on the dynamics driving the “inequality” of blogs. Although it was written almost two years ago the principles mentioned would seem to have been validated by time.
The question posed is “Why do a handful of blogs account for a disproportionate amount of blog traffic?” In other words, why are site visits not more equally distributed across all blogs?
The answer, according to Shirky, is that “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), even if no members of the system actively work towards such an outcome. This has nothing to do with moral weakness, selling out, or any other psychological explanation. The very act of choosing, spread widely enough and freely enough, creates a power law distribution.”
There are accompanying graphs of what Shirky refers to as “power law distribution”, and a prediction of how the world of blogs will evolve over time.
At the head will be webloggers who join the mainstream media (a phrase which seems to mean "media we've gotten used to.") The transformation here is simple - as a blogger's audience grows large, more people read her work than she can possibly read, she can't link to everyone who wants her attention, and she can't answer all her incoming mail or follow up to the comments on her site. The result of these pressures is that she becomes a broadcast outlet, distributing material without participating in conversations about it.
Many of the “A list” bloggers have reached this point and no longer have comment sections, which is the “conversational” aspect of blogging. They might be said to have reached the blogospheres escape velocity.
Meanwhile, the long tail of weblogs with few readers will become conversational. In a world where most bloggers get below average traffic, audience size can't be the only metric for success. LiveJournal had this figured out years ago, by assuming that people would be writing for their friends, rather than some impersonal audience.
In between blogs-as-mainstream-media and blogs-as-dinner-conversation will be Blogging Classic, blogs published by one or a few people, for a moderately-sized audience, with whom the authors have a relatively engaged relationship. Because of the continuing growth of the weblog world, more blogs in the future will follow this pattern than today. However, these blogs will be in the minority for both traffic (dwarfed by the mainstream media blogs) and overall number of blogs (outnumbered by the conversational blogs.)
There are some implications here for Open Source Media and similar efforts. One is that the blogging model does not scale up very well. Once a blog passes a certain traffic threshold it becomes impractical for the blogger to spend time reading and responding to comments. Instead the “mega-bloggers” read and respond to other bloggers, as well as regular news reports.
The other is that the large blogs will become over time something closer to the “MSM” than to the blogs from which they sprung. Their large volume of traffic gives them influence. This attracts the attention of influential people looking for outlets for ideas, who give “access” in the journalistic sense to anyone with an audience. The circle will be complete when the former bloggers begin to be seduced by the notion of themselves as insiders; in other words, they will become increasingly like the Old Media which they initially and rightly excoriated.