The Arch throws the curve

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

This week the St. Louis Weblogger group was featured on the local Fox News channel. Ben Vierck, otherwise known as bumr, and also otherwise known as the father of Bloghorn, a hosted weblogging solution, was interviewed as was another St. Lou blogger group member, Mae from Mae Midwest. Ben is hoping to get permission to post his captured video from the piece, and if he gets it, I’ll link to it.

This story has resulted in several new Bloghorn webloggers, and because new members have posting privileges at the St. Louis blogger site, there’s been a great deal of newbie talk, which is rather fun. In addition, the Live Journal St. Louis group invited the Blogger group to join them at their next get together. I thought this was rather funny — the television show acted as a link to the weblogging group for the Live Journaling group (I don’t use ‘weblog’ with Live Journal folks, they don’t usually like it). Hypertext in hypermedia.

It was while watching all of this stuff that I was reminded of Clay Shirkey’s Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality. Remember the curve with the big bump for the top bloggers, and the long, long, skinny rat’s tail for the rest of us?

Anyway, it came to me that Clay’s Power Law would normally work within the weblogging community if it weren’t for one thing: people are entering the community through new ports. And a lot of these people have never heard of Glenn Reynolds. Or Atrios. Or Clay Shirky. Or even me.

As the number of people entering weblogging increases, especially through these different ports, the influence of the so-called A-List bloggers changes. It has to change, and if you look at something like the Technorati 100 now, compared to when it first started, you’ll see change.

One such change is that the power bloggers influence become more diffused — even the loudest voice can’t be heard within a large crowd. Yes, more people are linking to Glenn Reynolds or Dave Winer, or Boing Boing, but not in numbers proportional to the numbers of new webloggers/personal-journalists.

I call this the Weblog Speck Law.

To illustrate, the following diagram shows weblogging the way it was, once, a long time ago. The yellow with black edging would be the power bloggers — folks such as Dave Winer, Rebecca Blood, and Doc Searls. Notice how much they stand out?

[image lost]

A few years ago weblogging started getting a huge surge in participants. For every one person, previously, now there were tens, hundreds of people. With this increase came a whole new group of power bloggers: people such as Sam Ruby and Mark Pilgrim, Glenn Reynolds, and The Chartreuse Balls gang. Still, if you look at the ratio of power blogger to just plain folks, you can see that though the power bloggers still stand out, they don’t as much as they used to.

[image lost]

Today, webloggers or personal journalists (a distinction between the two is forming, primarily by the journalists who don’t want anything to do with ‘weblogging’ and its supposed rules) come into this medium from all over the place: through stories in television or newspapers, or at college, or talked into it by friends at high or middle school, or work or some other affiliation. Where before there were a few main weblogging tools, now there are hundreds. The days when most of us learned about weblogging for the first time through Dave Winer or Ev Williams are in the past, and with this goes the almost planetary status of most of the top bloggers.

[image lost]

There are literally thousands of new webloggers who have never heard of any of the members of the Technorati Top 100; that is, until they put themselves or their friends in the lists.

Because of these new ports, and growing numbers, the power bloggers have less influence than we originally thought. Yes, they still do have a disproportionate influence over thousands of bloggers; but when you start to think of webloggers numbering in the millions, influence over thousands just doesn’t buy what it used to at the store.

[image lost]

Can you see Dave in the above? How about Kottke? Which one are you? I’m the red one, just there on the left.

It’s not just in numbers that the Curve breaks down–after all adding more bloggers should just add to the height of the spike and the length of the tail if Clay’s assertion holds. No, Clay originally assumed that the Power Laws would prevail in the weblogging community because newcomers would only form small, unimportant circles, or would add to the power of the top bloggers. What we’re seeing, though, is something that contradicts this–instead of a static list of familiar faces, new personalities are appearing in the Tech 100 who I’ve never heard of; who many of us have never heard of. And old friends are falling off the bottom, fading into the obscurity of the Technorati Top One Thousand. Poor dears.

Aha, you say: this supports Clay’s assertion of a Power Law curve not contradicts it: new people put themselves into the Top 100, others fall into the tail, and the Power Law Curve prevails. But it doesn’t.

The Power Law implies that those who are at the top of the Big Bump all come from the same pool, the same community. In actuality, the only thing we share is the medium. For instance, this Persian weblog may be a massive influence within the Persian weblogging community, but I can’t even read it (though sometimes, as with today and the photos, we don’t have to read the words to get the message). With all the best of intentions in the world, we don’t come from the same community. The same applies to many of the other top weblogs, such as the up and coming Livejournal sites (or the Suicide Girls, though it looks like they’re now filtered from the Technorati lists).

