Blogging as News/Analysis Marketplace

This is reposted because Blogger seems to have eaten the previous posting!

Last week I worked at MSNBC as a “Hardblogger” and assisting with election coverage. This summer I was one of the bloggers invited to the Democratic Convention in Boston. Working with “the media” was an eye-opening experience. Usually my blogging day involves reading news sources and blogs online, and watching news and whatever-that’s-called on cable TV. But at the convention I found myself “inside the bubble” that professional media people live in. From the time I got up I was working, talking to important people, blogging what I was seeing, etc. After a couple of days of this I realized I knew nothing about what had been going on out in the world, and was depending on second-hand sources for quick “bullet-point” summaries of major events. In other words I learned that news people are BUSY. And when you are that BUSY you are not able to read the news, cruise the blogs, make connections, etc.

We live in a world where information overload results in people having less information, not more.

In one of my brilliant post-convention posts, A Role for Bloggers After All – Part II, I wrote about this information isolation, and how bloggers are part of a solution:

“This is not like my usual blogging environment, with time to read the morning news and several other blogs. I grab some news off of the internet. I get information from talking to other bloggers. This is significant.

A LOT of what I usually write about comes from detailed following what’s in the media … There was almost no opportunity for any of that at the convention, and I can see how in the Washington or New York top-level journalist life there is little opportunity either.

So – special role of Blogging #2: we bring important stories to the attention of the readers, and our readers include media and political circles.

Here’s why I think blogging plays a role as a reasonable, although partial, solution to the news process. Blogs function as an almost perfect marketplace for information and ideas.

Let me explain. Someone told me that now there are something like four million bloggers. Almost of all of them have a least a few readers, many of whom are also bloggers. When a blogger sees something interesting, the blogger links to it — that’s a big part of what blogging is. As soon as that link appears on the next blog, then you have the bloggers who read that blog exposed to the story/idea. And if they like it THEY link to it, and the bloggers who read THEM link to it. One post can rapidly move to two to four to eight to sixteen to two hundred fifty six blogs, and so on. Think of it as a chain reaction. One post can quickly become a subject for the entire blogosphere.

Some of these blogs have lots of non-blogging readers. So important stories, insightful comments and good ideas can very quickly come to the attention of a very large number of people. This is an information marketplace, and it is filtered in a near-perfect way. Blogging is a process where, over time, information that is interesting or important to numbers of people forces its way to widespread attention.

This blogging market process is also what economists would call a “rapid-clearing” market. This means that it takes very little time for the market forces to act and bring the market to its equilibrium. In other words, at the end of a day or two every blogger that is going to notice the posts and decide whether to add their “vote” and link to them will have had the chance to act or not.

It is not a completely perfect market, because blog readership is not perfectly distributed. There are a few weblogs that have the huge lion’s share of readers. (Sort of like the distribution of Bush’s tax cuts.) So important stories/ideas have to break through individual gatekeepers. One way around this is to make a habit of reading more than just a few weblogs. Another way is for those weblogs with lots of readers to make a point of bringing less-known weblogs to the attention of readers. Like guitar cases stickers that say, “Real musicians have day jobs,” you can recognize which weblogs are still “real bloggers” by the number of other weblogs on their blogroll.

So I think this is an important role for bloggers, and it exists independently of individual bloggers. It doesn’t matter who initially posts, and it doesn’t matter on an individual level who decides to link or not, because of all the other bloggers. No individual or group can block a story from spreading. (Influential bloggers can certainly cause a story to spread more rapidly.) It is a “natural process.” It serves to bring important or interesting news/stories/ideas/analysis to broad public attention in a hurry. This can serve as a filter for “big media,” tipping them off to things they should bring out of the blogosphere to their own, wider audience.