A five year old bet was settled last night between New York Times executive Martin Nisenholtz and Web 2.0 Founding Father Dave Winer. Five years ago Winer bet Nisenholtz that blogs would top the New York Times in Google search results for the top 5 news stories of 2007.
Rogers Cadenhead has done the tabulation and found that Winer, and blogging, have indeed won. Sort of.
According to the Associated Press, the top 5 news stories of 2007 were Chinese exports, oil prices, Iraq war, Mortgage crisis and the Virginia Tech killings. Obviously this is a list for US news markets and not the entire world.
Today, a Google search for those terms brings up a blog higher than the New York TImes for Chinese exports (Blogging Stocks 19th vs. NYT 20th), Iraq War (a blog was 17th, NYT 20th) and Virginia Tech killings (Newsvine coverage of the AP's top stories of the year is 9th in Google vs. the Times at #30.) So blogs topped the Times in 3 out of 5 top stories.
Wikipedia, however, ranks higher than both blogs and wikis according to Candenhead. Also remarkable is that even as so much else has changed, Google remains as much a reasonable arbiter today as it was 5 years ago.
If Only It Were So Simple
What does it all mean? That things are a lot more complicated today than anyone might have expected five years ago. If you read the debate over the bet as originally posted it's remarkable how differently things have turned out. The vast majority of bloggers are not blogging professionally and many are making an impact on the news - but the 3 blogs that topped the Times in the Google results in question don't tell such a simple story. Two are stories from the AOL owned Blogging Stocks and one is from social news site Newsvine, now owned by MSNBC. So was Winer right about the triumph of the amateur after all?
The fact that Wikipedia beat everyone says something. Ultimately though, this is a story about SEO. If one person at the NYT was doing a better job of optimizing NYT pages for search engines this whole story could be turned on its head. Had the NYT not spent much of the last 5 years with a paywall around its content, how many more inbound links would these stories have seen and how would this contest look then? Will Google Knols end up unseating Wikipedia by pure privilege and ending up the winner of this entire contest?
Unsurprisingly, 5 years later the Winer vs. NYT bet brings up more questions than it answers.