The Great Unread


Once upon a time there was an island named Blogosphere, and at the very center of that island stood a great castle built of stone, and spreading out from that castle for miles in every direction was a vast settlement of peasants who lived in shacks fashioned of tin and cardboard and straw.

Part one:

On the nature of innocent fraud

I’ve been reading a short book – an essay, really – by John Kenneth Galbraith called The Economics of Innocent Fraud. It’s his last work, written while he was in his nineties, not long before he died. In it, he explains how we, as a society, have come to use the term “market economy” in place of the term “capitalism.” The new term is a kinder and gentler one, with its implication that economic power lies with consumers rather than with the owners of capital or with the managers who have taken over the work of the owners. It’s a fine example, says Galbraith, of innocent fraud.

An innocent fraud is a lie, but it’s a lie that’s more white than black. It’s a lie that makes most everyone happy. It suits the purposes of the powerful because it masks the full extent of their power, and it suits the purposes of the powerless because it masks the full extent of their powerlessness.

What we tell ourselves about the blogosphere – that it’s open and democratic and egalitarian, that it stands in contrast and in opposition to the controlled and controlling mass media – is an innocent fraud.

Part two:

The loneliness of the long-tail blogger

The thing about an innocent fraud, though, is that it’s not that hard to see through. Often, in fact, you have to make an effort not to see through it, and at some point, for some people, the effort no longer seems worth it. A few days back, the blogger Kent Newsome asked, “Who are the readers of our blogs?” His answer had a melancholy tone:

The number of bloggers competing for attention makes it seem like the blogosphere is a huge, chaotic place. But it only seems that way because we have all ended up in a small room at the end of the hall. When people refuse to converse with me or go out of their way to link around me, it hurts a little. Until I remember that while they aren’t listening to me, no one in the real world is listening to them either …

Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy writing. But sometimes it feels vaguely depressing to write something, put it up and wait anxiously for someone to reply via comment or link.

A handful of people responded to Newsome’s post, among them the long-time blogger Seth Finkelstein. Finkelstein’s tone was much darker. You sensed not only the resignation but also the bitterness that is always left behind when a fraud is revealed:

To be more personal here, I wrote because:

1) I was suckered into the idea that blogs were a way to “route around” media power, and to be HEARD.

2) I had delusions of influence.

3) The random-payoff of attention makes it seem far more effective than it actually is.

4) It’s painful to admit that you’ve wasted so much time and effort and pretty much nobody is listening.

Blog evangelism is very cruel, as it preys on people’s frustrated hopes and dreams.

My blog is read by a few dozen fans … I’ve come close to shutting it down at times, and will finally reach the breaking-point eventually.

The powerful have a greater stake in the perpetuation of an innocent fraud than do the powerless. Long after the powerless have suspended their suspension of disbelief, the powerful will continue to hold tightly to the fraud, repeating it endlessly amongst themselves in an echo chamber that provides a false ring of truth.

Part three:

How to get a link from an A Lister

I met Seth Finkelstein recently. We had both been invited to participate in a day-long conference about “hyperlinking” at the Annenberg School in Philadelphia. The conference’s first panel was moderated by Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University who also writes the popular blog Pressthink, which has the following tag line: “Ghost of Democracy in the Media Machine.” During a brief Q&A session at the close of the panel, a woman in the audience expressed frustration about getting bloggers like Rosen to link to her site. She asked the professor if he had any suggestions. Rosen said that the best way to get a link from him is to write a post about one of his posts. He carefully monitors mentions of his work in other blogs, he said, and he frequently provides links back to them, at least when they have some substance.

