Breaking the power law
: Well, everyone and God’s uncle has weighed in on Clay Shirky’s essay about the power law of popularity and weblogs. Now I’ll add one more strand of straw to the poor camel’s back:
Clay, as always, writes with provocative intelligence and sparks debate; that is the real point and the real fun.
But I think he got one fundamental thing fundamentally wrong:
He’s acting as if weblogs — and the web — are a mass medium. He’s acting as if it matters who the most popular webloggers are.
No, weblogs are niche media, the ultimate niche media, the extreme extension of the nichefication of all of media today.
It doesn’t matter who the most popular webloggers are and how popular they are. Of course, a few will get more attention and links and get quoted again and again and thus grow more and more (rich get richer); that is the nature of mass media. But that is irrelevant to this medium.
Media today are more and more about niches and weblogs are all about niches.
There’s nothing closed or unfair or limiting about that. Quite to the contrary, nothing could be more liberating, more populist: You can be the top dog in nanomedia about public art in Berlin if only you get up off your ass and give it a try and people who like what you like like what you do.
I’m well acquainted with the world of celebrity and critical mass. I lived it working for People, TV Guide, Entertainment Weekly, and the NY Daily News. I am mass man.
But mass media are fading. Sure, there still are and always will be networks. There always will be stars. But they are dimming like bulbs strung to old batteries as they lose audience and attention and their spotlights to many, many competitors.
So the better calculation than Shirky’s power law chart about the top few stars would be to draw a graph that shows the popularity — by any measure: box office, rating points, page views, unique visitors, market share — of the top dog versus the next, say, thousand. I’ll bet that you’ll find the power of the thousand is growing and the power of the one is fading by comparison. The true power law of media is the power of choice: Whenever the audience is given choice, they take it. That is why cable as a whole is now bigger than broadcast.
Media today are all about niches and niches are all about individuals and their power. That is the true picture of media and weblogs.
: I now see Anil Dash also add on about popularity and he wonders why I bother with this when I used to serve the much larger audience of Entertainment Weekly (which was only a fraction of the alleged audience of up to 25 million I wrote for at People or TV Guide). So I’ll answer.
First, I’m not writing elsewhere now, so I enjoy writing here.
Second, if I wanted to have a bigger weblog I would follow the law of the niche — or the law of nano — and I would not write about whatever I fancy but would, instead, pick one topic and cover it with laser intensity. I would be bigger but I’d be bored.
Third, “big” is a relative term. I did once write for millions — tens of millions, even. I now create web sites at work for millions. I look at my traffic and, yes, it’s puny. But then (as I think I’ve said here before, for the few who’d remember) I look out at the congregation of my church, at the tens who gather there, and I listen to the minister preach a sermon that took all week, and I no longer know the definition of “big.”
I enjoy writing this. I enjoy the audience I have if they enjoy me.
“Big” is in the ego of the beholder.
: Speaking of numbers, I’m just proud to be part of this list of 100 Bloggers — it’s a good list, very good company. (Scroll down on the left column).