December 31st, 2006

How the crowded blogosphere works

Richard Fernandez has a thought-provoking take on how the blogosphere works, including the various categories of Finders, Linkers, and Thinkers, and the roles they play.

In his comment on that thread, blogger Tigerhawk discusses Fernandez’s contention that, originally, it was feared that the blogosphere would be a powerful force for the dissemination of disinformation. But it turns out that it’s been more instrumental in countering the spread of disinformation so far. Tigerhawk attributes this to something in the structure of blogs; “perhaps their sheer numbers.”

If so, I think it’s an illustration of the principles in the book The Wisdom of Crowds. In it, author Surowiecki asserts that:

…large groups of people are smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant—better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future.

This seemingly counterintuitive notion has endless and major ramifications for how businesses operate, how knowledge is advanced, how economies are (or should be) organized and how we live our daily lives.

As for “predicting the future,” I thought it was pretty funny that blogger William Beutler at P.I. managed to predict Time magazine’s rather inane selection of “You” as Person of the Year, and even got the cover of the issue close to right (hat tip: Pajamas Media). But then, when I thought about it some more (I try to be a “Thinker,” after all) I realized the sheer size of the blogosphere indicates that, merely by chance, somebody’s bound to get it right. Right? (Not quite like those infinite monkeys and Shakespeare, however–not yet).

Yes, the blogosphere is very large indeed. But, as Tigerhawk also points out, its actual readership, though growing, is still relatively small. Right now it only has true influence in certain very dramatic cases like Rathergate; otherwise, the news (for example, of Hezbollah’s disinformation campaign during the recent Lebanon/Israel war) doesn’t truly penetrate the still vastly greater audience and influence of the MSM.

11 Responses to “How the crowded blogosphere works”

  1. neo-neocon Says:

    Sally–I fixed the first link–thanks! You’re right about the second, though; it doesn’t seem to be fixable.

  2. Jimmy J. Says:

    The blogosphere is the equivalent of Adam Smith’s invisible hand in economic markets. Only it is the invisible hand of the information market. Millions of transactions (blogs + readers) each day tends to drive up quality and drive out disinformation.

    Long live the blogosphere!

  3. david foster Says:

    The influence of the MSM is partly due to sheer audience size, but it’s also partly due to media considerations. TV and movies deal largely in *images* and *stories*, and images & stories can be very powerful in changing opinions–often more powerful than rational argument.

    Indeed, the failure of the K-12 schools has resulted in large numbers of people who have never learned to follow a connected argument, or to poke holes in a bad one. This has arguably resulted in a population which is on the average more influenced by images/stories, as opposed to logical argument, than we had 40 years ago.

  4. Sally Says:

    Psst — I think the URL in your first link is wrong. (Also, the second doesn’t seem to work, but seems to be the other blog’s fault.)

  5. Steve Says:

    I think the Rathergate was the biggest contribution of the blogosphere thus far. Beyond that, I don’t think blogs are that important.

    It’s in the nature of blogs that the whole thing is casual, and transitory. Something happens: write about it. Read a blog about something that just happened: respond to it. That’s about it.

    I prefer to post on blogs where I am a little “off” the message. What I mean is, I note that blogs tend to attract people who agree. Imagine a site, for example, where someone says, “I hate Saddam!” Then you have 200 comments and it’s all, “I hate him too!” or “Thank you for saying what needed to be said.” Boring.

    I post here for recreation, and see this as a way to get things off my chest versus some pretty sharp tacks. And that’s about it.

    There are a lot of excellent writers — including the hostess here — who have blogs. But the head blogger — not the comments — is what people are going to link to, cross ref, and possibly remember. Other than that, it’s a salon, in the old Rahel Varnhagen way.

    Happy New Year to all!

  6. troutsky Says:

    Perhaps your fanciful “Hezbollah disinformation campaign” didn’t percolate into any sort of “influence” because “large groups of people are smarter than an elite few.” and you are among the elite few? And not because it wasn’t dramatic enough? Just a thought.

  7. Senescent Wasp Says:

    Fish,
    As usual, you miss the point. Your confusion is no doubt due to your haste to count coup.

    Try to Read, Reason & Reflect, to quote the label for Dr. Parmenter’s Magnetic Oil, a early patent medicine that adorns the coffee cup sitting next to me.

    Few are currently buying the snake oil you and your ilk peddle since it tastes of Kool Aid.

  8. Senescent Wasp Says:

    Happy New Year, ‘conned. It was Jim Jones, a utopian Socialist who brewed the first batch of Kool Aid.

  9. Good Ole Charlie (SE Penna) Says:

    Neo:

    Let me add my Happy New Year!

    Wasp: I do remember the Jones Dystopia Thing. One psychologist – on NPR of all places – described the participants, from top to bottom, as “poor pathetic insignificant worms”.

    He was right.

  10. Dunger Black Says:

    The blogs are growing faster than “the Blob” in the Steve McQueen movie. Predicting today where blogs will go is like Ben Franklin predicting what would happen with electricity.

    Blogs themselves will change as broadband wireless makes everything portable. Video, sound, real-time animation generators–all happening from wherever in the world you happen to be.

    It’s the democratization of the media, and death to professional journalists.

  11. Sergey Says:

    The very idea of “professional journalism” seems wrong to me. The best people who did it were diletants in it: Chesterton, Chapek, Mark Twain, O’Henry; really, they were writers, and their contributions to newspapers were either hobby or extra work.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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