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?)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email