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The Media

Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality 332

scubacuda writes "Clay Shirky has written an excellent article entitled "Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality." Simply put, diversity plus freedom of choice creates inequality: "A new social system starts, and seems delightfully free of the elitism and cliquishness of the existing systems. Then, as the new system grows, problems of scale set in. Not everyone can participate in every conversation. Not everyone gets to be heard. Some core group seems more connected than the rest of us, and so on." A must read for anyone interested in the statistics, fairness, and power relations of blogging."
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Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality

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  • by sporkboy ( 22212 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @03:25PM (#5282021) Homepage
    this subject is covered in the book Linked: The New Science of Networks by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, who focuses on the prevalence of power laws in web traffic and Internet router connectivity. There are also some pretty good explanations on why this makes the Internet more resilient than a randomly linked network but also more vulnerable to malicious acts. This book was covered on slashdot [slashdot.org] previously. I found it to be a good read.
    • Capitalism (Score:2, Interesting)

      by composer777 ( 175489 )
      Is any of this a suprise to anyone? Haven't we witnessed the same thing with the economic anarchy that we call capitalism? In the free market you have the same thing, with certain people in charge and others clamoring for a few crumbs. The internet and any system that promotes this kind of anarchy will be the same way. That is why we need some kind of democratic structure to be applied, so that the needs of everyone don't get trampled by those of the first few whose only accomplishment was getting there first. The sooner people realize this, the sooner we will have implemented a just society.
      • Capitalism! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @04:45PM (#5283044)
        "? In the free market you have the same thing, with certain people in charge and others clamoring for a few crumbs."

        That is much more descriptive of socialism (which is extremely heirarchical and stratified; as seen in North Korea).

        In capitalism, everyone is in charge of their own economic lives. Economic autonomy; people make their own economic decision and determine what is a fair trade with others.

        The internet and any system that promotes this kind of anarchy will be the same way. That is why we need some kind of democratic structure to be applied

        Democracy is a great way to control government, but should not be used to control personal decisions (including economic ones). Those should be left to individuals, not outside coercive forces.

        "so that the needs of everyone don't get trampled by those of the first few whose only accomplishment was getting there first" How many of those who "got here first" are still big and powerful? Yahoo comes to mind, but most of the others that started out back then are long gone and forgotten. Anyone still have a home page on Xoom? Anyone use Pathfinder as a portal?

      • Re:Capitalism (Score:2, Insightful)

        by waveman ( 66141 )
        "Capitalism (Score:1)
        by composer777 (175489) on Tuesday February 11, @03:27PM (#5282525)
        Is any of this a suprise to anyone? Haven't we witnessed the same thing with the economic anarchy that we call capitalism? ..."

        The point is that this is not a social phenomenon. Any situation where positive feedback occurs tends to result in power laws.

        You can see it in the distribution of wealth in capitalist economies, in the size of earthquakes, and in the size of financial fluctuations.

        Thus insurance companies keep getting surprised by the size of natural disasters, a few people are disproportionately wealthy, and hedge funds keep getting wiped out by market movements that their naive models say should almost never happen.

        Attempts to seek explanations within individual participants in the system are a waste of time. If you don't like the outcome, then you need to damp down the positive feedback.

        For example, to reduce wealth distribution skew, have heavy taxes on the wealthy, especially on unearned wealth.

        There are not many ways to reduce positive feedback in information distribution, and maybe you don't want to do this. After all, most blogs aren't that good. However to the extent that the skew is random, it is probably bad, so services that look for and publicize good new or underrated blogs would be useful for example.

        Tim Josling

      • The sooner people realize this, the sooner we will have implemented a just society.
        Won't work. The point is that you *cannot* implement a just society. Even if you start out with everything flat and everyone equal, you will get clustering effects that drive the system toward unequality.
        What we *can* do is make a few stabs that try to make the system somewhat less unfair.
  • by Boss, Pointy Haired ( 537010 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @03:26PM (#5282032)
    A new social system starts, and seems delightfully free of the elitism and cliquishness of the existing systems. Then, as the new system grows, problems of scale set in. Not everyone can participate in every conversation. Not everyone gets to be heard. Some core group seems more connected than the rest of us, and so on.

    Slashdot.
    • by Otter ( 3800 )
      Well, Slashdot _journals_ and the zoo system have worked out just that way. A handful of posters have accumulated large pools of "friends" and journal readers and and larger networks of less popular posters gel around them.
      • Frankly... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by MsGeek ( 162936 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @03:58PM (#5282316) Homepage Journal
        I don't care WHO reads my journal. My journal is basically for an audience of one...ME. As journals should be. If you like what you read, fine, enjoy. If you don't, you don't.

        As far as the "zoo" system...the proof in the pudding is in who has befriended me and who is a "freak" of mine. I basically have a handful of crapflooders as freaks. Whoopee-doo. The folks who have befriended me are with few exceptions people who contribute positively to Slashdot on an ongoing basis.

        Sure, I'm not a "superstar" here. Frankly, if nominated for Slashdot superstardom I would not run, and if elected I would not serve. But I try my best to be a good contributor and actually add something to discussions.
        • Re:Frankly... (Score:3, Insightful)

          You know, we got offline text documents if you really want just yourself as an audience ;) Anyways, my journal doesn't contain that much, just two mad one liners and something odd I thought off, adressed to whoever it may concern. Perhaps someone will post something interesting, perhaps someone will have soms advice for either me or someone elese or perhaps I will just attract trolls. Heck, I don't really care, it's there for anyone to mess around with.

