Thursday, May 24, 2007

Information Plantations

From last week's Technology Guardian:
The hegemony of Wikipedia is only the most striking manifestation of a broad and unexpected phenomenon: The world wide web is shrinking. I don't mean that there are fewer sites than there used to be. On that measure, the web is bigger than ever. I mean that more and more of our time online is being spent at an ever-smaller number of megasites. The wilds of the internet are being carved up among a handful of vast information plantations.

Web statistics tell the tale. The blogger Richard MacManus recently examined trends in online traffic over the past five years. He found that between the end of 2001 and the end of last year, the number of Internet domains expanded by more than 75%, from 2.9m to 5.1m. At the same time, however, the dominance of the most popular domains grew substantially. At the end of 2001, the top 10 websites accounted for 31% of all the pages viewed on the net. By the end of last year, the top 10 accounted for fully 40% of page views. There are more destinations online, but we seem to be visiting fewer of them.

This relates to something I've noticed about blogs in the past couple of years. For how many blogs there are, and considering that blogs are celebrated for being a decentralized and bottom-up phenomenon, it's surprising not just that a handful of blogs tend to dominate in terms of hits, links and references in the MSM, but also that this handful has not really changed over the years. I'm thinking of political blogs especially. On both the right and the left, the big political blogs have largely stayed the same over the past 4-5 years:

Daily Kos
Talking Points Memo
Washington Monthly
Matthew Yglesias

The Corner
Little Green Footballs
Red State
Andrew Sullivan
Mickey Kaus

When was the last time a blog emerged that became a must-read like the blogs above are considered by many to be? Glenn Greenwald comes to mind. But it seems like most of the newer blogs that have risen to prominence are examples of blog consolidation or blog counterparts of an MSM entity: TPMCafe, Huffington Post, Swampland. And others like Greenwald, Yglesias, Sullivan and Douthat have been brought under the umbrella of an MSM outlet. There's nothing wrong with that in and of itself, but an overall picture is emerging where only a few blog sites are widely read and discussed.

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