June 23, 2005


[Note - This post isn't really about the MGM v. Grokster Supreme Court case (liability standards for Peer-To-Peer technology). It's about punditry.]

After reading the n'th post saying roughly that the Grokster case has not yet been decided, I was strongly reminded of the old Saturday Night Live running joke where a satirical news flash would report "General Franco is still dead" ("and today, in our citizen-journalist blog-correspondent legal report, the Grokster case is still undecided").

When the court's decision finally is released, to a first approximation, there can't be more than about a dozen things to say about the result. The top three being:

1) Industry wins, civil-libertarians say "Bad", analysis: Court slap "pirates".
2) Industry loses, civil-libertarians say "Good", analysis: Congress will pass new law, slap "pirates".
3) Muddled decision, Industry, civil-libertarians say "Good/Bad", analysis: Some say congress should pass new law, slap "pirates"?

All that remains is to fill in the details (the fastest pundits may have already half-written articles set to go, with just the relevant quotes to add).

So, as a matter of mathematics, the number of people trying to say something about this, vastly outnumbers the basic number of things to say. The insight of power-laws is that the distribution won't be uniform. Sure, anyone can write about it - but there isn't much of a reason to read what anyone writes. Blog-evangelists consistently neglect this factor. Not to mention the relative privilege necessary to be able to take the time to spend pouring poring over a document and writing analysis.

Which is a long-winded way of noting that after all the time I spent going over the Blizzard vs. BnetD material (which was of some personal interest), to maybe 100 extra readers (though all contributions gratefully accepted), I'd say there's little gain to be had in the punditry race if you're not already a Usual Suspect or attempting to become one.

Update , 6/24 1pm Eastern: Ernie Miller posts a response (my emphasis):

Seth Finkelstein takes an interesting and pre-emptive shot at post-Grokster commentary, claiming that there will only be one of three main story lines. For the traditional media, sure. ... [snip]

Yet the blogosphere is going to be doing something else as well. On several sites, including the Picker MobBlog and a branch off of SCOTUS Blog, you're going to have more than two dozen of the finest legal minds in the country dissect and discuss the decision in real time. Within 24 hours, many of the main legal themes, disagreements, and remaining questions will have been thoroughly analyzed.

This commentary misunderstands my main point, which is a mathematical observation on the nature of punditry, and implications thereof. I wrote "there can't be more than about a dozen things to say about the result. The top three being:". The big, mass-appeal, newspapers and TV will take the simplest view. Small specialized publications - which include blogs will go into more detailed analysis. But, for any nontrivial given scale, the total number of "worthwhile" analyses is quite small, and much less than the number of people who will write them. Hence, there is a huge imbalance - which is then resolved in a exponential distribution, with a few specialists taking the secondary slots after the bigger media takes the primary slots. And you have to be positioned to get in "[w]ithin 24 hours" to even try. Frankly, this looks very much like being an (unpaid) trade-publication reporter than anything else.

The point is hardly that specialist publications go into more detail than nonspecialist publications. But here, talk of "the blogosphere" is not useful analysis. There's levels of pundits. In fact, my view is that from a certain height of observation, this is the old regime structually (and remember, quite a few A-list bloggers are traditional media people, and the prominent specialists often have many bigger-media connections).

I highly value Miller's legal analysis. However, the structure of the distribution isn't changed - in fact, that's exactly the point. There's more overall excellent people that there are pundit-slots, and small differences (not necessarily of quality) lead to exponential curves. Hence my use of this case as a worked example.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on June 23, 2005 04:21 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

Subscribe with Bloglines      Subscribe in NewsGator Online  Google Reader or Homepage


Somehow I'm reminded of the old joke that a teacher can't issue a surprise pop quiz because "it won't be a surprise if it's the last possible day so can't be given then" ad absurdum.

Monday 10am is the final day the Supreme Court will be issuing rulings. It's going to be a doozy for pundits: not only Grokster and another case involving FCC regulation of cable internet, but also the two Ten Commandment cases.

[List of all 6 cases @ http://legalaffairs.org/howappealing/062305.html#003954]

Posted by: Lis Riba at June 24, 2005 12:22 PM

And the ruling is out. Unanimous against Grokster.

Posted by: Lis Riba at June 27, 2005 10:38 AM