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Monday, December 13, 2004
The Alpha BloggersSteven Levy has come with a very good overview of influential bloggers. Excerpts with edits and my views added:
By dint of reputation, novelty and charm, certain "alpha bloggers" have built large and influential audiences.The bloggers who follow technology consist of a particularly evolved community. The alphas, or "A-listers," as they call themselves, commonly cross-link to one another, with the effect of having one of their comments amplified and commented on. And the significance of this phenomenon has some important implications for the way opinions will be formed in the decentralized world of Internet media.
Let's consider the tech bloggers who make up the A-list. No one hired them. No one appointed them. All you need to start your own Weblog is some cheap software tools and something to say. Out of the inchoate chatter of the Web, the sharpest voices simply emerge. Certainly there are those—like Dave Winer, an early proponent who just completed a yearlong stint organizing a blog community at Harvard—whose reputation preceded them into the blogosphere. But more common are the people like Linux Journal editor Doc Searls, a long-respected tech observer whose well-read blog has made him a virtual brand, or Dan Gillmor, whose "We the Media" book is the blogging manifesto. Other people, by a combination of writing skills, unyielding curiosity, canny instinct and lots of sweat equity, rise up from total obscurity to join the big dogs in the community. This happens when an A-lister notices a newbie's work and links to it. In those cases fame can come fast. Just ask Robert Scoble, an unknown when his items were first picked up by the alphas. "Within two weeks I was invited to Steve Wozniak's Super Bowl party," he says.
"There indeed is an A-list, as well as important niche influencers on smaller topics," says Dave Sifry, CEO of Technorati, a company that tracks the blogosphere. Sifry keeps a running list of them, a geek hit parade of power brokers who zing arrows and shape opinions while quaffing lattes and using the Starbucks Wi-Fi. In the tech conferences you can often spot them in person, clustering toward the wall so they can keep their laptops plugged in. No matter where they are, they maintain a running conversation with their unseen audience, which can be as big as 20,000 visitors on a good day. And though no one pays for access to their homegrown publications, they can shape opinions, as the podcast example shows. "The blogosphere is a tipping-point machine," says Searls, referring to Malcolm Gladwell's treatise on how ideas and trends can suddenly tilt from obscurity to ubiquity. A good idea gets amplified by the "echo chamber" of the blogosphere. It need not be the original thought of the blogger. In fact, as scientists from the HP Information Dynamics Lab wrote in a paper titled "Implicit Structure and the Dynamics of Blogspace," ideas move on the blogosphere like viruses; the alpha bloggers spread concepts like Typhoid Marys.
But don't expect the alphas to become the establishment. Before that happens, the unwashed blogging hoi polloi will shame the A-listers back into maverickville—or take their places. "People come out of nowhere and get discovered," says Scoble. "Suddenly they have 4,000 readers a day." |
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