If these weblogs are a part of the Big Bump, I’m not part of their associated rat’s tail. The only thing we share is the Internet; the only reason I know about them is the Top Technorati 100 list. And if this list continues to get more weblogs written in languages I can’t read, or with bouncing smiley faces I can’t tolerate, or nude young women with tatoos who don’t do much for me, then its relevance to me, and hence influence, becomes that much less. Instead of a Top 100 for all weblogs, it’s becoming an accidental association between the top 5 weblogs from this community, the top weblog from that one, three from another, and so on.

In weblogging/personal journaling, then, instead of Clay’s Power Law curve, with its one sharp point, I think we’re looking at the following:

[image lost]

Oh, it’s a little more jagged then curvy, but you get the point–no pun intended. Not only isn’t it the Power Law Curve, this silhouette will change and flex over time–it’s inevitable. Looks a little like the skyline of a town, doesn’t it? All because of events like Ben and Mae going on TV and talking about a thing called weblogging.

I used to worry about the Top 100; things like not enough women in the lists, not enough diversity, too much control in the hands of the few. But ultimately, the only thing the Top 100 describes is links, not communities.

Long live the specks.

(But you all knew this already, didn’t you? Shall I return to posting more photographs?)


Voted. Walked.


Social Media

…and then I quit Orkut

Today is a lovely cold winter day, with fresh snow on the ground, sunshine and blue skies. Today is also Primary day her in Missouri, and I think about having to carefully make my way down the hill to where my car is parked, just so I can make it to the voting place at the Seminary, next door. I’m hesitant about walking in snow because I’m still limping with my hurt foot and ankle and more than a bit nervous about falling again. Even if I don’t hurt anything –and knowing me, what’s the odds of that happening?–I’m still going to be very embarrassed.

To add insult to injury, I’ve been fighting some kind of flu lately, and it seems to have won if how I slept last night and how I feel today are any indication. Nasty headache, and neck pain, and every one of my joints hurts. And I’m tired of pain. There was the gallbladder operation, followed by the oral surgery, followed the fall and in each case I’m given nice pain pills that I’m hesitant to take because I like them a bit too much. So I just hurt.

Sure this is a po’me writing, but I’m not looking for sympathy, and if you extend a hand to pat me on the back, with accompaniments of ‘There, there. There, there’, you’ll probably lose it. Anything that’s wrong with me is only temporary, so just let me grouse about it and get it out of my system.

Grouse. Isn’t this a lovely word? There’s a term for words whose pronunciation fits what they represent, but for the life of me, I can’t remember what the term is. I even went the Google route trying to find it, and ended up finding this funny page instead. It’s a discussion forum called “Brunching Shuttlecocks”, and the topic is “Words that sound funny and nobody knows what they mean”. The topic quickly moved into discussions of words that sound naughty, but aren’t:

Mastication is not a dirty word; it is right and proper. Everybody masticates. Men masticate, women masticate, dogs masticate too. King Arthur and his knights practiced circle mastication.


I always like the phrase “Subduction leads to orogeny.” Sounds SO naughty, but it actually has to do with the movement of earth’s tectonic plates.

Actually, it does sound naughty. And if you think of the movement of earth’s tectonic plates as being an analogy, then…wait, wait–this isn’t the Super Bowl.

Anyway, back to the topic, words that sound like they mean. Someone in the discussion mentioned “Slubberdegullion “, which means “a dirty, wretched slob”. Isn’t that a lovely word? I mean, doesn’t it make you want to find someone who is dirty and wretched just so you could say, “You Slubberdegullion!”

Of course, when I looked up this word online, I was led to the World Wide Words, which discusses it in context of lovely old disparaging words–invectives– that have fallen into disuse. He quotes from Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel penned in the 1500’s:

The bun-sellers or cake-makers were in nothing inclinable to their request; but, which was worse, did injure them most outrageously, called them prattling gabblers, lickorous gluttons, freckled bittors, mangy rascals, shite-a-bed scoundrels, drunken roysters, sly knaves, drowsy loiterers, slapsauce fellows, slabberdegullion druggels, lubberly louts, cozening foxes, ruffian rogues, paltry customers, sycophant-varlets, drawlatch hoydens, flouting milksops, jeering companions, staring clowns, forlorn snakes, ninny lobcocks, scurvy sneaksbies, fondling fops, base loons, saucy coxcombs, idle lusks, scoffing braggarts, noddy meacocks, blockish grutnols, doddipol-joltheads, jobbernol goosecaps, foolish loggerheads, flutch calf-lollies, grouthead gnat-snappers, lob-dotterels, gaping changelings, codshead loobies, woodcock slangams, ninny-hammer flycatchers, noddypeak simpletons, turdy gut, shitten shepherds, and other suchlike defamatory epithets; saying further, that it was not for them to eat of these dainty cakes, but might very well content themselves with the coarse unranged bread, or to eat of the great brown household loaf.

