On Rereading Shirky

Update: Completely changed the post, so updated timestamp. Reread Clay Shirky’s great Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality. Still as relevant today as when he wrote it: “Inequality occurs in large and unconstrained social systems for the same reasons stop-and-go traffic occurs on busy roads, not because it is anyone’s goal, but because it is a […]

Update: Completely changed the post, so updated timestamp.

Reread Clay Shirky’s great Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality. Still as relevant today as when he wrote it:

“Inequality occurs in large and unconstrained social systems for the same reasons stop-and-go traffic occurs on busy roads, not because it is anyone’s goal, but because it is a reliable property that emerges from the normal functioning of the system.”

Lots of folks complain about the A-List bloggers and characterize them as gatekeepers. I don’t feel that the term “gatekeeper” fits. “Authority”, maybe.

But “gatekeeper”, no. What am I being kept from? Where is the gate? If the answer to the former is information and the answer to the latter is an A-lister’s web site, then I don’t buy it. I’ve got complete freedom and choice to listen to who I want to listen to. I’m the one choosing which URLs to type in. Sure, tech.memeorandum has a lot of overlapping people, but those people are talking about things I’m interested in. Tech. When it becomes less valuable to me, I’ll stop reading it. Do I like the fact that A-listers get put on it immediately while I have to work a bit harder….if I answered yes would you believe me? If the answer were yes then our system would be completely different to the extent that we wouldn’t be talking about this.

One difference between A-listers and Z-listers is that A-listers have been better writers over a longer period of time. They articulate their thoughts, build up an audience, and gain a reputation. Let them have it! And let them serve as strong examples of what you can do, if you choose to.

So this is the “that’s the way it is” reply. I can’t come up with another one, because I truly believe that this is a big insight into how humans, talent, and hard work fit together. And yes, complaining about it is a part of it. I complained for a while, and then decided that I wasn’t helping myself, read up on some network theory, and got on with my life. I’m still learning how to do it. I’ve even written some horrible crap lately that I wish I hadn’t, but I’m improving. Slowly.

I, for one, am glad to have passionate people who blog everyday and gain a reputation as an authority in their field. That’s actually what Alex Barnett and I are doing with podcasts. We’re out talking to these people, and having a great time learning from them. Want to know about this whole “attention” thing? Well, we talked to Steve Gillmor about it, certified A-list blogger. He’s the guy who you want to talk to when you start learning about attention. If you don’t like what he says, go write your own blog for 3 years about attention, start leading the discussion, and then Alex and I will come do a podcast. :)

I find that the harder I work, the better my future looks. Seems to be one of the few constants in this sea of change.

By the way, it could be a lot worse…

Imagine if rebels and visionaries hadn’t found the Web first.

Published: February 13th, 2006

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