          The zoo system is quite entertaining if you think about it. Why hate someone if you disagree with that person? Even more, why suddenly befriend someone who agrees with you a few times? I often find myself having more interesting conversations with people who actually disagree with me... The only people who I got listed at foes (only because that allows me to stick a nice fat -6 modifier to their posts) are because of people with no sense humour or the occasional self-righteous American who think patriotism equals going to war with anything. I'd much rather have just normal functions such as "Ignore" and "Highlight", which either ignores a poster completely or puts highlighted people on top. Much less confusing, much more efficient imho.

          Ah well...

        • by gosand ( 234100 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @04:33PM (#5282600)
          I don't care WHO reads my journal. My journal is basically for an audience of one...ME. As journals should be. If you like what you read, fine, enjoy. If you don't, you don't.

          Sorry, but I call BS. If you were only writing a journal for you and you alone, you would not have it on the internet. You want positive responses to your thoughts, otherwise you would keep them private. Which is fine, I don't care, you can do what you want. But don't pretend that you are only writing for yourself when you publish it to the world.

          That is my opinion in a general sense. I think people should be able to keep online journals, I wouldn't take that away from them. But on a more personal note, I think publishing journals is kind of dumb, because for the most part the average person has nothing interesting to say. And yes, you probably fall in that category, although most bloggers wouldn't think I am referring to them. I have known people (actual people, not virtual) who do the journal thing online, and they are the kind of people who generally like to talk a lot about nothing interesting. They throw around ideas without thought, pretend to have some kind of interesting writing style, and are pretty annoying. They talk simply for the sake of talking, be it online or in person. The online journal just gives them a worldwide audience to annoy. I know this will offend all you "bloggers" out there, and I do realize that I am posting comments on Slashdot. But this is in relation to a topic, not just me rambling about what I had for breakfast or what I think a really cool invention would be.

          • If you were only writing a journal for you and you alone, you would not have it on the internet. You want positive responses to your thoughts, otherwise you would keep them private.

            Not true. I blog, because I like being able to open up and clarify my thoughts. I have comments disabled - frankly, I don't give a large rat's patootie who reads my blog, if anybody at all besides me does. It's a journal, fer cryin' out loud. You don't write in a journal with the expectation that millions of people are going to read it and suddenly like you. You write in a journal to clarify what's going on in your life, to help you see where you've been, where you're headed, and maybe even spot trends that you may have missed, ways of doing things that always produce bad results. With that knowledge, you might even be able to change.

            Sure, you needn't treat blogs the same way I do. You can do with them as *you* see fit - but I, though I be in a very small minority, do not fit your ideas as to why people blog.
            • Not true. I blog, because I like being able to open up and clarify my thoughts. I have comments disabled - frankly, I don't give a large rat's patootie who reads my blog, if anybody at all besides me does. It's a journal, fer cryin' out loud. You don't write in a journal with the expectation that millions of people are going to read it and suddenly like you.

              Sorry, I don't buy it. If you wanted to do that, you could easily write in a private journal, in a word processor, in one of the various free journal programs, you could set up your own with password protection, in txt files, or even on good ol' paper. The fact that you chose to do so in a PUBLICLY READABLE journal means that you want people to read it. Otherwise, you would write it in private.

              Look, I don't care. To me, it is stupid, but who am I? You can do whatever you want. But why not admit that you want people to read it? At least be honest about it. If it was truly for you, you would keep it to yourself. You are choosing to make it publicly readable for a reason.

          • If you were only writing a journal for you and you alone, you would not have it on the internet. You want positive responses to your thoughts, otherwise you would keep them private.

            You know, it's quite common for people to be interested in what people think about their views, positive or negative. Other points of view can be quite educational, even if you don't agree with them.

          • I find it surprising that you dismiss all possible alternative explanations as simply being hidden glory-seeking.

            For a counter-example to your argument, I write publicly rather than privarely so that if a friend wants to understand me better but is too shy to ask or doesn't know to ask, they can go browse. It seems like a valid enough reason to me, and wholly distinct from the general glory-seeking you claim is universal.
            • That's fine, of course, but the original poster asserted that she was writing solely for herself. She implied that she had no "alternative explanations" for putting her journal online.

              The problem skeptical folks have with this is that if that were true, there would be no motive to put the journal online. And so why does she do it? She has no other way of keeping a journal except publicly? Unlikely.

          • True.

            However, the reason I blog (and I am sure I am not the only one) is mainly to keep distant friends updated with my life, and the happenings in my city. I don't want millions of people viewing my site because none of my ramblings would mean anything to them. However, it would mean something to those who know me personally. For example if I were to say friend X got married to friend Y, that would mean something to a friend of friend Y, who happens to be in our circle of friends. Think about the close knit of friends you may have had during your college years, but after moving out of college, you lost touch. This is a way for people to still keep track of what friends are up to without mass emailing everyone what is happening all the time. My life generally consists of useless stuff that most people couldn't care less about, but means a lot to those in my close knit of friends.
    • Well.... (Score:2, Insightful)

      That's what you get when you try to mix communism with democracy... (see sig)....
      A benine dictatorship is the best form of government...
      Just checkout the house of Lords.

    • by Carnage4Life ( 106069 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @03:46PM (#5282220) Homepage Journal
      ...he's described any social system with a large number of participants. At first glance one would think that the World Wide Web and the grand vision of "anyone can be a publisher" would move us away from cliques and one or two very popular entities but the reverse has been true.

      For instance, despite how easy it is for anyone to start a Slashdot or Fark ripoff site no one commands as much traffic in their genre as either site. In fact as more people get online, the proportion of those that end up of being Slashbots or Farkheads versus migrating to their "competition" is quite disproportional.

