While we didn’t personally call Shel Israel an arrogant A-Lister, for example, we excerpted a post from another blogger who did, then threw some kerosene on the fire. Folks like Kami (and Shel himself) were quick to tell us we weren’t being fair; they’re right.
We’ve also taken flack because some folks say Media Orchard has criticized blogs that don’t receive as much traffic and attention as we do. Upon closer inspection, this is also true. We never intended to position ourselves as the little guy tilting against the windmills of the big guys — but to the extent we came off that way, we’re sorry.
Sometimes we just get all fired up about something and fire off a post that’s not as well thought out as it should be. (Or maybe you’ve noticed?)
Having said all that, we find the blogging hierarchy an infinitely fascinating topic, and we’re pretty sure we’ll be writing about it again after we finish licking our wounds. So be warned.
In the meantime, we’ll just direct you to a cover story on bloggers by New York magazine. It’s great stuff.
If you talk to many of today’s bloggers, they’ll complain that the game seems fixed. They’ve targeted one of the more lucrative niches — gossip or politics or gadgets (or sex, of course) — yet they cannot reach anywhere close to the size of the existing big blogs. It’s as if there were an A-list of a few extremely lucky, well-trafficked blogs — then hordes of people stuck on the B-list or C-list, also-rans who can’t figure out why their audiences stay so comparatively puny no matter how hard they work. “It just seems like it’s a big in-party,” one blogger complained to me…
That’s a lot of inequality for a supposedly democratic medium. Not long ago, Clay Shirky, an instructor at New York University, became interested in this phenomenon — and argued that there is a scientific explanation. Shirky specializes in the social dynamics of the Internet, including “network theory”: a mathematical model of how information travels inside groups of loosely connected people, such as users of the Web…
When Shirky compiled his analysis of links, he saw that the smaller bloggers’ fears were perfectly correct: There is enormous inequity in the system. A very small number of blogs enjoy hundreds and hundreds of inbound links — the A-list, as it were. But almost all others have very few sites pointing to them. When Shirky sorted the 433 blogs from most linked to least linked and lined them up on a chart, the curve began up high, with the lucky few. But then it quickly fell into a steep dive, flattening off into the distance, where the vast majority of ignored blogs reside. The A-list is teensy, the B-list is bigger, and the C-list is simply massive. In the blogosphere, the biggest audiences — and the advertising revenue they bring — go to a small, elite few. Most bloggers toil in total obscurity.
Economists and network scientists have a name for Shirky’s curve: a “power-law distribution.” Power laws are not limited to the Web; in fact, they’re common to many social systems. If you chart the world’s wealth, it forms a power-law curve: A tiny number of rich people possess most of the world’s capital, while almost everyone else has little or none. The employment of movie actors follows the curve, too, because a small group appears in dozens of films while the rest are chronically underemployed. The pattern even emerges in studies of sexual activity in urban areas: A small minority bed-hop, while the rest of us are mostly monogamous.
The power law is dominant because of a quirk of human behavior: When we are asked to decide among a dizzying array of options, we do not act like dispassionate decision-makers, weighing each option on its own merits. Movie producers pick stars who have already been employed by other producers. Investors give money to entrepreneurs who are already loaded with cash. Popularity breeds popularity.
The story features interesting interviews with a number of mostly New York-based bloggers. Check it out.
(Oh, and we’re not exactly sure why we’ve included the picture of the dog and cat wearing Elizabethan collars, but it seemed to work…)