Rosen’s answer could not possibly have been more honest. The best way, by far, to get a link from an A List blogger is to provide a link to the A List blogger. As the blogophere has become more rigidly hierarchical, not by design but as a natural consequence of hyperlinking patterns, filtering algorithms, aggregation engines, and subscription and syndication technologies, not to mention human nature, it has turned into a grand system of patronage operated – with the best of intentions, mind you – by a tiny, self-perpetuating elite. A blog-peasant, one of the Great Unread, comes to the wall of the castle to offer a tribute to a lord, and the lord drops a couple of coins of attention into the peasant’s little purse. The peasant is happy, and the lord’s hold over his position in the castle is a little bit stronger.

“Ghost of Democracy” is a wonderful term. It perpetuates the innocent fraud even as it exposes it.


One day, a blog-peasant boy found buried in the dust beside his shack a sphere of flawless crystal. When he looked into the ball he was astounded to see a moving picture. It was an image of a fleet of merchant ships sailing into the harbor of the island of Blogosphere. The ships bore names that had long been hated throughout the island, names like Time-Warner and News Corp and Pearson and New York Times and Wall Street Journal and Conde Nast and McGraw-Hill. The blog-peasants gathered along the shore, jeering at the ships and telling the invaders that they would soon be vanquished by the brave lords in the great castle. But when the captains of the merchant ships made their way to the gates of the castle, bearing crates of gold, they were not repelled by the lords with cannons but rather welcomed with fanfares. And all through the night the blog-peasants could hear the sounds of a great feast inside the castle walls.

95 thoughts on “The Great Unread

  1. hugh macleod

    There are basically two rules of blogging:

    1. Nobody is going to read your blog unless there’s something in it for them.

    2. Nobody is going to link to your blog unless there’s something in it for them.

    These two rules apply to us all, A-List and Z-List alike. If you don’t like these rules, you’re better off finding an ecology whose rules you like better. Life is short.

  2. Tristan Louis

    Having argued both sides of the issue, I’m still undecided as to where the blogosphere stands on this. There has been some good discussion (led by Seth and Jon Garfunkel) on the gatekeeping effect that exist in the blogosphere. However, there is also evidence against it.

    Your parable of the traditional media partnering with A-list bloggers does make sense but what happens then? Are the A-list bloggers who have been co-opted by traditional media to be considered still bloggers? Or is blogging just a tool and therefore running under the same approach as the media world in general, with a much longer tail.

    On my blog, I try to start discussion of things that are of interest to me. What I get from blogging is the power that comes from having many people argue multiple side of an issue, allowing me to better refine my own intellectual position on subjects of interest to me.

    The interesting thing is that, for “the great unread” (as you call them), blogging is generally a side activity, with little relation to their primary job. A-list bloggers are people who generally have incorporated their blogging strategy into managing their primary objectives (whether it is to be an influencer or to shill a product or service). Both approaches are OK in my view but both represent different sets of goals. To treat the blogosphere are a single group may be the wrong approach: different bloggers have different goals.

  3. Tish Grier

    Wonderful post, Nick–

    yet as I sit here reading the comments, I’m seeing the same arguments by the same malcontent males and few (if any) comments by any females with the exception of a link to Shelley Powers–as if she is the only female in the blogosphere who has blogged on this topic. (also noted refs to Heather Armstrong and danah boyd–who are also perhaps two of a handful of women bloggers ever referenced by said malcontents.)

    Right there, I think, proves a distinct point that the blogosphere is made up of small groups who are most concerned with acknowledging and promoting one another. And white males love to close ranks around their chosen goddesses ;-)

    The blogosphere is a hierarchy, a meritocracy, a who-knows-who linkistocracy….but, ultimately, it is hardly the open-source utopia that so many would like it to be, or like the general populace to believe it to be.

    Which, quite frankly, they don’t–that’s why so many feel they do not want to participate in it. Just talk to them. They have lives that does not involve obsessive internet socializing.

