It exists, and its influence matters

In response to Om Malik’s post on the dark side of tagging, Shelley Powers writes a powerful piece on technology and human behavior arguing that no matter how our tools may change – its our practices that matter – take note of who is getting linked to over the BlogHer conference and why:

…If women are not as visible in weblogging (or technology or politics and so on) because of some
escoteric to do with technology, then our problems could be easily solved. I would personally devote my life to finding the Woman Algorithm — the algorithm to give equality to women. But, as we’ve seen with the recent linking to BlogHer reports, the issue isn’t that simple. Even considering the fact that BlogHer was about women in
weblogging, the single most linked individual post on the conference,was Jay Rosen’s–one of the few men to attend the conference.

Why was Jay’s the most linked? Well, some of it was because he provided a viewpoint that led to debate. He used a ‘confrontational’ term that was guaranteed to trigger furious discussion. I linked to him for that specific reason, as did other people. However, Halley Suitt also wrote a post that generated much debate, and though it was also well linked, not as much as Jay’s. Does this, then, mean that Jay’s was a better post? No,not necessarily.

If you look at those who linked to Jay, you’ll see two patterns: people who linked to Jay because of what he said, and others who linked to Jay because of who he is. What is the common characteristic of those who linked to Jay without specifically referencing the ongoing discussion? They were all men. Is this relevant? Well, considering the purpose behind Blogher, I would say the results aren’t irrelevant.

In a related post, Seth Finkelstein notes that that BlogHer “backlash” is self-proving A-list’ery:

…There were a few hundred people who attended the BlogHer conference. Which leads to a few hundred direct opinions from attendees about how it went. Add indirect opinions from interested readers too. Now, of this melange of viewpoints and conversations, which ones were amplified overall and then retailed to thousands of people not involved. Simple:


So, if you believe all that matters is socializing, you can dismiss everything else, since it doesn’t affect whatever socializing happened. If you believe being heard and having an influence matters, well, that fact that a handful of rich/connected ranty A-listers (some who weren’t even there) are basically defining the issues to everyone else, should be a sterling disproof of meritocracy.

Of course, that also implies this post doesn’t matter, but it has an individual purpose in noting I’d been quoted :-).

In a related thought, it has finally occured to me why Dave Rogers and Shelley Powers have had issues with Technorati claming its lists measure the “authority” of certain blogs – because they can’t. It’s a misuse of the word. These lists measure influence. Attention-influence. An important distinction that gets lost in these discussions. In his latest post on all this Dave notes:

For my criticism to have some effect, I would have to be perceived as at least authoritative as Technorati. I would have to be near their rank in the hierarchy (not explicitly the Top 100). So the critical or negative nature of my attention-directing is largely discounted, and the effect is really just to call more attention to Technorati, which it desires and which I think is undesirable.

I would say he would need to as influential as Technorati. Lots of folks and institutions are influential who aren’t “authorities”. But the gist I agree with – those with high page ranks/quality inbound links have more influence over the direction conversations take then almost anyone wants to admit.