Comments: Revenge Of The A-List(er/ers)

Wouldn't he have not so many sources if he was just linking A-listers?

Posted by joe at April 20, 2004 01:57 AM

I don't see how that would follow.

Remember, Big Bloggerdom == Big Media (in structure, not in reach or impact!)

"Would a newspaper have so many readers if it was just quoting political insiders and a small coterie of experts?"

Well, yes, the number of man-on-the-street and ordinary citizen quotes doesn't seem to be deeply connected to a newspaper's readership.

Which hardly means a newspaper will never, ever, mention an ordinary citizen or off the beaten path expert in a story.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at April 20, 2004 02:07 AM

I was getting at the fact that the ratios you calculate for your blog vs. Doc are similar...

Posted by joe at April 20, 2004 02:22 AM

But that's both incoming. That was just a note that the two metrics, links and sources, give similar results here - around a *37 times* differential (I'm floored :-).)

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at April 20, 2004 05:03 AM

But Seth, the point is that it's *just as easy* for an upstart to capture eyeballs.

It's *tough* to start a Newspaper which can cater to NYTime's distribution or a TV network to rival its equivalents in other media.

The gain, however, does depend on merits in both cases--audiences *have* to be built incrementally. How can a change in medium do anything to fix that? People have limited time to devote to things; the more people select you, the further up the list you get. Someone whom many people pay attention to obviously has more influence than someone with a smaller initial audience. It's true in economics, it's true in the way celebrities become who they are, and it remains true for weblogs. What they change is how easy it is to communicate and be involved--they're enablers.

Posted by Firas at April 20, 2004 05:20 AM

"But Seth, the point is that it's *just as easy* for an upstart to capture eyeballs."

Just like it's *just as easy* for me to become President as it was for George W. Bush!

The mathematics of the power-law says the above idea is deeply, profoundly, extraordinarily wrong. That the effort increases exponentially with total system growth (which doesn't mean it's absolutely impossible. Just like winning the lottery isn't impossible either).

The argument you make suffers from the "production == audience" fallacy. It assumes there is exactly one bottleneck. There isn't. In fact, the removal of a production barrier is exactly matched by the creation of a noise barrier, which leads to the same result when all is said and done.

That is, schematically, the result is not that "N - 1 (production barrier) = 0 (no barriers)".

Rather, the result is "N - 1 (production barrier) + 1 (noise barrier) = N (EXACT SAME STRUCTURE)"

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at April 20, 2004 05:37 AM


This line of discussion has been enjoyable if for no other reason than it's raised hackles. Little bristly hairs on the napes of necks everywhere are straining to the point of popping out onto collars and shoulders.

Admittedly, I'm sympathetic to your argument both because I am an obviously unmeritorious author (low readership; few links) and a big fan of network science, including the universal truth in the unsung power law. The thing is, I've largely given up giving a shit whether anybody looks at or links to my blog. Yes, I put it out there because like many writers, I genuinely believe that there are people who want or need to read me. Fortunately I've been endowed with a high volume of self-certainty so that I can get through not being A-listed by assuring myself that it's their loss. But I digress. More important is that you've asked the elephant at the party to take a bow.

Humility prevents any "A-lister" from acknowledging even being on such a list. As your respondents have noted, A-lists themselves are ambiguous or at least amorphous, and membership can be fleeting. So the humility may be driven by both a sense that merit was largely at play (note that merit is necessary but not sufficient for A-listing -- a term, I should clarify now that I'm using as shorthand for ultimate acceptance/success), i.e., a form of arrogance and entitlement, and by fear. Fear that the A-list status may disappear, which would cause self-questioning, doubt, etc. On the other hand, that might be all bullshit, in every respect. After all, maybe the A-listers don't care -- just like me.

For us in the unlisted hoards, the A-list is a good thing in a similar way. We can weight the sufficiency of merit lower (and membership higher)in the recipe for A-listing and assuage our feelings of inadequacy, rather than getting better at our *skill/craft*.

Best of all, you have, in the most provocative manner, managed to raise the fact that A-listing -- within any group -- can be (is?) self-perpetuating. As you and others have noted, members of a group will tend toward members of the group. This is, of course, a fundamental aspect of the power law effect of increasing returns: those that got, get. It may be immutable. Nothing to do about it to change it. Just live with it.

Maybe I'm reading too deeply: you could be just whining like me. I choose to think that you're motive is to pierce the well-cast veneer of openness and flatness that the early bloggers -- call them the A-list -- carry on about. It's certainly open but hardly flat -- except way out here on the long end of the asymptote, but that's not where the action is for us needing others to hear our voices. Maybe blogging was in the early days when the curve had asserted itself with specific bloggers holding the "A-list" spots. But, as you undoubtedly know, this situation will not regress to a mean. "Jucta alea est": the die is cast. The power law has prevailed.

Posted by TRDG at April 20, 2004 08:52 AM

So here's a question... who's doing it right? Or: What would it take to short-circuit your complaints, Seth F.? What could the A-listers do to appease you? Do you propose a rule like: "every post should have one rank-and-file outbound link".

Posted by joe at April 20, 2004 10:23 AM

Just a point; the A-list is attacking Seth for saying that there's an A-list, and he's not in it. Why are they so uptight about the concept that even in blogdom, there are respected authorities and unknowns.

It happens in every sphere of life; some students are more respected than others. Some newspapers are more respected than others. Some sportsmen are more respected than others. I don't think Seth is coming out with anything revolutionary when he says that blogs are just the same; instead, I want the A-list to justify any attempt to claim that there is no A-list.

Indeed, I would be surprised if there was no such thing as an A-list. It's not in human nature to treat everyone equally; even when it's not imposed on us, there are people whose judgement and opinions we respect, and people who we think very little of. If blogdom has managed to escape that trap, I want to know how and why.

Posted by Simon Farnsworth at April 22, 2004 09:51 AM

Of course the A list is not a well defined concept. Maybe everyone sees the A list as the people well above them in the rankings. It's like the rich.

Or could you give a number? The top N bloggers are the A list, for N = what?

Posted by Cypherpunk at April 25, 2004 02:08 AM

I think it's like that in any social structure. People feel they "earned their position." Try a tour on a submarine if you really want to enjoy the frat boy mentality.

Generally if you are true to yourself then eventually people will want to listen. It's not hard to make a marketable idea, but it has to be original to get people to want to link to it.

Just like your blog, many others use default templates. It does not make it bad, it just makes it less remarkable. The blog community is about the little differences between all of us.

If you keep complaining about the A list stuff then you could get lots of links out of it. Maybe in your header you can put

*Not another A list blog...

Posted by aaron wall at April 26, 2004 04:21 PM