    But nonsense exists on both sides of the A-list equation. I often get perturbed by the old saw the A-list perpetuates regarding how to get them to link to you, the lonely long-tail blogger. What works sometimes more than linking is going out to the places they happen to be and meeting them. Still, that doesn’t mean they will link to you, but it does mean that they will know who you are (says the veteran of 9 conferences covering tech, journalism/media, and business in a 12 month period)

    Sometimes that, in itself, can open a professional door or two–if that’s what one is looking to get from one’s blogging. But trying to get that simply from blogging, without anything else on one’s c.v. or resume, is a dicey proposition.

    Yet A-listers are, above everything else, human beings, and they respond better to face to face meetings, good conversation, and hearty handshakes just like the rest of the World. They also respond to emails that direct them to pieces that may contain a link to something they have written…

    I find, though, your distinction between “private” and “public” bloggers to be interesting, Nick, but not quite hitting the nail on the head. All blogging is public conversation. The distinction, though, I think, could be better qualified as bloggers who are seeking to pursuade or those looking to relate. Women blog mostly to relate–it’s not necessarily private, as they make friends all over the globe. But their status as A-list, etc. really isn’t all that important(unless it will lead to a book deal.) The pursuaders–or information disseminators) are mostly male, love a good knockdown-dragout debate, and are more concerned about how high their profiles rise because there’s some belief that blogging is the “thing” that will make them something other than ordinary.

    The men, I think, believe more in the hype of blogging than most women. At least they’re more anal about their positions in the Technorati rankings than most women…who seem to be quite comfortable rolling around in the Magic Middle.

    However, those who want to pursuade find ways to do just that…the best way, once again, is by meeting others face to face and cultivating friendships.

    Tristan Louis (who I’ve had wonderful email conversations with about the A-list, and about life) makes a very good point about how many of the A-list put together a marketing strategy before they set out to blog. To add to Tristan’s observation, many of that group also have received help from one another because they know one another (once again, the f2f overrides the virtual)and, IMHO, because what they do is a business decision, they are a group that is different from the rest of us.

    What I do not agree totally with Tristan about is his assessment that the group he says is blogging only as a sideline. Quite the contrary. They may not be as power-driven as the first group, but their blogging is not merely a hobby. Many see it as a stepping-stone to other things–those things are defined differently for each person who engages. I consider myself, and my blogging, more in that group–it has become something I have used professionally, as well as a means to disseminate information *and* to cultivate friendships via my personal blogging.

    I am smart enough, though, to know it won’t bring me riches on its own via any sort of ad scheme. I figured that out years ago when I met my first pyramid scheme…

    BTW, I’ve had many links from A-listers…but because I am in a career transition and do not have “15 (or more) years experience” which seems to be the overriding credential for being an “expert,” or some other solid profession to link to my blogging, I have not been able to capitalize on whatever sort of glory those links might be conferring on me. Hence, I only see those links as friend to friend–or, perhaps some acknowledgement that I’m a potential “thought leader.”

    Still, there are two sources of links that are, for me, just as important as links from A-listers. Those are links from citizen journalism sites and links from other women bloggers. The links from citizen journalism sites–such as Raw Story–mean that some obscure story I’ve linked to is reaching a larger audience. My links from/to other women bloggers means that I am talking about my life in a way that others understand. I am both persuading and relating–and do this to some success by having two separate blogs.

    How many of the men here can claim that distinction?

    Sorry to have gone on a bit here, but, while you said some wonderful things, they got a bit distracted by those who continue to beat the same annoying dead-horse arguments without ever looking at their own whiteguy link prejudices and maudlin hothouse musings.

  4. Jay Rosen

    Hi Nick: It’s your fraudmeister here with a little info for this discussion. The conference was at the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, not the “Annenberg Center.”

    Second I haven’t claimed the blogosphere is egalitarian. Maybe others have. I haven’t said it was a pure meritocracy, either. Maybe others have. I have said it’s more open than the access system controlled by professional gatekeepers, and in that way more democratic. I just want to make that clear.