Lovely, isn’t it? I want all of this for my new weblog tagline. I’ll put it into my RSS and Atom feeds. And there’s that word! Rabelais! I saw it used at Language Hat and I meant to look it up, but didn’t. Anyway, Language Hat used the word in the context of quoting another weblogger who goes by the name of ‘pf’, who was recently mugged in Russia. pf who wrote:

Okay, fine, I lost my glasses, I lost my hat. But why did I have to go and lose my Rabelais? What was the point of that?

True, what was the point of that? But I am glad that all he did lose was his glasses, hat, and Rabelais.

But what was the point of this?

All this chasing of words reminded me that Dave Rogers re-started his weblog, except that he now goes by Groundhog Day in honor of his favorite movie, or underground creature, take your pick. It was good to see him back so I thought I would shine my spotlight on him to see if he sees his shadow and if there’s going to be another six weeks of this cold and snow that I can’t walk through easily in order to make it to the polling place and do my civic duty. Perhaps this means others who have been too silent will themselves creep carefully out of their burrows and favor us with a word. Or two. But not Slubberdegullion, I’ve already used that one. That’s my word.

Speaking of pianos–oh, I’m sorry? Did that change in direction hurt you?–I found an online Java-based piano that I tried my haunting melody out on and then copied down what I think are the notes (not really knowing if I have a tin ear or not – and isn’t that a lovely phrase, too?):

E F# G
E F# G
E F# G
E F# G
F# D B

Well, I didn’t say it was a complex tune. Music that lingers as faint wisps of sound, ghostly tunes, never is. That’s why It’s a Small World is such an evil song – there! Now that will go through your mind the rest of the day.

I must find my song. An autographed copy of one of books to you if you can help me identify this song and the singer. Or one of my photos printed on quality digital ink jet paper and signed. Heck, if you live in a place I want to visit, I’ll even hand deliver it. You pay for the plane.

Now that I’ve managed to introduce the topic of photos gracefully into this conversation, I can say, safely without hurting you by another of my segues, we in the northern hemisphere need a warm note about now, so this from my archives.


I used the Photoshop unsharp mask with this photo to clarify it just a tad. I finally figured out how to use the unsharp mask in Photoshop, thanks to suggestions out at the Digital Photography community in Orkut. The best advice came from a man who teaches photography and he knows his stuff because what he said worked beautifully. He also has a very interesting profile and is connected to some other very interesting people and communities such as the polyamory community, which I guess has to do with loving lots of people and I don’t mean shaking hands kind of love.

Though polyamory is not my cup of tea, following people to their profiles did connect me up with several new communities including the Photography community where a member, Randal talked about his …31,000 photos online. It was only when I got a good look at Randal’s picture that I realized it was Randal Schwartz, a luminary in the Perl community.

That became a pretty common experience, running into people I know or know of in contexts completely different from how I know them, which just tickled me at times. For instance, ran into Betsy Devine over at the Travel Tips community where people were giving some great advice to a person heading towards New Zealand.

(I hope that Betsy doesn’t mind that I Orkuted her – outed her as an Orkut member.)

Jeneane started a new Orkut community for those people who write for a living. Wait, isn’t that an oxymoron? (Another lovely word to say, but doesn’t sound anything like what it means, and is overused being the word of the 1990’s.)

I thought what was needed, then, to be fair, was for someone to start a community for those who write but don’t make a living at it. Wait a sec! Already done. It’s called the Blogger Community. (I tried this group out for a bit, but all they talk about is blogging. Made me realize that we talk about blogging too much, like I’m, urh, well, damn, doing here. Reminds me of the author who wrote the book on paper on paper.)

What do you know. By the time I finished with my reading and writing this my headache is better and I didn’t need to use pills, and I found myself chuckling more than a bit at some of the words, and it really is very pretty outside today, and I think I might try and get a new snow picture for those who live in the Southern Hemisphere.

