Lonely at the Top

Kos is complaining again, and it’s almost comical, though that wasn’t the intent. "I am not a gatekeeper," he says, bemoaning the reality that political campaigns are seeking his assistance. Oh, but he is. He’s one of them anyway. And the irony is that at the end of his rant he cites a recent report that makes a pretty good case for his gatekeeper status. The only question is what or who travels through that gate.

One look at the recent report on the progressive blogosphere, which I posted about earlier, makes it pretty clear that Kos sits at the top of the progressive blogger heap, with something in the neighborhood of 3.8 million weekly views.  A quick check of the ecosystem shows Kos’ number of incoming links puts him, once again, at the top of the progressive blogger heap. The only ones beating him out in that category at the moment are a couple of conservative bloggers and a blog about India’s movie industry.

People calling on Kos and other top progressive bloggers are following a time tested rule: if you want results and you want them fast, go straight to the top. Politics being an arena in which people need what they need urgently, and they need it yesterday, that rule applies even more — regardless of whether it should or not. There’s one sentence in the report on progressive blogs that makes it clear why Kos’ phone is ringing off the hook and his inbox overflowing with requests for meetings and help. It’s been burned into my brain since I read it.

Clearly, blogging is a world with a handful of haves, and a nearly uncountable number of have‐nots. There are likely a few hundred thousand blogs in this country that talk about politics, but less than one‐tenth of one percent of them account for more than 99% of all political blogging traffic. [emphasis added]

So, if you’re a campaign looking for the biggest bang for your buck in terms of getting your message out to politically-minded blog readers, who are you gonna call first? Someone in that 0.1% who get 99% of the traffic? Or someone in the 99.9% who share the remaining 1% of the traffic? Likewise, if you’re a blogger hoping to increase your traffic and increase your cache in political blogging circles, who are you going to try and solicit links from? The 0.1% with 99% of the traffic? Or your compatriots in the 99.9% that share 1% of the traffic?

Is it becoming clear now how the "gatekeeper" concept figures into all this? Whether your a blogger or a political campaign, if you want access to the vast majority of politically-minded blog readers, the fastest route is through those bloggers at the top of the heap in terms of readership. Start with the top ten, and work your way down through the top 100.  Start with the top because if you can get a link or a post from one of them, you don’t need to bother with the rest of us. Really.

Why? Well, they’re at the top because a lot of people read them. And a lot of people read them because they’re at the top. It’s a kind of never-ending cycle in which the participants pretty much stay the same, though the relatively young age of the medium makes it hard to predict how long that will be the case. A link from one of them "opens the gate" in terms of traffic and readership. Occasionally, someone who get’s linked regularly enough by the folks at the top will increase their readership to the point of being able to join those ranks.

In other words, the "haves," essentially, get to decide whom among the "have nots" will get to join their ranks. It’s probably more by chance than design, but that’s the way it is.

What’s interesting is how many of the folks in the top 10 or top 100 absolutely deny their "gatekeeper" status, and the realities that might go along with it. In just one month’s time I recently witnessed three of the top 10 progressive bloggers — Kos, Atrios, and John Aravosisof AmericaBlog — write posts that basically said "leave us alone, we’re not going to link to you," or "go bother someone else." The theory seems to be that if it’s worthy of their attention, it’ll filter up into one of the blogs that they do link to and read, and maybe then they’ll post about it. (Of course, the link will most likely go one of those blogs, not yours.) So, go bother someone else.The problem is that, if you want to reach a lot of progressive blog readers, there really isn’t anyone else to go bother.

Sure, anybody with five minutes and an internet connection could set up their own blog and post about whatever they want, but who’s going to read it? Possibly tens of people. Send it to a blogger like myself, who doesn’t make the top 100 and probably lands somewhere in the bottom half of of the top 1000, and I’ll probably post about it; and it my get read by a few hundred people, depending that day’s traffic. That might suggest a strategy of contacting a lot of similarly placed blogs, but that’s also a lot more time and work.

