Ecosystems, Power Laws, Counters

First run of the Ecosystem on the new host is done, as some eager beavers have already noticed today. No process changes this week, just another crop of new blogs (welcome, folks!), bringing the total up to just under 300.
A tip of the hat must go to Martin Devon, who completely blew everyone else away in the outbound links category, coming in at a whopping 436. Is there anybody you didn’t link to this week, Martin? Er, twice?
As always, I welcome any comments/feedback. If you believe your blog is improperly counted, please, please, take a look at the raw data file — which you can find here in zipped format (but please don’t click unless you really mean it — I’m paying for bandwidth) — and if you want to bring the issue to my attention, please be as specific as possible as to what blogs you think linked to you that weren’t counted. And remember: only links from blogs on the list will be counted!
Speaking of the Ecosystem, Kevin Werbach noted on his blog that Clay Shirky commented on the project in his newsletter. Here’s the full note from Clay, reprinted with his permission:
Weblogs and Power Laws
Good lists (http://www.truthlaidbear.com/ecosystem.shtml) and image (http://www.iwatch.org/Blogosphere.JPG) of the blogosphere from N.Z. Bear, http://www.truthlaidbear.com/
The lists of inbound links are particularly interesting, as the the number of sites with a decreasing amount of inbound links outnumbers those with an increasing amount of links of not quite 2 to 1. However, (as you’d expect) the most linked-to sites have a decreasing-to-increasing ratio 1::2, while the least linked to sites have a decreasing-to-increasing ratio of over 3::1.
This exactly matches Albert-Laszlo Barabasi’s model for networks where preferential connectivity drives topology — the link-rich get richer. With these lists, you can see the blogosphere resolving itself into a power law distribution, which will almost certainly distrupt the egalitarian rhetoric surrounding the blogging enterprise today, by doing things like making the current daypop statistics irrelevant (daypop counts number of blogs linking to a story, rather than traffic-per-blog which, other than daypop statistics, is the bigger determinant of exposure.)
Glenn Reynolds, InstaPundit.com, has another proposal that may also accelerate this process: open hit counters. Rather than making traffic numbers a private matter, Reynolds is proposing that blogs host open, third-party counters. (http://www.instapundit.com/archives/001895.php)
The effect of this, of course, would be to accelerate the existing trend separating the few extremely popular blogs from the moderate number of moderately successful ones and the vast number of very low traffic blogs.

Interestingly, Dr. Barabasi’s work was in fact one inspiration for the Ecosystem project. However, I don’t fully agree with Clay’s interpretation of the results when he suggests that the power-law distribution that’s emerging will necessarily lead to a less egalitarian Blogosphere.
The main argument against this position, I think, is based on the fact that although the Blogosphere as a whole does seem to be following a power-law distribution (although I hesitate to take my never-claimed-to-be-perfect process as hard proof of that), I think it’s too early to conclude that the position of individual blogs on the lists tend to remain static over time. If the overall structure follows a steady power law — but individual blogs skyrocket up and down the listings freely — then I would argue that the social structure of the Blogosphere remains an egalitarian one.
Appropriately, TTLB itself is an interesting example to look at. When I first ran the Ecosystem a mere six weeks ago, TTLB came out way down the list for inbound links. Today’s run, however, has me at #10. Now, obviously, some of that is because many people signing up for the Ecosystem believe (wrongly) that if they want to get listed on the Ecosystem they’d best link to me. (The truth is, it doesn’t matter, and never has — I’ll add anybody who asks).
But while you can make a legitimate argument that I didn’t get those links due to my fine writing skills, I think TTLB’s rise in links is clearly an example arguing against the idea that the power law distribution of the Blogosphere necessarily prevents the little fish from evolving into big fish. And that, I think, argues that hope for an egalitarian Blogosphere — at least in the sense of equality of opportunity — is not necessarily misplaced. Do something that enough people find interesting enough, or do many little things that people find consistently interesting, and a blog can move from the bottom to the top rather quickly.
Now, is TTLB the anomaly or the rule? Hard to say, as I’m not in a position to do serious number crunching to track individual blogs over time. I welcome anybody who has the time and interest to give it a shot themselves, however — I’d be very curious as to the results.
A further question that TTLB will be able to provide some clue to over time is the relation between links and traffic. I clearly am doing splendidly in terms of inbound links (and thanks, by the way, to all those who have linked to me) — but my actual traffic statistics, I believe, lag significantly behind the other blogs you see in the Top 10. Stephen Green, for example, shows on his (open) counter an average of over 1200 unique visitors a day. Despite having only 32 less links than him, I’m only seeing about 40% of the traffic as he does (I’m averaging around 520 visitors a day — and conveniently, we both use SiteMeter, so methodology differences can be ruled out.)
Now, the question will be: over time, will the sheer number of links I’ve received necessarily drive my traffic stats up to a more comparable level with Stephen’s? I certainly hope so, of course, but only time will tell.
Lastly, Clay’s point on open counters — that they may act as further enforcement of the status quo — seems a bit suspect to me. The implication is that blog readers will be influenced by traffic statistics; gravitating to those blogs which show, in their open counters, the highest traffic numbers.
As a reader myself, this doesn’t strike me as a likely behavior. Personally, I most often find new blogs by following links from blogs I already trust; if a blog comes recommended by those whose opinion I value, I don’t particularly care if they are getting zero traffic, I’ll give them a shot. (In fact, being a contrarian, I’m more likely to be interested if they have low traffic, because I enjoy giving visibility to new, good blogs). And ultimately, neither links nor traffic stats matter much to me in deciding whether to keep visiting a blog — the content does. I suspect for most readers it is the same; hence, I’m doubtful that open counter will matter much one way or another.
Enough Ecosystem talk for now — for me, at least. Not for you, though: get thee to the comments section, and tell me exactly where I’ve gone wrong here…