(You realize that if our world wasn’t so screwed up, wobbling about on its axis like a drunken stripper doing a pole dance, we’d shared the same weather. Of course, we’d all be dead, so I guess there is a down side to it.)

I don’t think I have the flu–I think I just have a case of the mopes (see, there’s another one of those words that sound like they mean). Yes, it is a very pretty day today. And I’m going to exercise my privilege and go vote. And I’m going to exercise my lazy butt and go walk. But then I need to come back and work on the book, and my writing, and my photos because I let it all slide last night spending so much time in the Orkut communities meeting new and interesting people and not once looking at their fan rating or their cool rating or the numbers of friends they had (except this guy named Valentin with an afro who everyone seems to know).

However, I already have a use for my extra time and it’s here and out there and I don’t need another Internet time sink, so that’s why I decided to quit Orkut, which is really what this writing was about.


Faint notes

There’s a song that’s been going through my head for the last few days, and I can’t remember any of the words. It’s a sad/sweet song, and I vaguely remember hearing someone singing it, but not the words, and not even the person.

If I knew enough about music I would try to recreate the tune in writing. If I had a lovely singing voice, I’d record me humming the tune and post it online for help in identification. For now, I guess it will have to live as a ghostly melody. But then, there’s worse things for a sad/sweet song.


Social Media

The sidewalk the walkers built

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I’ve always been interested in architecture. At one point I seriously considered studying architecture in school, but my interest is and remains more that of a hobbyist than of a practitioner. But I still keep up with stories about innovative design practices.

One of my favorites I read about long ago, was actually used as an example in a book about designing software. It was the story of an architect who built a building without sidewalks. People would have to walk through the grass to get to whatever door they wanted to enter, and though the weather was fine and walking through the grass is pleasant, it did generate complaints–especially from the women wearing high heels.

A few weeks after the building was opened, sidewalks were added during the weekend and people were pleasantly surprised to find them that Monday morning. But they weren’t your usual sidewalks, with straight lines and right angle connections to the building. They tended to meander a bit, as if the sidewalks followed the trails created by people entering and leaving the building.

In fact, that’s exactly what happened: the architect left the sidewalks off until trails had been beaten into the grass by people, and then just followed the trails wherever feasible, literally letting the people define where the sidewalks are going to be.

I was strongly reminded of this story these last few weeks when it comes to this new social network, Orkut. In particular, I was rather surprised to see such vehement pushback against what is nothing more than a mildly interesting exercise in connectivity via software.

First was the invitation thing, which does seem elitist. However, getting invited was pretty easy – just look for any number of weblog posts that say, “If you want to get invited, drop me a note in my comments”. By using this approach, I imagine that the Orkut designers were able to gauge the genuine interest and curiosity of people in being part of this experiment, rather than opening it to the world and having people sign on just to check it out and leaving all sorts of accounts that are not used again. This changes the demographics of the site.

(Considering that Google’s strengths are based on measurement, interpreting patterns, and developing algorithms for them, it’s not surprising that a social network they would develop would start by invitation. )

Recently, there’s been discussion of some sort of ‘jail’ if you abuse the Orkut system. From what I can see, this jail is nothing more than denied privilege to do certain things such as post emails to 12,000 people at once, or to invite another 250 of your closest friends to join.

Then there’s this interesting post by a person named Christopher. He talks about being jailed, but he also talks about his insecurity with Orkut.

Later I find out by looking at other people’s information that this is all completely public. It isn’t limited to just friends, or friends of friends, but instead is prominent. In fact, other then your name and how many “friends” you have, your relationship style is the most prominent thing listed. Do I really want to know that my business acquaintance that I see only at technical conferences 2 or 3 times a year is in an open marriage? Or divorced? Or gay?

Oh good lord. Aside from a few pieces of information, from what I can see from the Orkut sign in screens you don’t have to put down anything about yourself. Tell me, are all of you the type of people that when you walk past a faucet, you have to turn it on?

You don’t list anything you don’t want the world to see. Social networks are just that: social and network, which means that there are a lot of people out there looking at information you put in about yourself and if you don’t like it – don’t put the information in. If you really don’t like it, don’t join.

Danah Boyd seems to have a real thing against Orkut. I’m not surprised folks don’t like Orkut, but I am surprised at the level of animosity that Danah, and others, seem to experience in regards to the service:

1) What the hell is up with the elitist approach to invitation? That’s just outright insulting and an attempt to pre-configure the masses through what the technorati are doing. Social networks are not just a product of technologists. Everyone has a social network and what they do with it is quite diverse. To demand that they behave by the norms of technologists is horrifying.