      One could also say why despite the fact that the music sharing networks allow anyone to get their music heard by the masses they end up being clogged with the same top 40 shit from the radio from boy bands, Britney Spears and wannabe hip hop thugs.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Slashdot's created an underclass of poster's whose views (rightly or wrongly in your opinion) are supressed by the will of the majority. Over time, they grow disatisfied with the system, and revolt in the only way available to them... flooding the conversation with repetition. I'm sure almost everyone has been the victim of unfair moderation (I know I have), and if you're the victim for too long, you fight back.
    • The world created an underclass of police and law makers whose views (rightly or wrongly in your opinion) are suppressed by the will of the majority. Over time, they grow disatisfied with the system, and revolt the only way available to them... hazerdous driving habits. I'm sure almost everyone has been the victim of unfair police treatment(I know I have), and if you're the victim for too long, you fight back.
    • by prgrmr ( 568806 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @03:33PM (#5282120) Journal
      I'm sure almost everyone has been the victim of unfair moderation (I know I have), and if you're the victim for too long, you fight back.

      There's no such thing as "unfair" moderation. Fairness is not outcome-based, it's an equal application of the rules. Every registered slashdotter has the opportunity to moderate or meta-moderate. Anyone posting as an anonymous coward doesn't. These conditions are presented ratherly clearly.

      If more posters, particularly those who complain about "unfair" moderation, would focus more on content then simply getting posted, much of the basis for this matter would simply go away.
      • Every registered slashdotter has the opportunity to moderate ~.
        No, they don't [slashdot.org].
    • Mass Psychology (Score:2, Interesting)

      Which brings up an interesting question. Do you think that a certain amount of disobedience and rebelliousness by the "betas" against the will of the "alphas" is built into our social structures as human animals? Furthermore, is a certain amount of these things crucial to the functioning of our society? Even more, if the government can some day monitor EVERY one of our activities, sucht that we can't get away with anything...will that take a toll on the mass psychology of our society? Will anxiety, depression, and erratic behavior become even more common place?
    • Excuse me? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by RatBastard ( 949 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @03:55PM (#5282284) Homepage
      Sorry, but the trolls created their own mess. People get modded down for a reason. Sure, sometimes elitists will mod down a post they don't agree with (asy, almost anything pro-Microsoft) but for the most part the things that get modded down are either stupid, inflamitory, insulting, off-topic etc...

      If these people didn't want their posts to get modded down they'd find a contructive soultion to their problems. Say, staying on topic, or abiding by basic rules of etiquette (by saying "I don't agree with your position" rather than "U R a dumass!").

      This is not like life where one can born be into poverty. The problems anyone has here are of their own creation.
    • I'm sure almost everyone has been the victim of unfair moderation (I know I have)

      Take the good with the bad. I mean, as "Anonymous Coward" you've been modded up quite a bit so far [slashdot.org] in [slashdot.org] this [slashdot.org] thread [slashdot.org].

      :>
    • I'm sure almost everyone has been the victim of unfair moderation (I know I have), and if you're the victim for too long, you fight back.

      Maybe it's because I stay away from flame wars, but I've never been unfairly modded. In fact, I think I've only been modded down once or twice, and usually somoene else came along and modded the same post back up. If anything, I find slashdot a little "easy" in terms of getting karma.

      I think one of the key thigs about the relatively open community systems on the internet -- like /., k5, the blogosphere, etc -- is that they represent a step forward in terms of meritoctacy in relation to other forms of communal communication. While subgroups develop within any population above a certain size, on the net if you don't keep putting out a strong signal that speaks to people, no one is going to read your crap.

      Your mileage may vary along with your definition of "crap", but you can't deny it's a lot more meritocratic than, say, your average high-school cafeteria. Pseudonomitiy prevents race, class, sex, from setting up any initial barriers. The bi-directional nature of internet technology tends to cut down on the ability of any one voice to dominate a discussion. In the end, every voice is accessible as any other (moderation aside), and the proof is in the reading.

      And it turns out that writing is not easy. While everyone can put up a website, not everyone can make it attractive enough so that other people will seeks it out and read it. Equality can only exist in terms of opportunity. When it comes to products (and blogs are products, make no mistake) favorites must emerge, especially in a feild as crowded as the blogosphere. Personally I wish the top dog was someone with more sense and humanity than Glenn Reynolds, but I take heart in the fact that any other blog (even my own) is just as accessible.

      Do power dynamics emerge and is power sometimes abuse? Of course they will and of course it is. That's never going to change. The key is whether or not people have real alternatives, and with as diverse and open a place as the internet, I think (at least in the realms of personal expression if not commerce) that we're doing ok for now.

      Ahh I got off topic. So shoot me. ;)
    • I'm dissatisfied with the system more over the fact that the editors exert such bizarre controls, not the occasional crackhead moderation (of which I've received many in my day). I replied to "The Post" way back when...I've never gotten mod points. My karma is "Excellent." The fact that the entire thread was modbombed repeatedly, overwriting several of the community's moderations, and people were blacklisted, along with other notable examples of strange editor moderation, doubled with the constant repeat-posts, spelling mistakes, inaccurate headlines, and misleading summaries, make for a dissatisfied cross-section of the Slashdot community (and the longest run-on sentence I've ever written).

      So, I think most of the trolls are a result of the fact that lots of people don't respect Slashdot as much as they used to and see it as a big joke now, so they have fun with it. Some are motivated by vengeance, sure, but I think the majority simply don't take this place seriously anymore. Just my pet theory. :D
  • by jj_johny ( 626460 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @03:26PM (#5282044)
    There is only so much time, money, etc. People find something they like and recommend it. Some things become popular. System is not fair any more.

    Hey give me a break, this is expected and unless you want to read, listen and weblog 24 hours a day, you will find a way to consume what you can. Thanks for analyzing another "phenomenon" that is pretty much expected.

