Talkin’ Bout a Revolution

Dawn Olsen is tired of the current hierarchy in the Blogosphere, and is to stir up a revolution:
“The biggest bloggers (those with the most influence and traffic) do what they do and link who they feel support their beliefs and arguments. If you aren’t a war-blogger then there seems to be no reason to pay attention to you. And even if you do include politics and war-blogging in your material, but focus mainly on micro/personal issues, say someone like Shell, you are still overlooked by the mainstream people…NO ONE HAS A RESPONSIBILITY TO LINK TO ANYONE ELSE. But……
It turns out a lot of people seem to have a similiar unspoken feelings about the heirarchy, and feel somewhat resentful about being ignored by the appointed leaders.
Well who appointed them? We did. Every blogger who links them or reads them appointed them. And why not? They are all excellent writers, state their points of view well, and the majority of the community agree with them. But that doesn’t make them nice people or appropriate leaders. Not all leaders do an equal job with the responsiblity handed them…
I won’t read them, I won’t link to them and I will not speak of them again…The current state of affairs can be changed. The weight and power of the collective blogalaxy can cause a huge shift if it wants to. That’s how revolutions begin.”

A disclaimer: Dawn took great pains to ensure she stated her point clearly and fairly, and I’ve attempted to preserve that spirit in my quotes, but it was a difficult job, so I heartily recommend you read the whole thing.
Dawn’s gotten a batch of comments already, some insulting, some insightful. The best of the lot imho came from Ann Salisbury:
“The way I see it is this: you have your thing, other bloggers have theirs. Your traffic will grow as other people who are interested in what you have to say find you. In the same way, the “other” bloggers traffic has grown based on what they have to say (and maybe when they started saying it).
I have issues with some “other” bloggers too. Mostly because they don’t welcome reasoned or spirited dissent on their blogs. Fair enough — it’s their blog. They are not performing a public service. By the same token, I’m not required to return, read or link to them. Am I a little hurt by their behavior, yes. But there are many, many worse things in life.
So repeat after me: “I am not my traffic. I am not my traffic.”

Dawn kindly asked me to chip in my thoughts (I had commented on a related subject on her board), so here’s my $0.02.
First, Ann is bang on: traffic for traffic’s sake is silly. I’m getting hits on my page for “s0ccer m0m p0rn” from Google right now (I’m # 1 ! ) because somebody posted a comment mentioning the P0rn Video Store Blogger in reply to my post on how I wish everyone (including s0ccer m0m’s) were blogging. Somehow, I don’t think those folks are adding much value to my site (nor do I suspect I’m providing them what they seek, either).
That said, I think Dawn is looking for more than a way to simply increase her own traffic stats; she’s looking to change the entire “state of affairs”, as she put it, of how the Blogosphere is organized. A “revolution”, in fact.
Let me try to set a specific goal here, and hopefully I’m interpreting Dawn correctly: she’s looking to change the balance of power, so to speak, which I interpret as wanting to see more traffic flowing to the less-established bloggers, and less traffic flowing to the few, core “leaders” that are “in power” today.
Dawn’s approach is to act within her sphere of influence: she will no longer link to our mention the current “leadership” on her blog, and she encourages others to do the same if they feel similarly.
The problem is, I can’t see this ever changing the distribution of traffic in any significant way. And that would seem to be the goal.
Why? Well, first let’s look at the direct effects. Imagine that Dawn’s got 300 visitors a day currently, and Evil Leader #1 has 4,000 visitors a day (I’m making numbers up, obviously). If EL1 links to Dawn (or doesn’t), it has a major impact on her traffic, because EL1’s incoming traffic is so much greater than hers. But the converse isn’t true: if Dawn doesn’t link to EL1, EL1 isn’t going to even notice. The visits she might (or might not) send his way are completely insignificant compared to his normal base traffic.
OK, so Dawn isn’t going to be able to hurt the Evil Leaders by depriving them of traffic directly. That was pretty obvious, really; Dawn didn’t need me to tell her that.
The more interesting question, really, is how both Dawn and the Evil Leaders gain new readers. How does somebody who has never read a blog in their life find the first blog they decide to read regularly?
Well, I claim it is a matter of visibility. You’ve got visibility in the Blogosphere itself — how many other bloggers are linking to you — and then, for some higher-powered bloggers, you’ve actually got visibility in mainstream media.
The problem Dawn’s effort faces is that the Evil Leaders’ visibility is just as disproportionate with hers as their traffic is. A new blog-reader is far, far more likely — just by random chance of what they happen to have seen in a BigMedia article on blogging or by stumbling onto somebody’s blog page somewhere — to find themselves routed to the Evil Leaders’ pages than to Dawn’s.
But, you say, Dawn’s content is far more interesting to some people than the Evil Leaders’! They’ll want to read Dawn’s stuff more!
And that is most certainly true; Dawn offers her own unique voice that I’m sure many folks would choose over the Evil Leaders’. But it doesn’t matter, because chances are, the vast majority of Dawn’s potential audience is never going to find her. The Evil Leaders’ have the visibility: they get the new readers. Think gravity: they’ve got the mass; the readers are going to naturally fall towards them. Some tiny few will trickle out, and venture into the deep dark unknown, and they may then find Dawn’s little asteroid circling out somewhere beyond Mars. But most won’t — including most of those who really would enjoy her work.
But… what if Dawn manages to convince a lot of other people to also not link to the Evil Leaders anymore?
Well, theoretically, if you got enough of the Blogosphere on board, maybe it would work. But maybe not even then. Those Evil Leaders have a large amount of traffic coming to them with no referrals at all; so those ‘base’ readers wouldn’t be affected at all. Sure, you could chip away at their visibility over time, but you’d have to have a rather big chunk of the existing Blogosphere on your side to make much of a difference — and, by the way, you’d have to make sure you got to every single brand-new blogger first, before they do what every new blogger does today — put up links on their page to the Evil Leaders.
This is not to say that Dawn should drink the Cool-Aide and keep linking to people she doesn’t approve of, of course. Nor should anybody else. But sorry as I am to say it, I can’t see a “revolution” coming of it.
But… perhaps there is another way. Not to unseat the Evil Leaders, necessarily — I suspect we’ll always see a power-law distribution of traffic — but at least to ensure that people who would enjoy Dawn’s work can find it.
Yes, I have a bias here; and yes, I’m selling something.
It’s my little metadata effort, of course. The whole point of which is to allow bloggers to tell the world about themselves; to publish information about who they are and what they blog — and to ensure that there are ways for readers to search on that information and find them.
If we can be successful in our effort, new readers won’t just have to rely on the Evil Leaders to point them to other blogs to read. They’ll be able to go to a search portal and search on — for instance — female bloggers who write about sex and politics.
And bing, out pops a link to Up Yours.
Anyway. Yes, I’m evangelizing again, but it’s kinda my job, so forgive me. And I do truly believe in that which I speak. Bottom-up revolutions are all fine and good — but in this case, the technology as it exists today stacks the game against the little people. I’m working to change that — not necessarily to unseat the Evil Leaders (I think many of them are fun, in, well, an Evil kind of way) — but to empower the Little People.
Connect every blogger with their full “natural audience” of readers who are out there, not knowing they exist but who would enjoy their work — do that, and that my friends, will be the revolution.
Update: Meryl weighs in on sexism in the Blogosphere, and whether sex & serious politics can mix.