    The question asked at Annenberg was not quite what you said. Here’s what you said:

    During a brief Q&A session at the close of the panel, an audience member expressed frustration about how hard it is to get A List bloggers like Rosen to link to his blog. He asked the professor if he had any suggestions. Rosen said that the best way to get a link from him is to write a post about one of his posts. He carefully monitors mentions of his work in other blogs, he said, and he frequently provides links back to them, at least when they have some substance.

    According to the transcript supplied by Joseph Turow, organizer of the conference, it went like this:

    Question: Hi, I’m Jodi Leib. Jay, you mention that it was difficult to get a link. And I’m wondering– not looking to search engines to get that link, but if you’re requesting a link back from a blog or from any other website, what infor– and maybe all the guys can– approach this from their different perspectives. What is the best way to request a link back to your website?

    There was no expression of “frustration about how hard it is to get A List bloggers like Rosen to link to his blog.” The question was not: how do I get an A lister to link to my blog? It was: what’s the best way to request a link from your site? And it was a woman, not a man.

    Now for the answers…I gave two, separated by comments from others. …What is the best way to request a link back to your website?

    JAY ROSEN: Don’t. (LAUGHTER) That’s– that’s– that’s probably the best way. The– the thing that I was alluding to earlier wi– was reciprocity, right? So at least w– when I blog, and I’ve been blogging for four and a half years– it’s– who I chose to link to is– is my choice. And I don’t– if somebody– link begs, which is what it’s referred to– your (LAUGHTER)– your chances of getting a link are very low.

    On the other hand, if you write about something– that I posted, and if you, as Jeff was saying, if you disagree with me and– and you have a great argument, or if you agree with me and you say great things then you’ll be on my radar. And I’ll start to read you and I’ll pay attention. And over time, eventually I’ll– come to– come to know you, at least through your writing. And eventually I’ll see something of yours that I like or disagree with and I’ll link back to you.

    (Second answer) …Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. People write me all the time and say, “Hey, would you link to my blog?” Often they– offer to link to Press Link in– at their blog. Link exchange.

    And– it’s never worked. I’ve never once responded to one of these– notes because they don’t really make any sense. If I link to a blog that wasn’t in the universe that I’m trying to portray and cover for people, then it would– wouldn’t do them any good and it would undermine the value of my site. Because my site’s about one thing, and it’s only trying to be about one thing. And it doesn’t take in the web as a whole. It doesn’t take in– worlds beyond the press and beyond journalism and its– its implications.

    So– asking for a link in that way never works. The easiest way to get a link from my blog is to write about what I say. And if you write about me, (LAUGH) or Press Think, I will find it for sure. I’ll probably find it very quickly actually, within a day. And I will read it. And if it says something, if it actually makes a contribution that advances the discussion, as opposed to, “Jay Rosen wrote this terrible thing here. Jay Rosen wrote this great thing.” If it says something, most likely I will link to it.

    But in order to do that, you have to know what my blog is about. You have to know the world that it’s– reporting to. So that’s the best way to do it. And when I started, I got people to link to me very crudely by writing about them. And they saw it. And so that’s how you begin.

    Oh, and the subtitle of my blog (which this week just cracks the Technorati top 1,000) is explained here.


  5. Nick Carr

    Jay Rosen,

    Thanks very much for the thorough fact-checking. I was relying on my memory, which is something I should have noted. I’ve corrected the school name, questioner’s gender and the reference to “A List bloggers.” I believe, though, that the question was spurred by frustration, and I think my summary of the thrust of your reply is accurate. As I hope I made clear, I think you were just giving an honest answer to the question. The fact is – and this applies to any blogger, not just popular ones – bloggers are very attentive to responses to their posts, and if you want to get noticed and linked to by one of them, the best way to do it, as you note, is to write about something they’ve written. There’s nothing nefarious about that. It’s natural. And that’s the point: the patronage system is built into and amplified by the very linking structure of the blogosphere. (I’m curious if you’d disagree with that.)

    I put you into the A List based on the Blogebrity list, by the way. Lord knows how they came up with it.

