to them without regard for content or to link to absolutely every blog from a certain perspective (e.g. Christian or evangelical) or on a certain topic (e.g. philosophy or legal theory or science). That's just not what I'm doing.
[Hat tip: SmartChristian Blog]