    • The ugly truth of the matter is that life isn't fair. It never has been and it never will be.
      • by lobsterGun ( 415085 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @03:56PM (#5282295)
        The ugly truth of the matter is that Life really IS fair. We just don't like the rules.
        • Why is this moderated 'funny'? This is the most insightful comment ever posted to Slashdot. Everyone needs to pay attention to this one, because it's the most fundamentally important truth there is:

          The rules of physics (meta- or otherwise) apply equally to all parties. Just because you don't like the outcome does not mean the contest was rigged. Life is a Darwinistic mixture of competition and cooperation, and whatever gets you there is the way you go.

          Or, as another man once said, "Do as thou wilt is the whole of the law. There is no law above Do As Thou Wilt."
    • It might be expected to some, but it does point out something counterintuitive. None of the theory in the article makes reference to everyone reading every weblog with their 24 hours in a day. It's pointing out the phenomenon of there not being a more even distribution or bell curve like distribution. From my take, a population of 10 with all 10 starting weblogs power relationships would likely lead to one having say 4 of the readers, the second place having 2, and 4 to be distributed to the other 8. The equal distribution wouldn't be all 10 reading all 10 with thier precious 24 hours of the day it would be each blog having one of the others read it. Or maybe each one getting all 10 readers during different time periods.


      Despite all the smartasses who like to point out how obvious something is once someone else does all the research and writes the paper on it, a lot of that phenom is not intuitive. Most dotcom era hippies lauded the advent of the Internet as a strike against The Man and everyone would be a publisher. This paper points out that in most free systems with many choices this is very unlikely to happen. I didn't notice it when it was happening hence me posting on this godforsaken blog.

      • Most dotcom era hippies lauded the advent of the Internet as a strike against The Man and everyone would be a publisher.

        They still do, and they're still right. Everybody can be a publisher, but not everyone will be read. As someone here pointed out, writing turns out to be hard work and not every would-be writer has the knack for writing well enough to attract a readership larger than his mother.

        What strikes me as odd about this conversation is its time-related sampling problems. Ten years ago there was no /. In another ten years, what new things will crawl over the horizon to make this conversation seem silly and irrelevant?

    • There is only so much time, money, etc. People find something they like and recommend it. Some things become popular. System is not fair any more.

      I think it's not so much about fairness, as it's about missing out on some cool articles etc., just because they fell through the masses filter. It's not about complaining, I actually find it interesting how to solve this problem of editing. Or maybe that's just the solution, form one's own interest group, and if it's interesting enough, it will soon gain momentum. Ie if you start reviewing blogs you like, you might mike it likelier for the fans of those blogs to unite and become a critical mass for self-amplifieing popularity. On the other hand it might create pressure on the participating blogs to stay on topic of the interest group.

    • Exactly. If that wasn't true and people divided their time amongst all outlets they would be flooded with crap the majority of the time and CmdrTaco would have to find a new job.
  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @03:26PM (#5282046) Homepage Journal
    A must read for anyone interested in the statistics, fairness, and power relations of blogging."

    I can't see how that could ever happen here.

    <Simpson's Comic Store Guy Voice>
    I trump you with my mighty karma, "Worst post, ever!"
    </Simpson's Comic Store Guy Voice>

  • The Sims Online (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dachannien ( 617929 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @03:28PM (#5282061)
    This is also one reason why The Sims Online is completely flopping. Sure, you might be able to get the in-game money to build a great house with lots of accessories, but not everyone can have 15 guests at all times. So, all power is concentrated in certain places, driven by reputation which is picked up early in the process.

    Latecomers and people who don't play much end up screwed if they had their hearts set on being the social spot of the game.
    • Re:The Sims Online (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Chokma ( 610031 )
      Same goes for other MMOGs. Eg, in Dark Age of Camelot, if you join a Plaver-vs-Player Server, you better get into large, old guild with lots of power. Those control the game relevant castles and hunting grounds.

      From what I read about it [on /., the universal source of knowledge], I think that TSO flopped because of
      - bad implementation (training on skills for hours)
      - lack of game depth (chatting with others may be fun, but isn't a game about winning or having fun? Watching my avatar having a hell-of-a-time is not the same as me having one...)
      - pricing (many Sims-fans do not want to pay a monthly charge)
  • by argoff ( 142580 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @03:30PM (#5282081)

    Freedom does not mean equality, any more than free speech means that everyone will say the same thing. In fact, it means just the opposite - and that is just the way I want it.

    Marxists make this mistake all the time. Equality of rights doen not mean equality of power, prestige, or property.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      The struggle between liberty and authority is always going to be present in any society. The problem is that authority can pretty much take care of itself, while liberty must be guarded by collective action of people. Ignorance or lack of vigilance by the people means that over time, liberty is eroded. In the United States in particular it is clear that there is grossly excessive authority (e.g. PATRIOT act and coming down the pike, a more draconian successor), and grossly excessive wealth inequality (billionaire capitalist heirs vs. homeless people). Given the corrupting influence of money in politics, the inequality of wealth translates into the near-total destruction of our democracy. This must change immediately.
      • Given the corrupting influence of money in politics, the inequality of wealth translates into the near-total destruction of our democracy. This must change immediately.

        Be careful what you wish for... perhaps [whatreallyhappened.com]it's changed [whatreallyhappened.com] already [zmag.org].

  • Inequality (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Lede Singer ( 253091 )
    I liked that article, a lot, and it seems to be very relevant to a good deal of topics.

    Is the inequality of those within a free system different than "taken opportunity?" What I mean is, I think sometimes that on one level, all people have the same opportunity. As individuals, no, but as parts of our own lineages, we benefit from those who take advantage of opportunity. This opinion is more philisophical than technical, but I think that in a truly free system, all people have the same abilities.