    But thanks again for taking the time to correct the record. In the future, I’ll remember: Never quote a journalism professor from memory.


  6. kmartino

    Thanks for the reply Nick.

    Egalitarian? Like others here, I don’t think so.

    There is only so much attention to go around and human nature seeks out filters for it. In the blogosphere, well that’s the list of A-Lists, and our personal blogrolls.

    It’s great that Jay responded here (hello Jay), because I can’t recall a thing he’s written to perpetuate the myth of a “flat” blogosphere.

    To be sure – there are folks out there that do. But not him. As you noted in your post Nick – Jay was honest.

    “Power Laws. Weblogs, and Inequality” is still the final word on the subject as far as linking and influence goes. It’s a great piece that is holding up pretty well in light of this discussion.

    Recognizing that as a reality, the question for me has been, how to find interesting voices to read, outside of the usual suspects.

    Ever check out Global Voices?

  7. Jay Rosen

    Nick: Thanks for the response.

    I emphasized two points in my reply. One fit with your pre-existing thesis so you emphasized one, although you mentioned both.

    I said the easiest way to get a link from PressThink was to write about something I had written, and I said, with equal force, make a contribution to the discussion, add something new, insightful, deep, different. You gotta do both.

    In fact, if you did the first without the second, no link. You tell me: Is that how a patronage system works?

    If you did the second without the first (and I saw it, or you emailed it to me, or another blogger I read mentions it…) yes link. Is that how a patronage system works?

    I also said I don’t do link exchanges: ever. Is that how a patronage system works?

    Does Google know (or care) if a blogger makes a genuine contribution to an ongoing discussion, as I do, or are its algorithms silent on that?

    Does technorati count “contributions” (as I do) or links?

    What your idea are missing is the image of the user in the mind of the blogger. What I try in all cases to avoid is a user clicking on a link and thinking, “well, that was a bum steer.”

    One other thing: To me, personally, he who debunks attitudes and ideas to which no people and quotations or links are attached is cheating, intellectually speaking. Most debunkers do this constantly.

    Thus, this, “What we tell ourselves about the blogosphere – that it’s open and democratic and egalitarian, that it stands in contrast and in opposition to the controlled and controlling mass media” is cheating.


    Your Royal Fraudmeister

  8. Newtronic

    I’ve heard that the best authors “write for themselves”. I don’t blog anywhere near the volume that others do (where do they find the time?) but sometimes I think should start all my posts, “Dear diary” over at Polarman

  9. Nick Carr



    I said the easiest way to get a link from PressThink was to write about something I had written, and I said, with equal force, make a contribution to the discussion, add something new, insightful, deep, different. You gotta do both.

    In fact, if you did the first without the second, no link. You tell me: Is that how a patronage system works?

    Absolutely. If I’m one of the Great Unread and I write something insightful, my odds of getting a link from an A Lister are next to zero. If I write something insightful and mention or, better yet, link to something the A Lister has written, my odds of getting that link go up tremendously. (Yes, you could put Z Lister in place of A Lister in that sentence, and it would still hold true.) The fact that the A Lister doesn’t think of himself (or, rarely, herself) as dispensing patronage is worth noting, but is beside the point. The whole dynamic is a patronage dynamic: those without power pay tribute to those in power (in the process strengthening their hold on power) and in return they get a small but meaningful reward that encourages them to continue to pay tributes to those in power.

    Don’t kid yourself: that’s a patronage system that reinforces the power hierarchy.

  10. Nick Carr


    As to:

    One other thing: To me, personally, he who debunks attitudes and ideas to which no people and quotations or links are attached is cheating, intellectually speaking. Most debunkers do this constantly.

    Thus, this, “What we tell ourselves about the blogosphere – that it’s open and democratic and egalitarian, that it stands in contrast and in opposition to the controlled and controlling mass media” is cheating.

