I thought I’d put together a bit of a teaser here for the upcoming series about the meme of “Shirky’s Power Law” (it’s already at 5,000 words in draft). Three years ago, Clay Shirky and Jason Kottke independently looked at some of the top weblog rankings and concluded that they reflected a power-law distributed. Shirky used the data from the “Truth Laid Bear” list, which has been declining in relevance ever since. Kottke, on the other hand, used data from Technorati, which only launched a few months earlier and has been on the ascendence.
But being as I’m writing about Shirky, I thought I’d look at the old’ bear’s list before it goes into permanent hibernation.
I compared the 2003 ecosystem (from the Internet Archive) to today’s ecosystem. I’ve listed the top ten then, along with a few from the tail that I thought were notable, and then listed their current rankings, if any. (I adjusted the numbers to remove the spam blogs at spots #1, #5 and elsewhere)
As I’m not doing a thorough analysis of the top 433 that Shirky had graphed, I thought I’d have a little fun instead. As for the “Where are they now?” I actually don’t read any of these, not even Marshall anymore. So I had to at least figure out what many of them were about– were these the secret diaries of the undersecretary for featherbedding in the Bush White House I’ve been looking for? Sadly, no. The “Truth Laid Bear” then, as now, is still a rogue’s gallery of the Ayn Rand fan club of libertarians, with a few liberal stalwarts thrown in. The Technorati listings, by contrast, are much more diverse– see Tristan Louis’s thorough review of the change in its rankings since from twenty months ago. I’ve added Technorati rankings in parenthesis where helpful.
“It’s not impossible to launch a good new blog and become widely read, but it’s harder than it was last year, and it will be harder still next year,” Shirky wrote at the time. But he undermined it in the next sentence by pointing out that “blogging will stop referring to any particularly coherent activity.” It doesn’t. This year, looking back, he concedes the trend that the group and commercial efforts have started to squeeze out the individuals. Reliable media pundits Arianna Huffington, Michelle Malkin, and Hugh Hewitt had no trouble picking up the form (really, how hard can it be?) and using their big megaphones to vault into the top ten.