In the Blogging World You Don’t Have Sex on the First Date

Scott Karp is having trouble getting linked. The other day the proprietor of Publishing 2.0 and managing director of research and strategy for Atlantic Media admitted that despite emailing influential bloggers (Dave Winer, Jeff Jarvis, and Steve Rubel), he’s been unable to get them to link to his site.

Scott Karp is having trouble getting linked. The other day the proprietor of Publishing 2.0 and managing director of research and strategy for Atlantic Media admitted that despite emailing influential bloggers (Dave Winer, Jeff Jarvis, and Steve Rubel), he’s been unable to get them to link to his site.

The reason why he’s had difficulty is because asking for attention is the ass-backwards way to get it. Putting the cart before the horse. Asking for sex on the first date. You might succeed once in a while, but it will probably do more harm than good if you want to be really successful. If that’s his idea of what blogging is, then he’s probably going to be sorely disappointed.

Blogging is like Dating

Blogging is a lot like dating. Like a date, a blog post can be the first step in a meaningful relationship. You’re just getting to know each other, finding out your interests, seeing how the conversation goes. Being cautious at this stage is prudent: it’s hard to know if the person who seems normal at first glance is actually a quack underneath it all.

Similarly, asking for others to link to you can come across like being asked for cash by a beggar. Solicitation is never pretty, as both the solicitor and solicitee usually feel uncomfortable. Here you are trying to get them to do something without any incentive, not even sex! In fact, you’re asking them to give up their most precious resource…a blogger giving a link is one of only a very few ways to give a gesture of attention. Therefore, it is a big deal.

Old Media and Gatekeepers

The lack of attention Karp received from the bloggers causes him concern. He muses on what he calls “gatekeepers” in the blogosphere, a few media moguls who direct the attention of the many. He likens it to the Old Media of ten years ago when there were only a handful of places to get media: a newspaper or magazine, one of the big 3 TV networks, radio, or movies. Karp worries that the most empowered amateurs (influential bloggers) are trending toward this model, they have too much influence, and as a result those less prominent folks with good ideas can’t or won’t be seen. He says:

‘the “system” is starting to feel a lot like Old Media, with the high-traffic blogs acting as gatekeepers for the blogosphere’s attention.’

In addition, Karp sees the gatekeepers as insufficient. He uses tech.memeorandum an example of a gatekeeper who can’t get the word out to enough people:

“If I want to reach an audience of Old Media executives who are wrestling with the painful transition to New Media, I don’t think tech.memeorandum is going to cut it. It’s not that none of them read it – it’s a matter of media fundamentals. Tech.memeorandum is highly efficient for reaching fellow geeks in the blogosphere, but much less efficient for reaching outside of it.”

Why the Chess Team Doesn’t Get Laid

This, of course, is the Long Tail in action. There are only so many BoingBoings, Slashdots, and Diggs. Only so many Winers, Rubels, and Jarvises. Even if you have something interesting to say, if you don’t have a megaphone or don’t get picked up by someone with one you won’t have a very big audience. It’s the lament of bloggers everywhere. It’s the lament of great artists who can’t get critics to see them for the genius they are. It’s also why the chess team doesn’t get laid.

To fight this model is to fight the tide. And more perhaps more interestingly, it’s fighting probability. The more you post, the more you say, the higher the probability that you’ll say something interesting, that others will hear you, and that you’ll create real relationships with fellow bloggers. That’s why Rubel, Jarvis, and Winer are where they are. They’ve written more than the vast majority of bloggers will ever write. They’ve observed, critiqued, and linked for years. They’ve taught us the fundamental rule of blogging…Don’t swim against the tide.

It’s about Relationships

The real problem for Karp isn’t that the gatekeepers are shutting him out or even that there are gatekeepers who can do the shutting out: it’s that Karp doesn’t have a relationship with anybody yet. Nobody knows what he’s talking about, what his schtick is, which way he leans. That takes time. (Even so, he’s well on his way, in two short months of blogging he’s already got more attention than most bloggers ever do.)

Most of the early attention he’s received seems to be the result of Karp asking provocative questions about the relationship between media and authority. He asks: “as Old Media gatekeepers fade, who will ultimately take their place?”. And he quotes Justin Fox: “Are there great new fortunes to be made in telling us what to pay attention to?”. These questions are fundamental to media and the Web.

The answer to these questions will come from the network, I think. Look to the new companies that are thriving: Google, Amazon, Yahoo, Netflix. These companies are harnessing their network of users to provide valuable, personalized recommendation systems that exist outside of any of the Old Media. They’re replicating our individual authority models to the point where content becomes more important than the media outlet from which it came. The amazing potential of Web 2.0 is that it distributes authority at the personal level. The next time you get a movie recommended to you from one of your friends on Netflix, think about how much more valuable that is than some review pumped through the Old Media. Did you know that roughly 2/3 of movies rented on Netflix come from recommendations?

Yes, amateurs are affecting the stock market. And publishing. For every loss in Old Media’s attention machine, there is a gain in personalized recommendation systems like Netflix that won’t ever return to either Old or even the “New” Media. It’s in the people’s hands now.

However, even though Netflix creates a wonderful tool for modeling authority, it won’t be the authority itself. No, authority will lie in individual people whom we trust, who happen to use the same systems that we do.

Gatekeepers No More

On this note, Karp rightly assumes that many bloggers won’t even consider the notion of gatekeepers in the blogosphere. I fit into this camp, as does Matt McAlister, Senior Product Manager at Yahoo:

“Insistence that there’s an editorial gatekeeper required in the media model is going to hold Old Media back from embracing New Media at any truly valuable level.”

To which Karp replies:

“My point is that media can’t function without some type of gatekeepers — otherwise you have complete entropy, with people awash in random information.”

Add this to a comment on a previous post, and you can see where Karp is headed:

“There is so much wrong with the blogger view that the monoliths of old media will be brought down and consumers will bask in the glory of infinite media choice – discussing, creating, tagging, rating (meta-ing) each other’s content in one big solipsistic frenzy.”

Just Regular People

Here’s another view. Instead of gatekeepers, I see people. Where gatekeepers simply keep the gate from all intruders, people are open to having relationships with others. And these relationships are anything but random. They’re authoritative, valuable, ever-changing, and rely on trust built up over time. You know, the whole Golden Rule thing. So instead of looking for the gatekeepers, perhaps Karp should ask himself: if hundreds of people started asking me for links, how long would it take before I started saying no?

Similarly, how long would it take a smart woman to realize that a guy who asks for sex on the first date probably isn’t worth the second?

Published: January 24th, 2006