    On another note, I thought the 80/20 rule referred to "80% of the work done in 20% of the effort." Could be wrong on that one though.
  • ...not a troll, think about it: Read the article, substitute the word 'blog' with 'goods and services'... this article is a great argument why capitalism works and communism/socalism doesn't.

    Capitalism allows for many freedoms of choice in selecting goods and services, while communism/socialism does not as you must get all your goods and services from only 1 source. (the government). No choice.

    Anyways, I like the math and the graphs and such....
    • by van der Rohe ( 460708 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @03:40PM (#5282173)
      Capitalism doesn't work any better than communism/socialism. That's why all of the countries that "work" have hybrid systems that combine the best (ideally) of both ideologies.

      In Europe, you get nationalized health care. But you also get your choice of wine.

      In the US, you get your choice of wine. But you also get tax-funded roads and schools.

      Ignore the die-hard flag wavers. They know about as much about socioeconomics as they do about diet and exercise.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @03:31PM (#5282089)
    Blogging has become the defacto new media for the Net. Many bloggers themselves are becoming more engrossed into news and media than anything else.

    BUT, I have seen a trend lately that I would seriously like to discuss. Some very popular blogs (You know who you are), are blogged so much in a given day that it begs to question exactly what the author does during the rest of his work day, the blogs do claim that the author is living a rather eventful life, but my question is... how does the author have time to blog when he's having this super life?

    The concern I have here is the max-headroom syndrom. 90% of the popular blogs out there are run by some syndicated company (such as news corps and so on). They may say that it's run by some individual, but that's not simply possible. The writing is done by teams and they try to influence people on the net using their propagenda.

    I'm simply sick of this type of blogging. I have been a techinical blogger since the early 90's and I find that blogs are simply becoming the next domain for media ppl, they are just taking over us.

    What do we need? I think it's time for a Union of bloggers, so we can keep track of what blogs are authentic and what is not, I think we need to have some sort of confederation that real bloggers could subscribe to.

    Thanks.

    James E. Diot
    (sorry forgot password -- so anonymous)
    • You don't need a tethered PC to Blog. All one need is a PDA. There is a LiveJournal client for both the PalmOS and PocketPC OS for example, and probably for the Zaraus as well. And since many of these PDA's have wireless capabilities you can literally blog from anywhere in the world you can get a cell phone signal.

      Now I agree that you would have to be an ultimate loser to want to blog right after getting laid, or out in public after some mundane activity but hey, to each his own.

      Ours is not to wonder why, ours is but to Blog and die.
  • Wow (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @03:31PM (#5282093)
    A must read for anyone interested in the statistics, fairness, and power relations of blogging.
    Which is what, like 11 people?
  • big v small (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I think this boils down to this: do you want to be a big fish in a small pond, or a small fish in a big pond? It use to be that the the size of a potential audience (the pond) is restricted to the natural growth rate (eg TV), but with the internet still on growing exponentially in some areas, it'll take a while yet before this happens. So some bloggers get more attention; that doesn't necessarily mean they'll continue to grow - bandwidth costs money, and you've got to find it somewhere. There will be an equilibrium reached eventually, but unless there's some sort of consolidation happening, this will strictly be a grassroot issue. I good example, not necessarily blogging, would be Matt Drudge.
  • Similar article (Score:5, Interesting)

    by aengblom ( 123492 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @03:32PM (#5282103) Homepage
    Jason Kottke has posted a similar article [kottke.org] about Weblogs and power laws. He points to this thread [plasticbag.org] for getting him thinking--and guesses Shirky was inspired there as well.
  • Summary: (Score:3, Funny)

    by asparagus ( 29121 ) <koonce.gmail@com> on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @03:32PM (#5282105) Homepage Journal
    The popular people remain popular (if they keep doing what makes them popular) and the unpopular people remain unpopular (unless they stop doing what makes them unpopular).

    Yay!
  • by Dagowolf ( 646208 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @03:33PM (#5282121)
    Regardless of how much a particular group of people might prefer anarchy to a societal group the chances that such a form of society maintaining that freedom approach 0 quickly. It is inevitable that someone will be called on to make a decision that will effect the rest of the group at some time. That was the fundamental flaw of Marx's theory. Most humans, by nature, need someone to guide and direct their lives. As a society grows, the need for leaders, or elites, grows as well since it would be all-consuming for each person to know each aspect of what was going on in society. Can you image having to understand all the aspects of society and power structure, even in an area as small as a town? While science has developed a chaos theory, social science seems to follow the reverse. It seems that no matter which society you choose to follow it is eventually going to begin to show power difference, class seperation, and disassociated social networks. All in all I found it very intersting how the bell curve was worked into the discussion. Coming from a math/comp sci background and moving to communications I am always looking for a bridge between the two.
  • The real inequality is user vrs ISP. I don't care if anyone reads what I put up. I DO care that I can't put anything up on my own machines thanks to a lame "no servers" clause in my contract. I'll be happy when I can share what I enjoy and the 200 or so people who might be interested can come see and share what they have. The rest is silly.
  • The people you want to hear will be heard.
  • by Amazing Quantum Man ( 458715 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @03:42PM (#5282188) Homepage
    And I'll say it again...

    "Equality of Opportunity does not Equal Equality of Results".
  • by Uhh_Duh ( 125375 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @03:42PM (#5282189) Homepage

    Free speech is a right. Being heard is a privilege.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Masturbating in public is a right. Being watched is a privilege.

