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This is a really excellent analysis. You should ping http://topicexchange.com/t/social_software/ with it. However, I don't understand the point of citing Rawls against the Shirky point of view: Shirky seems like the most Rawlsian of Rawlsians to me, but begs the wider question of barriers to participation. The blogosphere is overwhelmingly Anglophone, for example (though blogs in Persian, French, Polish, and Brazilian Portuguese, are signficant minorities). The fact that Francophone sub-Saharan African bloggers command little attention in the "market" is not due to some power law militating in favor of English as an international lingua franca (as Shirky has argued), but to the fact that Africa's teledensity is a tiny fraction of the developed world's. The question of justice is not the opportunity to make the Technorati 100, but the ability to publish at all to an audience equipped to receive your content. In Rawlsian terms, what self-interested rational calculator, deliberating behind the veil of ignorance, would apply the maximin principle in favor of a network in which complete lack of access to the network is the minimum outcome? If the point of our utilitarian moral calculus is to add as much utility to the network as possible, what rationale could there be for excluding potential participants? What sense can the question of choice have without univeral suffrage, so to speak? So I submit that the question of inequality among participants is beside the point. Inequality among participants and nonparticipants is the more pressing moral question, isn't it? But Shirky considers the Digital Divide a pernicious urban legend (http://www.shirky.com/writings/half_the_world.html). Robert McChesney: "In a class-stratified, commercially oriented society like the United States, cannot the information highway have the effect of simply making it possible for the well-to-do to bypass any contact with the balance of society altogether?" (http://jcmc.huji.ac.il/vol1/issue4/mcchesney.html)

Tom Steinberg

It is worth remembering here that even for the most ardent marxist, inequality is not a social problem in itself - it is only a problem in terms of what outcomes it causes.

Increasingly, I find myself looking at the tail end of the blog power law curve as the interesting part, and the peak as more of a curiosity resembling the 'most phoned telephone numbers in country X'.

I wholeheartedly approve of the idea of identifying a conception of justice for free forming networks, but the first question in that task has to be - "What harm results, or might result from inequality in this sphere?"

Jeff Warren

I agree with and support the theoretical basis for what you are describing- I'd be even more interested in starting up and trying out some techniques. For example, the Technorati list is manually compiled, I suppose? What about an daily updated graphic of the popularity of an open list of blogs (could this be generated via Perl?), which could be displayed with various statistics. Say, add stats for whether people frequent the site, or how much time they spend there. Find a new metric for determining the quality of a blog.

Again, how to gather the information becomes an issue, but I think that the compelling part about such a plan is that it offers ways of influencing the power law trend in new ways. Granted, it's easy enough to say that the inter-linking system of promoting blogs lends itself toward an injustice, and it seems likely that a new system would, after reaching a limited equilibrium, become just as unjust. But just as Clay described the power law trend as a cycle, where new tools eventually lead back to unjust popularity distributions, perhaps a continual migration to new tools is how the system remains dynamic. One could certainly make that case in government and world history.

antoin o lachtnain

I think that the question 'how should the network be arranged?' may be the wrong question, or we may be asking it before we are ready to deal with it, because it is so attractive as a mathematical problem. The right question is 'what is the network for?' If we knew what the network was for, then we could pick out the right arrangement for it.

In practice, the network of weblogs is for lots of different things. Most weblogs in the world are just to keep friends informed. That's all they are. They need a pretty flat, freeform structure. On the other hand, some weblogs are part of an idea-forming and decisionmaking process. In that case, good ideas need to be able to float to the top of the pile periodically to be implemented, and the discussion has to happen within a time framework. The network should be designed to give exposure to good, practical, well-expressed ideas, rather than simply giving exposure to people who might have been prominent in the past. (Exactly how this might be done, I'm not quite sure.)

Jennifer Leonard

Great analysis. Perhaps you'd consider posting to the newly launched Civiblog (http://www.civiblog.org) out of the Citizen Lab at the Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto. The purpose is to create community and open dialogue for all persons working/studying/volunteering in 'global civil society' and so this line or discussion is particularly relevant. Thank you!


Great ingsiht! That's the answer we've been looking for.

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