2) Are trustworthy, cool, and sexy the only ways that i might classify my friends? (Even Orkut lists a lot more in his definition of self.) And since when can i rate the people that i know based on this kind of metric?

And goddamnit CONTEXT CONTEXT CONTEXT. Cool as a techy? Cool as a party kid? Trustworthy along what fucking axes?

I know that David Weinberger considers Danah’s rant to be ‘rational’, but I found it to be extremely subjective and well, frankly, angry – both of which were confusing because all Orkut is, is a mildly interesting experiment in connecting using software.

That’s the point – this is an experiment, this is beta software, this is an attempt to put out raw functionality and let the users define it by useful criticism and suggestions. What’s happened, though, is second guessing from people that runs the gamut from “Google needs Orkut for user information” to “Orkut is developed by the evil Technorati”.

(New bumper sticker: I am the Evil Technorati. I hope David doesn’t mind.)

Bottom line, if people don’t like Orkut, don’t join. Comments were made to this effect in Danah’s posting, and her response was:

I’m glad y’all want to take the time to read my rants, and even better that you post (even if anonymously). But you should probably realize that i’m an academic. I STUDY things. Right now, i’ve been studying online social network services. No one put a gun to my head to join any given service. I do this as a researcher. I write rants for the random folks who want to listen to them (and to vent my inner demons in an unconstrained form since academic papers require a lot more framing of the discussion).

So stop telling me to shut up and stop using the thing. If you don’t want to hear my rants, don’t read em.

Personally, I wouldn’t have responded to Danah’s rant, except that there’s a lot of people who seem to think that she’s got the answer when it comes to Social Networking with that rant of hers, and I can’t see it. I think that AKMA’s got the right answer when he says:

The problem with LinkedIn and that other one I don’t remember is that their systems already knew what I wanted to do with my social network; and they were wrong. The reason I like Orkut so far is that I get the feeling that Google and Orkut are leaving the system unfinished to watch what happens and what people want to do with it. Rather offering us an elaborate, polished network that doesn’t do what we want, they’re offering us a raw beta (it does say ‘beta’ in those white letters on the upper right of the window) so that they can build out what participants demand. That would be Google-like; that would be clued. And although no one inside is talking to me about this, I have a hunch that Orkut has a clue.

I don’t particularly care for social networks because they favor the people already connected. Orkut is no different from the others in this regard.

The Fan thing doesn’t make sense so I haven’t used it (though appreciate those people who say they are Fans of mine, more photographs for you); neither have I used that ‘cool’ ‘hot’ rating thing. I’m not sure how to use that hot/cool rating thing. I’m also turned off by the graphics,associated with the rating – reminds me too much of smileys, and I hate smileys – those little yellow faced things with their little smirks bouncing all over. Makes me want to hurt them.

Orkut also encourages the popularity ‘meme’. When you look at people’s friends list, those friends who themselves have the most friends show up higher in the list than those with the least. In addition, in the graphical representation, “low” friends people drop off the page entirely – that isn’t much more than a Technorati Top 100 using bodies instead of links.

In fact, I have no idea why people who are heavily connected are a part of this, unless it’s to reaffirm their own connectivity – they don’t need it. Something like a social network works best for people who aren’t as connected, to find others of like interests when they don’t know many people. To start building up their own community. And I suppose to connect with ‘more popular’ people, but I don’t think it works that way. Sucking up to the popular didn’t work in high school, unlikely to work online.

No, Orkut isn’t perfect, but I do like how easy it is to find people with similar interests, and I like how easy it is to start new topics or communities. This is particularly important to people who don’t have servers to host this type of software, and who don’t want to hassle with Yahoo and all the ads. More so, this is a nice way for people new to this environment to meet others of same interest. So right out of the box, Orkut does some things good.

In addition, as Gary noted it’s pretty amazing to take a look at the visual diagrams associated with the friends networks, and to see all the white males that make up the friends lists of some of the more prominent members. You should see Tim O’Reilly’s friends network to get an eyeful.

(Not to mention seeing all the photos of the folks I know. There was one of a person who has been on my case for almost two years – I was blown away by his sweet, smiling face. Really generated a lot of conflicting signals. Now next time I tell him to buzz off, I’ll see that sweet, smiling face. How uncomfortable.)

As for the bad things, well, Orkut will learn or it won’t and people will join or they won’t and in the great scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter. So I guess I’m not sure why people are angry or disappointed. But then, I don’t think webloggers are going to help elect the next President either, so what do I know?