Clay Shirky has a very interesting piece about power laws. He explains that just as with everything else, some blogs get more attention and in fact, the 2nd place blog has 1/2 the value of the 1st place blog, etc. in a 1/n sort of fashion. If you plot this power law distribution, you find that 2/3's of the blogs are "below average" and that this sort of inequal distribution of attention is natural if you think of the way the system works.
Dave protests and says that blogs are different.
Dave Winer To get an idea of what I'm talking about, skim Clay's article. How many of the weblogs he mentions have you heard of? I found that most of them were strange to me. So if we're hitting a scaling wall, why are these blogs becoming popular, even dominant, without any of us knowing about them? If we were all on a mail list together, believe me, we'd know the names of the people who dominate.
So I am reading Steven Johnson's book Emergence - The connected lives of ants, brains, cities, and software
trying to prepare for a 8000 word article I have to write for Illume on the future of information. I've been thinking about just this issue for the last month. I think that trying to connect the discussion about emergence with this issue is key to understanding how blogs are different.
Steven Johnson - EmergenceThe technologies behind the Internet--everything from micro-processors in each Web server to the open-ended protocols that govern the data itself--have been brilliantly engineered to handle dramatic increases in scale, but they are indifferent, if not down-right hostile, to the task of creating higher-level order. There is, of course a neurological equivalent of the Web's ratio of growth to order, but it's nothing you'd want to emulate. It's called a brain tumor.
by definition, no page on the Web knows who's pointing back.
Self-organizing systems use feedback to boothstrap themselves into a more orderly structure. And given the Web's feedback-intolerant, one-way linking, there's no way for the network to learn as it grows, which is why it's now so dependent on search engines to reign in its natural chaos.
So as the former Chairman of Infoseek Japan, I use to think about this power law and tried to figure out ways to get EVERYONE on the net to hit the Infoseek top page. We were able to route a significant amount of the Net's traffic through portals because the web pages weren't self-organizing into anything intelligent enough to sort itself out.
Blogs are different. Although the search engines and metaindexes are useful, they are no longer the first place you go. I read my RSS news feeds before I go searching on a portal for news. As Dave says, don't know most of the blogs on the top 100 list and I don't care. We are organized into more intelligent communities and although there is a power law of sorts with respect to blogs that get a lot of attention, there are many local peaks. I think it looks much more like clusters of blogs with interconnections between communities. A lot like a strength of weak ties sort of map.
I'm going to focus on this for my paper. Any references to things I should read or any comments would be very helpful. Sorry to use you all as my editorial support team for my writing all of the time. ;-)