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Culture of Celebrity and Weblogs

I judge the quality of a weblog by its IDEAS, but it seems some people equate quality with popularity. Is the ‘culture of celebrity’ that afflicts Western movies, television and radio creeping in to weblogs as well?

These thoughts were prompted by the recent weblog discussion on power laws and how they relate to weblogs. Actually the topic of discussion was whether your weblog operates in broadcasting mode, or conversation mode. The general consensus is that A-List bloggers (i.e. the most popular bloggers) are broadcasters, while the majority of us are in conversation mode. I accept the reason for this is that A-List bloggers in general are not able to converse with their many readers. And conversely, because C-List bloggers (my term for the rest of us) have relatively few readers, we’re much more able to participate in conversations with our readers. Comments by Bill Seitz and Tom Coates helped me to realise that these are trends and not necessarily applicable to every person. I’m a big fan of individualism, but I don’t mind tipping my hat to a generalisation every now and then – for the common good 😉

Nevertheless this whole conversation about ‘broadcasting mode vs conversation mode’ has made me uncomfortable. The reason is that at a deep level I object to the notion of classifying something based on how popular it is. Which brings me back to the A-List. Power laws as they relate to weblogs are basically a Popularity Index. On the Web, popularity is measured by how many links a website receives. If you are at the head of a weblog power law, it means you have lots of incoming links and are therefore very popular – you’re on the A-List. It’s just like the movies. Bruce Willis is an A-List actor, because many people buy tickets to his movies (incoming links?) and therefore he is very popular. But consider this: do you think that all Bruce Willis movies are A-grade material? Would you compare Armageddon with Citizen Kane? Now consider this: just because a person is an A-List blogger, does it necessarily mean that person produces A-grade content?

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of times A-List bloggers do produce A-grade content. There was an excellent comment made on David Weinberger’s weblog, by Chris (responding to a comment by me):

“You can’t always say that the “A-List” isn’t quality, often it is. Why? Because they’re giving people what they want and have been for a while – they have the experience.”

I agree. All I’m saying is that the A-List doesn’t necessarily produce quality content. Content should always be judged on its own merits. I strongly believe that ultimately it’s ideas you should judge and not the person. This is not a theory I’ve just suddenly come up with – it’s something I’ve blogged consistently about. For example, Clay Shirky linked to me back in July when I wrote that weblogs should be topic-first, not author-first.

Topics are a good way to classify ideas, which is why I’m a big fan of tools such as k-collector and Topic Exchange. Those tools democratize weblogging – because they give readers the opportunity to discover new voices who have written on topics of interest to them. And they give writers an opportunity to sit right alongside the “A-List”, if they happen to have written something on the same topic.

My point is this: don’t judge the quality of a weblog on how popular it is. Read deeper and judge the ideas that have been expressed. Do you judge the quality of a movie on whether it has an A-List actor in it? If so, you are not exercising your mind.

Judge the quality of a weblog on the value of its ideas.

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