The forest and the trees

Clay Shirky nicely applies social network theory to Weblogs. His conclusion: "Diversity plus freedom of choice creates inequality, and the greater the diversity, the more extreme the inequality."

Clay uses data on the distribution of blog links to predict the future evolution of the medium:

The term ‘blog’ will fall into the middle distance, as ‘home page’ and ‘portal’ have, words that used to mean some concrete thing, but which were stretched by use past the point of meaning. This will happen when head and tail of the power law distribution become so different that we can’t think of J. Random Blogger and Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit as doing the same thing.

I find that a pretty persuasive assessment.

Dave Winer thinks Clay is full of it, largely because he doesn’t run a blog himself. None of Dave’s criticisms, though, contradict Clay’s piece. Clay, and the social network analysts, are considering blogs from above. To them, each site a data point. Those data points feed into graphs and link diagrams, producing insights. They are showing us the forest. Dave, on the other hand, is down among the trees. He’s pointing out how quickly some pine trees grow, and the differences between maple and birch. He’s the observer-as-participant, compared to Clay’s observer-at-a-distance. The forest and the trees are both real, just not at the same time.