    • probably better to say "being heard is a serendipity". privelege is similar but differs in that it implies a closed system wherein the right / power / resource is granted from a central authority. those not recognizing the the right / power / resource would not call someone being heard a privelege, but they cannot argue that someone being heard is not serendipitous.

      i watched last night the tail-end of the ben franklin documentary on pbs. now, there's a quotable genius worthy of emulation. power law tie in: after his diplomatic finessing of the finance of the revolutionary war (by france), the new united states government denied all his requests for compensation for a job well-done. in his case, being heard was a no-op at home regardless of his contributions on the world stage.

  • wtf? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    A must read for anyone interested in the statistics, fairness, and power relations of blogging.

    What the hell does fairness have to do with someone putting up a log? If he doesn't get hits, then it sucks to be him, and he should start putting up interesting information. ANYONE can put up a log. There are numerous companies that provide free webspace. And as for power relations.. If you create something interesting and people like it, you will get more readers. The more readers you have, the more power. Wow, funny how that works.
  • by serutan ( 259622 ) <snoopdoug@geekazon.c3.1415926om minus pi> on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @03:45PM (#5282214) Homepage
    If this pattern is truly global, then it probably means that a few years the Music world will be pretty much the same as it is now, except without the Recording Industry. People who are predicting the demise of record companies say there will be no more Michael Jacksons, just an amorphous mass of musicians offering their music free on the web and making a living off concert dates. But according to the Power Law, there will be superstars even when the star-making machinery is gone.
    • by po8 ( 187055 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @04:37PM (#5282747)

      Terrific insight! However, you missed the part in the article about the difficulty of "resting on your laurels" in such a system. In the current system, Michael Jackson can behave like a total freak and produce lousy music, and folks can't vote with their feet, because there's nowhere to go. In the post-big-music-industry world (as was true in the pre-big-music-industry world), there will still be superstars, but there's more hope that the superstars will be folks with actual talent and respect for the public. No guarantee, but more hope.

    • I thought the music industry was already that way. All rap and rappers look/sound alike (and that crap has been sticking around WAY too long...let's have a STYLE change, PLEASE). Brittney Spears and all the clonealikes. The boy-bands...all the same amorphous mass of gelatin pap. "Superstars" produced ala cookie-cutter assembly-line.


      The music industry is the same as it was 2 years ago as it will be 2 years hence (there will STILL be rap and they will all STILL be the same) and there will STILL be boy bands and Brittney Spears clones.


      Lay off the music industry. It is tired and dead.

    • People who are predicting the demise of record companies say there will be no more Michael Jacksons

      Unfortunately, there will always be pedophiles.

      Oh...you were speaking of his musical career.
      Sorry. Drive through.
  • New social system? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by zanderredux ( 564003 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @03:47PM (#5282228)
    This phenomenum of social inclusion/exclusion in these terms were also discussed by C. S. Lewis in an insightful essay intitled "The Inner Ring".

    I just guess that this might be just a by product of human gatherings, even if not in physical terms.

    Paraphrasing Lewis: you can't explain, but it is there. You cannot really tell whether you're in or out, but once you're in (or out, for that matter) you can surely affirm it. Once you get there, you realize that there are more people who is more in than you. If your really in, you wish you were out, because being really in usually is not exciting as you once thought when you were out. You cant draw boundaries, but you know who else is in or out. You can push someone out, but it is really hard to get in. It doesnt matter where you are, but you know, and cant explain

    That's a genius!

  • Thieves (Score:2, Funny)

    by scott1853 ( 194884 )

    Just remember, you're stealing if you don't read all the comments.
  • by symbolic ( 11752 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @03:52PM (#5282265)
    This is way human behavior manifests itself, like it or not. We see it everywhere, not just the net.

    I had a friend ask me if I had set up a blog yet, and I told him, "well, I've considered it, but it just seems too much like the 'trend-du-jour'." He jokingly scoffed at me, drawing a comparison between my comment and someone who may have thought that the internet was nothing more than a temporary distraction.

    Well, what happens when the economies of scale start to set in, as the article points out? I'd argue that the more prevalent this becomes, the less value it has. One is less likely to encounter 'differently-thinking' participants, or to be confronted with legitimate ideas that challenge the status quo. We can see these dynamics at work in one aspect of our culture that gets discussed regularly here on Slashdot: the music industry: a small number of artists produce a relatively small amount of music that is making a very small number of people very rich. And of course, when I see this happening, I have to start wondering about both motives and the integrity of the artist...popularity has a certain allure to many people, but how willing is an artist (or blogger) willing to sell their soul/integrity in order to reach that objective?

  • by hysterion ( 231229 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @03:53PM (#5282271) Homepage
    From the article:
    In systems where many people are free to choose between many options, a small subset of the whole will get a disproportionate amount of traffic (or attention, or income)
    ...which is probably also the reason for the unparalleled cultural uniformity of this country. (Everywhere the same fast food, same identical hotel rooms, same car shapes, same music, "choice" between 120 identical trash TV channels, same Starbucks "coffee", same news, same OS,...)

    "Stars" aka "lowest common denominator".

  • Clay Gets It (Score:5, Interesting)

    by xdroop ( 4039 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @04:02PM (#5282337) Homepage Journal
    Not everyone can participate in every conversation. Not everyone gets to be heard.

    Sing along, kids: direct, participatory democracy does not scale.

    I've been saying this for years; Clay provides some excellent scientific evidence showing it, and writes about it a whole lot better than I can. Must be why he's further up the curve than I am.

    • by jimsum ( 587942 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @07:14PM (#5284073)
      It may be true that direct, participatory democracy does not scale, but that observation alone doesn't tell us what system is better.

      Direct democracy doesn't work because people don't have the time or desire to decide everything. For the unimportant matters, we would like to delegate our decision to someone else who thinks like us.