    Well, there’s sure a hell of a lot of cheating in this world.

    I think the responses to this post show that the idea of the blogosphere being more egalitarian than the mainstream media is quite a strong one. It’s certainly a view I’ve heard (and once had some sympathy for). And the Seth Finkelstein quote in the post itself certainly suggests that he bought into this idea. (Did it come out of nowhere?)

    Back in 2002, Mitch Ratcliffe wrote that “there is a tendency to assume that blogging is a purely egalitarian phenomenon.” He went on to question that tendency, as many others have as well, but the tendency he sensed was real – and remains real.

    A long article on April 15, 2004, in the Christian Science Monitor, refers to “the egalitarian nature of blogs” and terms the blogosphere “a version of Chairman Mao’s ‘let a thousand flowers bloom.'” Did the reporter (Gregory Lamb) pull those phrases out of nowhere, or was he simply reporting the common view?

    In an interview in late 2004, Jeff Jarvis said, “The means of media are now in the hands of the people … So now anyone can control, create, market, distribute, find, and interact with anything they want. The barrier to entry to media is demolished. Media, always a one-way pipe, now becomes an open pool. And, most important, the centralization of media -the marketplace, the network, the monopoly – is replaced by a decentralized universe.” Sounds fairly egalitarian and democratic and open to me.

    In February of this year, Doc Searls wrote, “I have this idea that the blogosphere is the one place in the world — or perhaps an entirely new world, or a part of a new world, created on the Net — where there is no need for class, for caste, for gates or keepers of anything.” An elegant expression of egalitarianism, no?

    From a post on your own blog this past June:

    The people formerly known as the audience wish to inform media people of our existence, and of a shift in power that goes with the platform shift you’ve all heard about.

    Think of passengers on your ship who got a boat of their own. The writing readers. The viewers who picked up a camera. The formerly atomized listeners who with modest effort can connect with each other and gain the means to speak – to the world, as it were.

    Now we understand that met with ringing statements like these many media people want to cry out in the name of reason herself: If all would speak who shall be left to listen? Can you at least tell us that?

    The people formerly known as the audience do not believe this problem – too many speakers! – is our problem. Now for anyone in your circle still wondering who we are, a formal definition might go like this:

    The people formerly known as the audience are those who were on the receiving end of a media system that ran one way, in a broadcasting pattern, with high entry fees and a few firms competing to speak very loudly while the rest of the population listened in isolation from one another— and who today are not in a situation like that at all.

    Once they were your printing presses; now that humble device, the blog, has given the press to us. That’s why blogs have been called little First Amendment machines. They extend freedom of the press to more actors.

    Now, my hearing ain’t what it used, but I really think I’m picking up some egalitarian vibe there.

    If you’d like more, I’ll give you more. Just say the word.


  11. Jay Rosen

    Actually I think you are being crude–very crude–in your use of that particular post of mine, treating a statement about a shift in power as a claim about the equalization of power. Which it isn’t. That post is about a lost monopoly for Big Media, not an egalitarian anything.

    But what I meant is not that there are no such statements floating around, only that you should mention names, and quote what they actually said, and link to it because then we can see in what context these claims were made. Now that you have done so–well, you left out the links–that is no longer cheating.

    And yes, there are lots of cheaters around, by my definition. Now if you will excuse me, I have a drawbridge to pull up, and some peasents to tax to death.

  12. Nick Carr

    I think you are being crude – very crude …

    Now that you have done so – well, you left out the links – that is no longer cheating.

    Wow. You really are royalty.


  13. Seth Finkelstein

    Jay, there is a game I call “A-lister wins” which I believe I have seen you and others play extensively. The game works like this:

    A-lister makes statement which, let us say, is very amenable to being read as a marketing pitch, in a way which implies a certain attractive notion:

    Example: “The people formerly known as the audience [blah blah blah]”

    Z-lister calls A-lister on silliness of statement

    A-lister replies “I didn’t mean [that]” (because, of course it’s not true). “I only meant [different, and – crucially – much more minor, meaning].”

