Shirky on blogging and inequality

· Required Reading, Weblog Concepts

Internet pundit Clay Shirky writes about power-law distributions and the popularity of certain blogs. He disputes the idea that there’s a specific “A-List” but says that unequal distribution of readership is inevitable.
Mark Pilgrim mostly agrees. Dave Winer mostly disagrees and thinks that Clay needs to start a blog himself to truly understand the medium.
I’m somewhere in between. Most of what Clay says is accurate, as far as it goes. Dave’s point that blogs create distributed hierarchies around communities of interest is also true. I’m not sure these points contradict each other. Essentially Dave is saying that Clay misses the point, that blogs are not a “winner take all” medium and that relevance within your own community is the most important value.
Clay also points out that the power-law curve is smooth, so there is no real specific cut-off point between any imagined A-List and the rest of bloggerdom. You can draw the line anywhere you want arbitrarily, but there’s no “cliff,” just a steep asymptotic curve.
Ironically, he then goes on to predict a system with three tiers:

In between blogs-as-mainstream-media and blogs-as-dinner-conversation will be Blogging Classic, blogs published by one or a few people, for a moderately-sized audience, with whom the authors have a relatively engaged relationship. Because of the continuing growth of the weblog world, more blogs in the future will follow this pattern than today. However, these blogs will be in the minority for both traffic (dwarfed by the mainstream media blogs) and overall number of blogs (outnumbered by the conversational blogs.)

In doing so, I think he makes the precise same mistake he was trying to correct, arbitrarily slicing bloggers into bands.