      The problem with most current systems of government is that we end up delegating too many of our choices. Our current system was designed when voting was expensive, so a few important plebiscites and an election every few years was all the participation that was practical.

      I think we can do better now and let every citizen decide what level of participation they want, on each issue. Instead of votes, we should have proxies. We could delegate that proxy to a worthy politician for most routine matters. However, when an important issue comes up, we could either vote ourselves, or delegate the proxy for that issue to someone else. With a bit of work, we could even categorize decisions and delegate social decisions to one politician and economic decisions to another, for example. We may not be individually heard, but if we pick our proxies well, they can express our opinion for us, kind of like Clay could for you :-)

      We could certainly do better than our current system, even if pure direct participation is not possible.
  • The science fiction writer Asimov wrote some novels on the premise that mass human behavior was scientifically predictable. He called this science psychohistory.

    Sociology has swung back and forth with this premise, sometimes thinking lots of behavior can be quanitified, other times thinking little can. I dont think too much of these claims.
  • Scarciety Of Time (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LISNews ( 150412 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @04:12PM (#5282401) Homepage
    "In information society, the scarcest resource for people on the supply side of the economy is neither iron ore nor sacks of grain, but the attention of others. Everyone who works in the information field - from weather forecasters to professors - compete over the same seconds, minutes and hours of other people's lives. Unlike what happens to physical objects, the amount of information does not diminish when one gives it away or sells it."


    From, "Tyranny of the Moment" Thomas Hylland Eriksen

  • I commented on this in my /. journal days ago [slashdot.org]. And currently this is number one on both Daypop [daypop.com] or Blogdex [mit.edu]...

    A quote from my journal entry:

    In the case of weblogs you can claim that 'quality matters' and therefore links and pageviews go to the better weblogs, but that clearly isn't the only answer. There are plenty of weblogs of great quality and low readership. In fact the Power Law applies in much the same way to all social systems where people can express preferences in some way. The end result is a star system and, likely, some abuses as people try to cash in on success. Although the cashing in part might be a little harder than for, say, a sports star pushing Nikes: "I only blog with my Compaq! It gets my vacuous rants right."
    • This is an ancient debate about how complex systems of society result in an unequal hierarchy. This where the tension between the Greek city state and the Roman Empire is rooted. This is why to this day we argue over which is better, the protection afforded a huge all encompassing political machine, or a localized city government.

      This a major point in Plato's Republic, which seeks to find a median way.

      It comes up in Gibbons Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, despite his ridiculous conclusion the decadence of the Empire caused its downfall.

      Herodotus' The Histories touches on this in a very narrative fashion. The Persian Wars were about this subject long before Rome became an empire. It was a loose collection of city states versus what was then the largest empire in the world.

      Of course, we have this debate today in the US and the EU. In many ways, the American desire to maintain peace throughout the world at any cost is what drove the Roman imperial machine to expand beyond the means human organization can cope.

      Nietzsche discusses this at times as well.

      Anyway, it IS old news. But you are 2000 years too late.
      • Ya, but did Herodotus blog it? Or just write it to some scroll and stick it in a hole?

        On a more serious note; you are absolutely right. You will note the various Marxists coming out of the woodwork on this one and posting about how Capitalism sucks because it allows such terrible inequalities. Pure crap, because every socialist system results in 20% of the people holding 80% of the power as well. (Sometimes it is more like 2% of the population holding 100% of the power). It just isn't measured with money. My favorite story about Soviet Russia has to do with phone numbers: It seems you could tell how high someone ranked in the party structure by their phone number; the higher you were the less digits it had. Those on the Politbureau had 3 digit numbers.

        We will always see these kinds of inequalities whenever randomness or freedom of choice is applied, making me wonder to what extent those are the same thing. And every attempt to add rules to such a system in order to reduce the randomness (choice) only adds the ability to game (hack) the system.
  • In other words... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by HarveyBirdman ( 627248 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @04:28PM (#5282530) Journal
    life isn't fair.

    Wow. There's a shocker.

  • by mechaZardoz ( 633923 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @04:35PM (#5282647)
    I myself was guilty of the same heady feelings for the potential of the 'marketplace of ideas.' But, on reflection, it had that same air of late-night discussions in the dorm room while avoiding homework; enough difference of opinion and backgrounds to make it all seems fresh and possessing the ability to make a real difference.

    But I submit this, there are always selection rules in effect, both internal and external, conscious and subconscious. People found their way to a particular region. and a particular college. and a particular living space. and so on. Likewise, a sequence of events lead people to a particular online community; whether it be newsgroup, bulletin board or blog.

    And the key word here is community. And as such we bring with it all the rules, semi-rules and baggage from our own personal social models. Effective communication and means to reach consensus become increasingly difficult as you add more members. Quickly, you reach a point where it is impossible for everyone to 'assemble' to air their own viewpoints and any meaningful discussion becomes impossible. The signal-to-noise ratio rapidly increases and the only apparently viable method of being heard above the din is to enhance the 'strength' of your output, ie shout. Direct representative political systems work best on a small, local level. As you increase the membership of the system, particular over a geographically-diverse area, the system alligns itself into a hierarchical system (eg, mayors, governors, Representatives, President). Deference in the matter of representation, at least in the US, was to be assigned to one's peers. In theory then, the collective voice of the 'people' would be coalesced into a single voice in Government. Now, whether or not this happens in practice, however, is another matter for discussion.

    In the matters of discourse, it is only natural that there emerges a system of trusted 'authorities.' Gurus, teachers, whathaveyou, that again represent the consolidation in a particular area. These are people (or resources) that must be appealed to in order to bring order and structure to discussion. These acquire their credentials through structures created and recognized by the various communities. These 'super nodes' are looked to from many eyes and their voices reach many people simultaneously.

