Top 100?

12/20/2006 09:49:00 pm

I just received this email:

Hello Darren,

OEDb: Online Education Database has just named its Top 100 Education Blogs, and I'm pleased to inform you that A Difference has made the list. The full list is available at for your perusal. Congratulations!

Jimmy Atkinson
OEDb: Online Education Database

On the face of it this sounds like great news! It sounds like I've won some sort of award. At the very least a significant badge of distinction ... but I don't know Jimmy Atkinson. I've never heard of the Online Education Database. So, I did some digging ...

First, off to the site to see what it looks like. No Ads. Seems to be a clearinghouse for information about online university degrees. The about page links to three articles on the net written about the site. Actually, two of them are link lists. The third references OEDb as a resource for learning about online education programmes. It also says on this page that OEDb was launched in September of this year. The link provided is to a site called PR Leap. It has ads and describes itself as: "PR Leap is an online press release service that offers both free and paid distribution to search engines, newswires and websites since 2003." All other links on the pages that I looked at linked to other pages on the site. No external references.

Next, off to Google to see who is linking to the site using the "link" search command (link: According to Google no one is linking to this site (Dec. 20, 2006). Over to AltaVista to try the same search. 821 results (Dec. 20, 2006). The first 20 results seem to point to sites publicizing OEDb. One link caught my eye, hit #14, dotmarketer properties (see below). This is their homepage.

Now off to; I entered the domain: The results:

I zeroed in on:

Created On:05-Apr-2006 17:33:16 UTC
Last Updated On:09-Oct-2006 22:58:35 UTC
Expiration Date:05-Apr-2008 17:33:16 UTC 

as well as the Registrant Name, City, State, Country and the email addresses.

Next a Google search for "Jimmy Atkinson." Some self promotion sites but there could be more than one Jimmy Atkinson in the world. The sixth hit was to the Six Sigma Blog which also appeared on a list of sites sourced back to The fourth and fifth hit were to a recent Stephen Downes post at OLDaily where he gives a positive but reserved review of a "post" by Jimmy Atkinson at OEDb called Hacking Knowledge: 77 Ways to Learn Faster, Deeper, and Better. (I only skimmed the article but it did catch my interest and I plan to go back and read it sometime next week.)

Last stop on this tour was to the Internet Archive to use the Wayback Machine (I searched for This showed the url first went live in August of 2000. It was about the Oahu Economic Development Board (OEDB) in Hawaii. In July of 2002 the site undergoes a major redesign and name change to Enterprise Honolulu which is still active at The next major change is when the domain switches ownership and becomes the Outdoor Education Database (OEDB) on August 6, 2004. The last record of the domain is April 28, 2005. It is still the url for the Outdoor Education Database. From what I learned above it looks like Jimmy acquired the domain for the Online Education Database (OEDb) in April of this year and went public with it three months ago, in September.

I looked at the top 100 list of education blogs. There are a lot of folks I know there. It's a pretty good list although I'm glad I didn't write it. I really wouldn't know where to begin, or end, such a list.

Jimmy seems to like my blog. I'm gratified that he feels my work belongs in his top 100; but is it "big news" that A Difference has made this Top 100 list? Well, no, not really. It looks like it's just one person's opinion. The site and email made it look like it was a significant accomplishment. I think the Eddies were a much bigger deal.

Why would Jimmy do this? Go to all the trouble to find, organize and link to 100 different edublogs? That's a lot of work! He might just be trying to generate some traffic on his site or he might just want to share his personal favourites list. Either way, there's some opacity here that should be made transparent.

I hope my students are reading this.

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  1. My biggest question was why, on a site whose stated purpose is to provide information about online education programs, is there not a single outbound link to any of the schools reviewed? Why, instead, do all of the links point to sites like search4clicks[dot]com that are tiered marketing link providers?

    As you noted, just a quick link and the alarm bells go off. Look any deeper, and real questions come up. Not something with which I care to be involved.

  2. Darren,
    It appears we had the same idea (and time to post) on the same day. I wondered like you did at this, but obviously, you went a bit further in the detective work! I mention it here...

  3. Hi Darren,

    That's quite a bit you found out about me! You certainly did your homework. Here's what I have to say in response...

    First of all, I agree with you that the EduBlog Awards are a much bigger deal. They've been established for longer than OEDb, and they actually picked winners in several categories, while OEDb's Top 100 is simply a list of our favorite education-related blogs.

    Yes, our About page is a bit thin at the moment. We're still just getting our feet wet. As you pointed out correctly, we only did obtain the domain in April and didn't launch the site until September. Yes, PR Leap is just one of many press release syndication services that we used to announce our site when we first launched.

    I actually don't recommend using Google's link: command. They're terribly slow at updating these records. Instead, I like to use Yahoo's command. For instance -- I'll use your site here -- on Google shows only 313 results while on Yahoo shows 2,926 results.