    “A-lister wins” (extend by personal attack or claiming debunker is cheating or using a strawman)


    Yes, there is a fundamental logical problem here, I understand that. But do *you* understand the fundamental logical problem if there’s a system where an A-lister is free to make as many deceptive and misleading statements as possible, and then turn around and hypertechnically parse them, or outright deny, and they simply win because they’re the A-lister?

    Second time, for emphasis: I understand the theoretical philosophical issue – Do *you*?

  14. Nick Carr

    OK. Let me thank everybody for the comments, which are really thoughtful. I’m sorry if that exchange with Jay Rosen got a little shrill – I let the “cheating” thing get under my skin a bit, even though he was making a fair point. I hope I responded to it sufficiently. People can read his post and decide for themselves whether there’s an egalitarian spin to it.

    Some other reponses to comments, from the top.

    Lorenzinho: Thanks.

    EzraBall: Fair point. I didn’t intend to demean the motivations of any bloggers.

    Seth: Thanks for the links. Needless to say, I am far from the first person to point out the hierarchical structure of the blogosphere and how it runs counter to the egalitarian rhetoric.

    Mathew: Assuming you don’t want a glib answer, you’re going to have to wait a while.

    Kent: I don’t have anything to add about the motivations of writers/bloggers beyond what Seth and Kent and others say. Suffice it to say that a statement like “The act of writing should be reward enough” is not enough.

    Morgan: I agree with your point about hierarchies and gatekeepers (I’ve praised both in the past here), but I disagree with your statement: “As bloggers, we shouldn’t complain when people don’t read our stuff. It is just an indication that something is amiss, either in how we market ourselves or the quality or of our work.” That’s too simple, I think (though certainly quality and marketing matter, and the fact that quality matters is, as Rob Hyndman says, good).

    cmb: You know, I just reread the post, and I really don’t see it as a rant. Lord knows I’ve ranted in the past, but this feels different to me. “Sucky”: I’m not the one to judge. The genesis of this post was kind of unusual, because (unlike most of them) it happened over a fairly long period. It was a few months ago that I heard Jay at the conference, and I said to myself, “Yeah, that’s exactly how it works – and it’s a kind of a patronage system.” And I filed that away, and then I came across Kent’s post and Seth’s response and what struck me was that, amid all the high-sounding blather about blogs, here was something real – a description of a real, and I would guess pretty common, response to blogging that I hadn’t seen expressed before. It cut through a lot of the claptrap. I made a stab at writing something about that, but it didn’t come together. Then I came across this idea of an “innocent fraud,” and that gave me a way to tie together the other two things, which until then I hadn’t seen as being related. I decided to keep the three-part structure just for a change of pace, and then in writing it out I stumbled on the peasant-castle metaphor and decided to push it a little and see what happened. And that was that.

    Philip Nelson: “New voices will continue to rise to the top and old voices will fade and I think this will happen faster than in times past.” I’m not sure it will happen any faster than before – probably, but not definitely – but it will continue to happen. That’s very different, though, from the idea of an open, egalitarian citizen media (as Seth points out).

    Chris B: “Its easy to forget that writing is work and doing it regularly and well is alot of work. When some form of compensation is not forthcoming, all but the most fanatical may become disenheartened.” Yes. Which is why the easy slogans about egalitarianism, while innocent, need to be criticized.

    Phil: Your distinction between the usenet model and the web/blog is right on the money. I hadn’t thought about it like that before.

    dmr: I think that quality matters, but I’m starting to think it matters less in the blogosphere than in, say, newspapers or magazines – because of the mob nature of blogging (with its emphasis on speed over thoughtfulness) and because of the hierarchy-sustaining technologies. Quality and popularity never match up all that well, of course, but they seem particularly weakly correlated in the blogosphere. But time will tell.

