Postmodern power and influence: oxymoronic

Postmodern power and influence: oxymoronic.
A New York Times story today is going to get a lot of attention from what’s known in the blogging world (aka: blogosphere) as “the A‑list.” This is a group of blogs and bloggers to whom hierarchical power and influence are assigned based on their reach and content.

The story looks at a new study that concludes that the Americans who have flocked to the Internet this campaign season are much more likely than the average citizen to serve as an opinion leader in their community.

The George Washington survey, conducted by telephone and on the Internet with the school’s partners, RoperASW and Nielsen/NetRatings, provides the first close look at who is actually logging on to get and spread political information. Politicians and anyone else interested in political organizing, the survey’s sponsors say, risk considerable harm to their cause by dismissing the importance of the Internet as a potent new tool.

“The main finding of the study is that if you want to reach the people who are reaching everyone else, that place is still the Internet,” said Carol Darr, director of the university’s Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet. “The growing support for this medium is not dependent on any one candidate.”

This is an important study in helping people understand the difference between mass marketing clout and how the bottom-up Internet works with its Postmodernist “tribes” concept. However, there’s another issue this study reveals that’s been troubling me lately.

John Hawkins updated his “blogoshere power rankings” this week. This list ranks Weblogs according to their reach, as determined by the good folks at Alexa. Perhaps it’s because I’ve spent so much time studying the culture of the Internet, but I have a problem with establishing anything Web-based in a hierarchical form. What it is, at best, is a Modernist attempt to understand a Postmodern communications medium. It can’t be done. Can chaos be explained logically? Perhaps, but the understanding won’t come from within the chaos, and therein lies the rub. It’s the outside looking in.

Technorati is a wonderful piece of software that helps bloggers see who’s linking to them. The company publishes a “top 100” blogs based on the numbers of links. This is another hierarchical measurement of blogs.

I’m not happy with the phrase “A‑list bloggers” and not because I’m not a member of the club. I think it’s a dangerous affiliation for people who’ve heretofore been associated with power to the people. Jeff Jarvis is an A‑list blogger (although I’m still trying to determine who decides membership), and writes frequently about the influence of his blog, the buzzmachine. Whether it’s influencing someone else to blog, the role he’s played in citizen reporting in Iraq, pointing to his climb on Hawkins’ or other lists, appearances on the radio, or referencing how he’s being referenced in other blogs, Jeff is playing the game of power and influence.

I commented on one of his posts this week: “Do the words blog and power really belong in the same phrase? Is that what this is all about — another way to get to the top of the pedestal? I cringe when I read such, because the real power in our universe should belong to the people, not the bloggers. This is analog thinking, IMO.”

His response: “terry… the bloggers are the people, the people are the bloggers. this is power to the people!”

I love Jeff and read his stuff faithfully, but this is a slippery slope. If the bloggers are the people and the people are the bloggers, then why is there an A‑list, and, more importantly, why does anybody assume it speaks on behalf of anybody else? If the answer is “it doesn’t,” then why do those of us who are in the blogging community care?

Modernism needs hierarchical references, and that’s what I think is really happening here. It’s logical to assume that the A‑list is filtered B‑list, which is filtered C‑list and so on down the line. It’s equally logical to assume that the A‑list influences the B‑list, which influences the C‑list, etc. The fact is this is not the case, for the ground on the Internet is level and attempts to assign power and influence to a blog or blogger based on mass market reach and frequency measurements does the whole concept a disservice.

Bloggers are people. That’s for sure. But they’re not “the people,” anymore than a specific set of Christian beliefs makes it “the church.” The Web certainly does bring power to the people. It’s the communications tool of Postmodernism, and as such, it cannot and won’t be understood by those with a predominately Modernist worldview. This is what the Howard Dean candidacy missed and what those who are asking “what happened” after Iowa don’t get.

But then, how do you “get” something that can’t be “gotten?”


  1. Terry: I never called myself a‑list. And I agree with you this far: It’s wrong to analyzed all weblogs on one list, one power curve, and pay attention only to the top of the curve. the action is all in the middle. Looking only at the top is analyzing the new medium like old media and it is irrelevant. But I will argue that it is not wrong to use the word “power” and “blog” in the same sentence; in fact, I’ll say that getting power is much the point. This new medium gives the power of the press to the people for the first time in history and when they use it to get influence that’s a good thing. I’m also aware that because I straddle both media worlds, old and new, when I talk about power I can look like a guy in a tux and a trucker’s hat. But when it comes to blogging, I have no advantage over anyone else to get attention and traffic and power; the great thing about blogs is that they are a meritocracy. And I celebrate every time I see blogs gain attention and thus influence and I think this medium is still at a point where it needs to brag about itself. (And I will add that I point to the attention others get more than the attention I get.) And maybe that doesn’t go away. The NY Post brags about every new circulation gain; every paper does. What’s wrong with blogs celebrating when they gain influence in whatever sphere matters to them. And that gets us back to the A‑list. There is not one A‑list in this new medium. There are limitless A‑lists. The guy in Berlin who has a blog on public art in the city is the top of the A‑list on that topic in that location. I keep my personal A‑lists of the bloggers I like best on certain topics (gizmodo on gadgets, mobilewhack on mobile gadgets…). Every reader has his or her A‑list. There’s nothing wrong with A‑lists and influence and power. The point is that now everybody can join in.

  2. Point taken, Jeff. Perhaps my problem is really with the mainstreamers who view bloggers on one (Modernist) list. We don’t need to be encouraging them. Thanks much.

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