    Now, the balkinization of communities is again only natural. A community in general, but an online on in particular, tends to abide by the same effects that others have observed about the internet (web pages, p2p nodes,etc). 'Neighborhoods' asemble around common perceptions, ideas and the overal cohesiveness of the structure. Friendship groups, for instance, ebb and flow in size, generate and dissolve over time. Naturally, if people can't get something from a particular group, they will move elsewhere. And again, as size grows, systems tend to self-organize, collecting around authority figures (in the sense described before) and around certain core beliefs.

    In the end though, one shouldn't be surprised at this turn. However, blog-ing communities and the Internet overall do offer a unique advantage: you can always go buffet style, sampling all that various groups have to offer.

  • Cross Reference (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dghcasp ( 459766 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @04:49PM (#5283074)
    Interesting how none of the "top 20" of the power graph are any of the original online journalists [tracing.org] that predated and led to the whole blogging phenomenon.

    Guess this says something about the long-term value of "first mover advantage;" Even though you're first into a market, it doesn't guarantee that you'll stay there.

  • I have written an essay or two on the differences between equality and equity, specifically about how we have incorrectly used "equality" to mean "equity" for many, many years, and therefore people have come to advocate that we virtually become automotons when all they really want is fair treatment under the law and equal opportunities for justice.

    1. The Political Ideal: Equality vs. Inequality [neotope.com], which advocates celebration of inequality (diversity)
    2. Conflicts of Interests [neotope.com], which contrasts individualism and collectivism

    From an article on my web site that I wrote sometime last year:

    I do not believe in equality; I believe in equity. That is to say, I do not believe in reducing everyone to likeness by methods of preferentialism or favoritism. There are two primary reasons for this: (1) such treatment would violate the rules of natural law, which serve as a cornerstone of my personal philosophy of life; (2) equality would make life absolutely boring and pointless. If we could all be reduced to a single common denominator, we would no longer be human, but back to the status of primates, all thinking alike and reacting the same in every situation. The notion of equality should therefore be thrown out in favor of equity, which is the practice of fair and impartial judgement and will. Insofar as merit is not concerned, no individual shall receive any treatment different from any other.
  • Freedom? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by groomed ( 202061 )
    The most interesting question here I think is the extent to which any individual choice can be called "free" when it is so extremely contingent on the choices other people make.

    When you "freely" make a choice because 80% of the people also makes that choice, then how free is that?
  • by Xunker ( 6905 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @06:03PM (#5283634) Homepage Journal
    See title;

    Too many people now-a-days will start a blog/journal/diary/whatever and expect it to instantly become popular. They may write about everything and nothing, about politics and sex and drugs, but they never get really well-read.

    Why? Because unless people know who you are, they generally don't care.

    Let's pick on Livejournal for a second. It is flirting with 1 million user accounts right now (inluding mine), but how many do I read? Maybe I read about 4; There are thousands of .com blogs too; how many do I read? 1. Slashdot and K5 have journals too, but I only read 1 of those,too.

    It should be no suprise that the journals/blogs/etc I read are those of people I feel I have an aquaiantance with, albeit at a distance. I read 'Taco [slashdot.org]'s journal because I know what he did. I read Brad [livejournal.com]'s livejournal because I know what he did; Same with Rusty [kuro5hin.org], jwz [livejournal.com] and a few others.

    But anyone else I don't care about. Why? Because they haven't *done* anything I care about. You may like to write, but don't expect people to read just because you do it. See title.

    And I'm not alone; I started a popular internet thing that people use a lot. Suddenly I find names I don't know commenting in my LJ and showing up in my "friends" list, even on my Zoo page here. It's not because they like what I write just for the sake of it, but because they have a point of reference to relate to me on.

    That's what it comes down too -- if we can't relate to you, we don't care.
  • I'd like to see Shirky address the cost of information and its effect upon "star" power. People can only invest so much time in determining what's important, relevant or interesting. A shortcut to determining what's important, relevant or interesting is to follow the crowd. This is true even though it frequently yields imperfect results. Suppose you wanted to choose 10 interesting weblogs to read each day out of a total of 10,000. One way of choosing those 10 would be to randomly select a weblog, read it, and then judge for yourself if it's worthy. But a better way to find 10 interesting blogs is to start with the most trafficked blog and work your way down... Popularity may not be conclusive, but it does convey information.
  • by Captain Beefheart ( 628365 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @06:17PM (#5283743)
    Wouldn't it simply stand to reason, when all restrictions were removed, that the more capable people would rise to the top? Respectfully, I don't need charts to tell me this. IMHO, using a barometer of "equality" with regards to freedom and diversity is a political interpretation, not a scientific one. On the right wing, you have the "survival of the fittest," and on the left wing you have the "level playing field for everyone."

    To say diversity and choice lead to inequality implies that someone's inalienable rights are being violated. Others might rejoice that the proof is in the pudding: when the barriers are removed, the most capable people can rise to the top. To say people are experiencing inequality ignores their potential mediocrity, IMO.
  • by MoNsTeR ( 4403 ) on Wednesday February 12, 2003 @11:07AM (#5287472)
    ...but desirable.

    Imagine and world where all are equal, in the same way that A = A. I don't want to live there, not even in cyberspace, do you?

    But you don't even have to take equality to an absolute to see what a terrible idea it is. What if every /. reader could post front-page stories? And everyone could edit them? What if everyone had editorial mod powers?

    The argument for inequality need not be made from the traditional elitist/aristocratic/etc position. Inequality is simply part of human nature, and one should endeavor to understand it before decrying it as "unfair".

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