Who’s got the power?

Yes, we live in the times of change. The web connected us all to each other, convergence of technology has led us into the age of multimedia, gave us tools to create our own content, and abolished boundaries of publishing costs.  Yet some things just don’t change. No matter how much social media manifesto’s call for businesses to start conversations with their publics, as Clay Shirky puts it, not everyone can participate in every conversation and not everyone gets to be heard.

In his controversial book “Here comes everybody”, Shirky raised the question not many of us thought of. Paradoxical enough, the very democratic nature of the web, which allows everyone to have a say in any matter, is turning into a boundary for the very conversation. He makes a great point in observing that the interactivity is in fact getting defeated by the size of the auditorium. While technology has no limits, it appears that human mind does. They are attention span limits.

On one famous blog, after a great post, which attracted many responses, the moderator had to close the discussion board due to the enormous popularity of the topic. Attention span? Yes, it can be argued, that the conversation can be continued other places (it obviously did), but Shirky’s point is demonstrated clearly by this example. We can respond to 20 comments, yet we can’t to 200.

There are around 200 millions of blogs out there, but very few attract millions of readers. Those which do, possess an enormous social power, which is now being exploited by businesses, which are turning these bloggers into their intermediaries. I’m not saying anything is wrong with that, I’m just confronting the fact. Gladwell’s law of the few at work?

I guess it’s all about acknowledging the weakness of the web and accepting that it does not represent an ideal public sphere after all. The social power will never get to be equally distributed among individuals, no matter what technology is on the way. But again I would like to point out, that power relationships don’t really have to equal in order for them to be mutually beneficial.


4 Responses to “Who’s got the power?”

  1. 1 Richard Bailey April 27, 2008 at 1:59 pm

    Of course: there will always be scarcity. There’s no longer any scarcity over communication channels, but we are all confronting a scarcity of time.

    So the question becomes one of motivation. What motivates me to read your (or anyone else’s) blog? One thing I’ve noticed is that I’m motivated to read blogs by proximity and by affiliation. At first glance, this makes no sense since I can read any blog anywhere (as long as it’s written in English). Surely I should simply filter out the top 100 global PR blogs and ignore all the rest. Instead, the ones I return to or subscribe to very often have a Leeds link (student blogs, Stuart’s blog and so on). In other words, I already know the person behind the blog. How reassuringly normal: relationships matter (this ought to be comforting for those studying public relations).

  2. 2 Olga Kamshitskaya May 1, 2008 at 11:50 am

    “the very democratic nature of the web, which allows everyone to have a say in any matter, is turning into a boundary for the very conversation”
    Yeah internet gives us a power to influence on political, social environment. The extent of power in blogging depends mostly on our writing talent, networking skills, ability to think independently and as a result to express our thoughts in new, suprising way.
    It will be interesting to research the interaction between goverment’s manipulation and internet coverage 🙂

  3. 3 Helena Makhotlova May 2, 2008 at 10:51 am

    Yea, I haven’t really thought about it…Too bad you have already picked the topic for dissertation!

  1. 1 Bookmarks about Powerlaw Trackback on October 2, 2008 at 3:15 am

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