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BloggingOn 7.2 - Independent Steering Committee

I've been checking out the Daou Report the last couple days, but I'm not quite ready to say anything about that. I did skim through this thing that Aldon mentioned.

My intuitive reaction is to say that it's a load of malarkey. Even though, I understand that part of the argument here is that "power law" works in a somewhat counterintuitive way.

Here's one bit I found particularly interesting:
Note that this model is absolutely mute as to why one blog might be preferred over another. Perhaps some writing is simply better than average (a preference for quality), perhaps people want the recommendations of others (a preference for marketing), perhaps there is value in reading the same blogs as your friends (a preference for "solidarity goods", things best enjoyed by a group). It could be all three, or some other effect entirely, and it could be different for different readers and different writers. What matters is that any tendency towards agreement in diverse and free systems, however small and for whatever reason, can create power law distributions.
It seems to wish away the real substance of the problem. That is to say, power law describes that preferences in the blogosphere exist in a way that is socially ubiquitous, but what I really want to know is why things turn out this way (exactly what __ is saying this model can't/won't tell us). In other words: people are sheep. Why are people sheep? Beats me.

And of course that oversimplification is unkind at best, but seems to be the crux of the biscuit, as it were. Do people flock to the A-List bloggers (or rockers, or politicians, or reality-tv personalities) because of some statistical phenomenon, or because they are lazy, or for a sense of belonging/understanding/, or because of a truly overwhelming proliferation of choices, or because there actually is a noticeable difference in quality?

I can't promise any viable suggestion, though I'm relatively certain that "coding" (whether conscious or unconscious) plays a significant role.

Speaking of equality and inequality, what's up with this?
The transformation here is simple - as a blogger's audience grows large, more people read her work than she can possibly read, she can't link to everyone who wants her attention, and she can't answer all her incoming mail or follow up to the comments on her site. The result of these pressures is that she becomes a broadcast outlet, distributing material without participating in conversations about it.
Is there some grammatical rule that governs this sort of egalitarianism regarding the use of personal pronouns? Is there a mathematical formula that says exactly where in a given essay you should insert the paragraph with the conspicuous use of she and her? Perhaps it has something to do with the golden ratio?

This commentary (linked from that other thing just discussed) seems a little more realistic. Here are a few snippets that I felt were closer to what I was originally hoping for (over-LONG excerpt):
Finally, independent confirmation of an obvious fact that is self-servingly denied by the Weblog aristocracy itself: Despite no appreciable difference in the “thoughtfulness” of their respective Web criticism, some Webloggers are superstars. The myth, of course, holds that all bloggers are equal, because we all can set out our wares on the great egalitarian Internet, where the best ideas bubble to the surface. This free-market theory of information has superficial appeal, but reality is rather different. Jason’s commentary is quite good (Meg’s less so), but so is the commentary written by literally a dozen other bloggers I read, none of whom can create a miniature Slashdot effect by mentioning you. (I’m not citing any other bloggers here, by the way, whatever their fame or acumen. I’m limiting the name-dropping to the bloggers Rebecca Mead introduced into the discourse.) Jason’s fame cannot be attributed solely to his cuteness (mentioned explicitly by Mead). I can think of two other A-list bloggers who are better-looking, not to mention having a bit more meat on the bones, and I am aware that there are a lot of attractive bloggeuses. Moreover, one A-list blogger is spectacularly ugly, but that has not impeded his star status. Web-design skills cannot account for everything, either. Jason’s site, in its various forms, offers a middling level of programming complexity. Yet I can name three other A-list bloggers, and a far greater number digging for coal with their bare hands in the caverns of the net, whose sites are more complex and better-looking. A small number of A-list bloggers run Weblogs that are effectively undesigned, a positioning statement that aims to showcase their ideas more prominently, but their ideas aren’t markedly superior to other bloggers’ in the first place. Any way you cut it, there is no rational or even pseudo-rational explanation for the distribution of fame in the blog biz. Fame is like that.
Perhaps the real appeal for me here is that this speaks more in the language of the blogosphere (a language that I am beginning to appreciate more and more), and less in the language of academically sanctioned discourse.

Yes, people am sheep.

3 Responses to “”

  1. Blogger Holly 

    Half of the problem with blogging comments - the grand scale of interactivity - is that people's comments (not all, but many), tend to reflect agreement or disagreement without a whole lot of hard facts... That being said, your comments are very informative, intelligently opinionated, and backed up by fact. I'm also glad to see that the "coding" (Rapaille) phenomenon has not been entirely lost - because although it is a topic that calls for a lot more understanding and patience, it has an incredible amount of logic and credibility.
    And for fear of appearing to only want to "agree" with you through my comment, we ARE like sheep (often being led to the slaughter), and it has a lot to do with our core "coding."

  2. Blogger ericdbernasek 

    Thanks Holly.

    I was thinking this post needed a little clarification. It's not the model of power law that I object to, in fact that's more or less how I expect things to work out (that a very small minority would have the majority of the traffic/attention/accolades). What I find dubious is the assertion that:

    "There is no A-list that is qualitatively different from their nearest neighbors, so any line separating more and less trafficked blogs is arbitrary."


    "...the inequality is mostly fair now..."

    Colin's recurring comment about celebrating something precisely when it is being destroyed (paraphrasing, I am) comes to mind. There seems to be a pretty clearly "established" set of blogs resting in Technorati's top 20.

    Admittedly, there is far more chance for someone in the blogging world to "break through" than someone in, say, presidential politics, but to suggest that this is a statistical anamoly indpendent of human social preferences and prejudices is pretty ridiculous.

  3. Blogger coturnix 

    It's interesting that the article Aldon linked to, which is more than two years old has, apart from Instapundit, a completely different set of Top 10 than today. Thus, stuff does move, though slowly.

    Read more about the Long Tail on Anderson's blog. I think that timing is quite important, i.e., the first ones to get started have huge advantage over newcomers. This is getting more and pronounced. Nine months ago there were 2 million blogs, today there are 20 million (plus another 10 million or so in China that Technorati does not track), thus even more "clogging" of the sphere.

    Expert Bloggers have an advantage, as well as those with instant name recognition ("celebrities" and political office holders/challengers). They need to be good, though, if they are to survive.

    Here is a summary of some recent debates about A-listers and diversity in the blogosphere.

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