The Oligarchy of Bloggers

Blogs are another system where we see power-law distributions. If we treat each blog as a node in a directed graph then the inter-blog linking can be used to rank each blog. A nieve observer might assume the best blogs have the most incomming links; confusing links with quality. A leading blog is more likely to garner additional links as the set of blogs increases. This is a beautiful example of “The rich get richer”. A world where the assumption that quality=links=wealth drives a positive feedback loop.

Consider a simple model. At any given instant in time a blog can collect a new link for one of two reasons – Quality or Findablity. A) Quality: It’s a really marvalous blog that people want to read. B) Findablity: It is a blog with lots of links so vast crowds of people find and randomly some link to it. If a million people find your lousy blog you’ll garner a lot of links. If a handful of people find your marvalous blog only a handful can link to it.

The challenge for the blogging community is to architect things to that people have an easier time finding the blogs that they personally find to be great. For example the authors of news aggregators should be aware that when they bundle in highly ranked blogs they are accelerating this rich get richer effect.

This is really the heart of the RSS design problem!

What other stuff could we do?

Could we build more rankings, for example rankings that are more topical. For example it it really useless that when browsing one of those blog ecology graphs I keep ending up at the same handful of blogs. Power-law distributed graphs have that kind of “black-hole effect”. All the tools need to compensate for that! What would it mean to create some kind of graduated income tax for blog linking?

The folks playing with graphs of the blog community ecology need to get some attributed quality rating scheme going. If I link to 10 other blogs I should be empowered to broadcast what I know. For example I know this link goes to a guy that’s funny, and that one to a site that’s reputable, and this one to a leading proffesional of kind foo.

Maybe news aggregatoring tool vendors provide schemes that measure the “use value” of a the blog on the other end of a link. How often did the link get followed? It could then publish that – for what it’s worth as one ranking attribute of the link.

Then there are freshness issues. I use NetNewsWire for an aggregator. I have about 40 RSS feeds in there. Some are pretty solid, but alot come and go as I try out various blogs, see if they can hold my interest. I wish my aggregator helped me do that.

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