    Now a bit about me, Dotmarketer, and OEDb, since you seemed curious. I am a 2004 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. I grew up in Los Angeles, but now reside in Chicago. I am president and co-founder of Los Angeles-based Web publishing firm Dotmarketer LLC. Dotmarketer owns a profitable business-to-business blog network, which includes Six Sigma Blog, that was founded in 2004. Dotmarketer also serves as holding company for OEDb.

    OEDb: Online Education Database contains unique reviews of 429 online degree programs offered by 40 different accredited schools. We are still in the process of adding more to our database. By February, we will offer reviews of over 700 programs from 60 different accredited schools. It is our goal to eventually be the top authority on accredited online degree programs. You are correct to notice that OEDb does not have any ads. We do however earn revenue when a visitor to our site requests additional information from one of the online schools in our database.

    In addition to reviewing online schools and degrees, our site also houses an online library ( of articles related to a variety of education-related topics. From time to time, we share these articles with other webmasters, such as yourself, when we think you may find them interesting enough to share with your readers. We also seek feedback on these articles.

    As recently as last week, I had an idea that the OEDb staff and I should put together a list of our favorite education weblogs and categorize them, since there seemed to be an endless number of them. We came up with our Top 100 list and admittedly it is subjective, as any list of this kind is. The goal of publishing this list was simply to create a page that would serve as a good starting point for finding excellent sources of education-related writing. This was done for both our visitors and ourselves. Of course, the little traffic boost from those bloggers who linked to this list is just the cherry on top. But the main goal was to provide a valuable resource.

    Anyway, I'm flattered by the trouble you went to to find out so much about me and OEDb. I hope that I've answered your questions sufficiently. If you have any more, please don't hesitate to ask.


  4. Hi Jimmy,

    Many of my questions were answered in the course of the brief searches I did then posted about here. I do appreciate you fleshing out some of the details more fully. It seems I wasn't the only edublogger curious about the publication of your list and I've read some of your public comments on blogs that wrote about it.

    I get lots of email. Sometimes of the "FYI" variety, sometimes from people pursuing something they've read about on one of my blogs, sometimes from people soliciting my support for a project they are pursuing. I felt like yours was of that third kind.

    I do not get a lot of awards. When I do I'm naturally curious about who they are from and why I've been chosen for the honour.

    I am also a teacher. Although I teach math, in the course of learning online with my students we cover a lot of incidental topics like ethical online behaviour and how to validate sources on the internet.

    When I received your email about being on the Top 100 list it carried undertones of a large organization recognizing my work. Naturally, I would then blog about it and share the news with the people who read my blog. I saw the many well known bloggers linked to on your list and figured they would do the same. My search for more info about OEDb started with me wanting to know more about the award. It ended with a blog post that I will use to model for my students how to verify sources of information on the internet.

    Your writing, here and in comments on blogs, comes across as sincere but my feeling was that I was being linked to in order to garner reciprocal links that add to the credibility and authority of your site and list. Actually, my voice alone won't do that but if all 100 blogs you linked to provide reciprocal links back to you it will. The question then arises: Who is OEDb? Does being on their Top 100 list mark a major milestone for an edublog? I don't think it does today and the subtext of your email suggested otherwise. Maybe one day it will.

    It takes time and effort to build up that credibility. OEDb has been at it for three months. Give it time and keep writing stuff like the other articles you have on your site. Let your content speak for itself. A year or two from now your Top 100 list and badge may become a real mark of distinction. But by then it will be backed up by the quality of all the other content you will have published. This Top 100 list made me feel like I was being solicited (manipulated?) and it didn't feel right.

  5. Darren -- You were right to feel manipulated by the unsolicited emails, and even more so by his 'explanation'. You've given him far more credit than he's earned. Sadly, as Miguel points out in his own post, he's getting the 'value' of his 'investment' by all the linking and conversation. A win-win for him. Will a few people not visit his site from the list? Sure, but he's not banking on the list being his primary audience at the end of the day. A minor roadblock in the short-term, but long-term the business strategy has little to do with the 'purity' of blogging, the time it takes to build a network (and become part of one), or the real issues of learning/schooling/technology that you and others so clearly pursue.

    I did greatly appreciate your deep analysis and research -- it far out-paced what I did, although I spent quite a bit of time looking into him/it, and even emailing him 2x (although he failed to reply either time, which again echos my belief that he's not in it for the same game that you, Miguel and others are in it for) -- and I'm pleased it help me connect to your work and blog. This might be the best outcome of all.


  6. Thanks for the information literacy lesson, Darren! I'm not formally one of your students, but unofficially you're my teacher in this context! (and many others!) Thanks for your research and lucid analysis on this. The importance of critical thinking and information literacy is dramatized again!

  7. Excellent work. I just did a similar search for Jimmy Atkinson, based on the "Top 25 Librarian blogs" that the OEDb has compiled.

    I have a similar conclusion to yours- that Mr. Atkinson is trying to drive traffic to his site. Perhaps the intentions of the OEDb are purely educational, but I think more needs to be said on the 'About' page if that is true.

    -Dynamic Librarian