To his credit, though, Kos does recommend that the folks contacting him follow the recommendations in the first appendix of the report, which attempts to throw some light on lower-trafficked state and local blogs by suggesting that some people look there first. In fact, it’s encouraging that main recommendation of the report — written by bloggers from two of the top 100 blogs — is to focus on building a stronger network of state & local blogs, that would probably mean increased readership for those blogs.

An admirable strategy, but I have my doubts that it’s going to work, because it requires people to see and approach the world a little differently, by getting outside of the "top-down" mindset. Unfortunately, that’s the way the world still operates. And, while people might like to think otherwise, maybe that’s the way that blogging is goign to work as it becomes more mainstream.

So, there will probably always be "gatekeepers." The problem for those wanting to gain access via that gate is that it’s unlikely to get opened very often if the "gatekeepers" don’t even acknowledge their role.

About Terrance

Black. Gay. Father. Buddhist. Vegetarian. Liberal.
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7 Responses to Lonely at the Top

  1. Mark says:

    Hearing Kos or Atrios whine about their role as top dogs is a bit nauseating. What they fail to realize is that it’s the smaller blogs that made them what they are — without those thousands of links from the smaller fish, they’d be just another blog with a few hundred readers.

    It also ignores the grassroots efforts that will help progressives take back some political power. The smaller blogs (at least from my experience) are read by folks who don’t always check out the bigger ones. It also ignores the fact that smaller ones help create the blogswarms that can truly make a difference — just look at the story of Zach.

    Will that change as blogging becomes more mainstream? Will progressives get more organized and focus on the big picture, rather than fighting amongst themselves? Will the big guys (and girls) realize that you can’t trample us little folks?

    Wish I had some answers …

  2. Maypo says:

    Kos may be a bit overwhelmed with all the new success and responsibility. He’ll handle it well in the end. Everyone needs to vent from time to time. Don’t hate, support!

  3. Terrance says:

    Responsibility? Seems to me like he’s deying any responsibility.

    Anyway, it looks like he already has plenty of support.

  4. Mark says:

    Terrance nailed it — Kos seems to be shucking the responsibility he has to be a leader in the progressive community.

    That may change over time, but that’s the impression he’s giving right now.

  5. upyernoz says:

    why can’t kos or atrios or john aravosis have whatever kind of blogs they want? i mean, if they do not want to post unsolicited submissions, is there anything wrong with them telling their readers they won’t? if kos doesn’t want to be a gatekeeper is there anything wrong with him saying that?

    i’m not saying the big blogs don’t have responsibility to the community, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still run whatever kind of site and play whatever kind of role they want to play.

    if one of them says: this site is not for doing X, and you’d rather read a site that does X, then find a site that does it, or try to build one yourself. there’s no sense in shaking your fist in the air over this.

  6. Terrance says:

    I’ll say it again. Less than one tenth of one percent of the political blogs get 99 percent of the traffic. Kos, Atrios, Aravosis, they’re in that one tenth. People approach them to post about stuff because if they post about it lots of people will read it. Lots more than if someone set up a blog themselves, which would fall into the millions of other blogs splitting up one percent of the traffic. In the blogosphere, just because you build it doens’t necessarily mean they’ll come.

    Like it or not, they are the gatekeepers, and arbitrary ones at that.

  7. Battlepanda says:

    I have a slightly different take on Kos, Atrios’ rejection of their “gatekeeper” status. Their blogs started off as personal domains with a tight-knit circle of readers. Indeed, even as they become megasites, an integral part of their appeal lies in the distinct character their personality imparts to their blogs. Keeping this distinctness is incompatable with becoming the high priest of lefty blogisphere and being responsible for linking to everything important rather than whatever they’re interested in.

    Anyhow, the best way for blogs to grow meaningfully is not to get 2000 hits one day from Atrios — those hits seldom come back. It’s through cultivating a community of frequent readers and a vibrant comment section. And the best way to do that is to link to and have conversations with smaller bloggers.

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