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The Social Dynamics of the Blogosphere

Popularity breeds popularity

 
The blog boom is the most democratized revolution in media ever. Starting a blog is ridiculously cheap; indeed, blogging software and hosting can be had for free online. There are also easy-to-use ad services that, for a small fee, will place advertisements from major corporations on blogs, then mail the blogger his profits. Blogging, therefore, should be the purest meritocracy there is. It doesn’t matter if you’re a nobody from the sticks or a well-connected Harvard grad. If you launch a witty blog in a sexy niche, if you’re good at scrounging for news nuggets, and if you’re dedicated enough to post around the clock—well, there’s nothing separating you from the big successful bloggers.
 
Links are the chief way that visitors find new blogs. Bloggers almost never advertise their sites; they rely purely on word of mouth. Readers find links on many sites, and they follow it. A link is, in essence, a vote of confidence that a fan leaves inscribed in cyberspace: Check this site out! It’s cool! What’s more, Internet studies have found that inbound links are an 80 percent–accurate predictor of traffic. The more links point to you, the more readers you have.
 
But there is an enormous inequity in the system. A very small number of blogs enjoy hundreds and hundreds of inbound links, and almost all others have very few sites pointing to them. In the blogosphere, the biggest audiences—and the advertising revenue they bring—go to a small, elite few. Most bloggers toil in total obscurity.
 
Economists and network scientists have a name for this: “power-law distribution.” Power laws are not limited to the Web; in fact, they’re common to many social systems. If you chart the world’s wealth, it forms a power-law curve: A tiny number of rich people possess most of the world’s capital, while almost everyone else has little or none. The employment of movie actors follows the curve, too, because a small group appears in dozens of films while the rest are chronically underemployed.
 
The power law is dominant because of a quirk of human behavior: When we are asked to decide among a dizzying array of options, we do not act like dispassionate decision-makers, weighing each option on its own merits. Movie producers pick stars who have already been employed by other producers. Investors give money to entrepreneurs who are already loaded with cash. In other words;
Popularity breeds popularity.
 
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