    Hugh: The cartoonist as bitter realist. I guess that’s pretty common, actually.

    Tristan: “Or is blogging just a tool and therefore running under the same approach as the media world in general, with a much longer tail.” My guess is that that’s pretty much where it’ll end up.

    Tish: Persuade? Relate? Hell, I just want to argue. Though I guess that proves your point.

    kmartino: You’re right: Shirky’s piece is excellent.

    Thanks again. (And I’m not just being patronizing. Or at least I hope I’m not.)


  15. Hazel Motes

    I wonder to what extent the patronage system in the blogosphere would exist if readers actually had to (and could, conveniently) pay bloggers to access their content, and the game wasn’t all about buzz and ads and eyeballs.

  16. Brian


    As you indicate, the A-listers are an elite (well, I don’t know how elite they are…) club of solipsistic navel-gazers who spend most of their time refering to each other and boosting the media form they are identified with. You can’t rely on the club to market your message because you are iconoclastic and haven’t (fully) consumed the Kool-Aid. You don’t “fit”. Your potential audience is elsewhere but they don’t know about you.

    Internet exceptionalism be damned — it’s a media form and subject to the same rules as any other media form. In mainstream media advertisers deal with “clutter”, the noise of competing messages, by spending to increase share-of-voice. Raising awareness of you and your blog will require spending some money. I’m always surprised that I don’t see you placing ads on blogs where your point of view would be welcome. Check out Blogads, for very little money you can purchase millions of pageviews on a range of blogs and let an audience in waiting find out about you. And, of course, you need to mention your blog address on every single instance of exposure you get on radio and TV.

    Once your reach has grown sufficiently even the “A-listers” will have to acknowledge you. Don’t look down on marketing your message — in a world of 13 or 40 or 20 million blogs all vying for attention, you have to invest time and money to build audience.

  17. Nick Carr

    Brian, Thanks. But, believe it or not, this post was not a personal cri de coeur. I’m pretty happy with the size of Rough Type’s readership, which is much larger than I expected it would ever be. It’s tiny compared to the big guys, but it’s huge compared to the average. And that seems fine.

    Motes, Yes, that would solve pretty much everything. But I don’t think it’s going to happen. People have been trained that words are free online, and it’s in the interest of Google and other ad syndicators to keep it that way.

    Another piece by Clay Shirky talks about some of the economic reasons why blogs are (and probably will remain) free. (I’m not sure his closing thoughts are being borne out, though – the cocktail party will go on, but a lot of the popular blogs will end up in publishing empires, and not micro ones, either.)

  18. Anonymous

    Nick, I have been blogging for just over a year. For less than $ 100 a year (but plenty of writing time) I have at last check had visitors from 160 countries. I write from a buyer’s perspective and do not mind taking positions on bigger vendors like IBM, SAP, Oracle, Infosys etc. Many of them visit my site many times a day. They may not like what I say but they read it. My consulting business has seen a huge spike as CIOs and their staff see my positions in writing. I have discovered a whole bunch of new professionals – investors, consultants, vendors – who while we argue and disagree are far smarter than me – and I might add my former colleagues at Gartner – and I learn from them each day. That relationship has stretched to meetings in person over port and cigars where we argue some more.

    Who gives a shit about overall A-Lists? It’s the core readership for your domain that each blogger should strive to reach.

    I could not begin to afford a platform that would have brought all this payback for so little investment. You can be cynical. I am eternally grateful to Google, Technorati, Typepad who make this new medium viable and vital.

  19. Frank Ruscica

    A transparent — and liquid — market for the ad spaces on single-creator media solves the problem, as adbitrageurs will profit from identifying and helping to popularize undervalued blogs…

  20. Paul Montgomery

    Innocent fraud, pfft. If you’re going to talk about peasants and royals, give props to the originator of the capitalist dialectic, my ole buddy Karl: “false consciousness” is the phrase you’re looking for.

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