Blog Science 101

graph of the blogosphereIn this blog, I’ve considred strategies for using blogs and blog networks to build readership.  The game appears to be all about authority – getting others to link to your site, especially others with lots of their own authority.  In fact, graphs of the blogosphere show a wide variance in blog scale.  But is there any logic to all this business about links and authority?

Actually, quite a bit (see Duncan Watts’ book “Six Degrees“).  One term used for this area of study is network science, which has its origins in the branch of mathematics known as graph theory.  One of the most interesting discoveries about social networks is that they follow a power law distribution rather than a normal distribution.  What does that mean? 

Many, if not most, measurable properties tend to cluster in a bell shaped curve around an average value.  This is the geometry of random variation.  However, social networks do not display randomness.  For example, studies done of Internet linkages, including Dave Sifry’s analysis of authoritative blogs, show a decidely different pattern.  Consider a blog as a node in the greater blogosphere with some number of other nodes, k, linking to it.  If you draw a graph showing the number of nodes of size k, for each value of k, it looks vastly different than a normal (bell shaped) curve – see the comparison below.

random vs power law distribution 2

All this means is that there are lots of blogs with few inbound links and not very many blogs with lots of inbound links.  And the numbers change by some exponential power – for example powers of 10.  Studies have shown that this is true of all social networks – even the offline variety (see “Linked” by Alberti-Laszlo Barabasi). 

With more inbound links, traffic to a more authoritative blog grows faster.  The blog ranks higher in search results and the whole cycle becomes self-reinforcing.  In other words, the rich get richer.  In terms of blog valuations, this may actually have a literal meaning if the blog author has chosen to monetize his or her site with advertising.   Blog networks can, at least theoretically, amplify this self-reinforcing growth spiral.

There is a practical limit to this growth, however, as the number of blogs, though very large,  is ultimately finite.  Thus at some point, the exponential scaling breaks down.  Should you be fortunate enough to hit this limit, it’s time to start a blog about something else.

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