Blogrolls are interesting things. I use mine to link to places I like to visit, and I hope you like to visit them, too. I don’t always agree with every view on every blog I link to, but I do find them all to be thought-provoking and worth my time to visit when I get a chance.
A few years ago I happened across an online “stock market” in blogs called BlogShares. Instead of real-life stocks, this game trades in blogs. As you can imagine, there are blogs that talk about nearly every facet of human existence, literally from A to Z. Blogshares lists them (and gains listings every day) in categories called “Industries.” A blog’s value is based on how many links go to and from it. The site estimates the value of a blog and sells shares in it.
I was intrigued by it, so I listed my blog and started playing the game. I worked my way up into the top 200 players (although I’m certainly not the wealthiest player in the game), and have learned a lot about the amazing variety of blogs out there, simply by reading the blogs I’ve visited as I played the game. Not that I have as much time to play as much as I once did. Work and real life do have a way of intruding into game play, but I still make trades, vote on blogs, moderate votes that others make on blogs, and in general, keep my finger on the pulse of the game as I have free time to do so.
I’m not going to get into the specifics of the game; if you’re interested, go check it out. But, I do want to mention how many very cool and interesting people are playing it. There are folks from around the world playing 24/7, buying and selling shares, trading in “ideas” (which are another unit of exchange in the game), and sharing their tips on how to play the game in the online discussion forum attached to the game.
When I first began playing the game, it was still being run by its inventor, a student named Seyed Razavi (who eventually sold it to the group that runs it today). He didn’t actually start out to create a strict copy of a stock market so much as he wanted to explore social networking through the exploration of the blogging phenomenon by using a game to do so. He also wanted to explore how power law theories might work in human networking systems.
A power law basically says that over time, any system will evolve to favor a small subset of users/units/participants, or, in other applications, a small subset of participants or objects in a given system will consume the majority of the system’s resources. You could say, for example, that when a planetary system begins to form, the largest bodies will gather in the most amount of system resources; i.e., the large planets get larger, possibly at the expense of the smaller ones.
For blogs, the power law shows that some blogs get more attention than others; they get larger numbers of sites linking to them, and so forth.
The power law distribution as applied to blogs is an interesting use of a scientific statistical tool to measure human interactions on the Web. And, Blogshares both shares in that power law and facilitates interactions by rewarding sites with more links a higher value than those with few or no links. My own blog has about 51 links to it (some from other BlogShares users), and is valued reasonably well (in the 500s per share). The sites with the most links to them, like Flickr, have very high share values (in the millions of dollars per share).
Some years ago, before the Web was a huge presence in our lives, the idea that getting on the computer and socially interacting was a new one. It’s interesting that the “geeks” among us (me included) are often derided in the media for being anti-social nerds because we interact via computer networks.
But, as it turns out, the social interactions we’re now doing on computer networks are following some of the same laws of interaction and social structure that we see in real life (when, for example, small subsets of our societies control 80 percent of wealth and commodities). The power law does, indeed, describe an interesting human propensity to “cluster” in our online activities, even as we do in “real life.” And, for those who have been playing Blogshares and didn’t know it, we’ve all been taking part in a social and science experiment. It reminds me of the old days, when Xerox and their PARC facility used to invite people to participate in MUD (Multi-User Domains) so they could study and model human interactions.
In that game, I actually built a home in a virtual ski area in New Mexico. I had an art gallery, a pool, a salon (wherein I invited guests to come in and debate various issues), and a front room where I interviewed guests for my home. Other people had built virtual homes in the MUD (it was called Lambdamoo), and so each personal “space” was like an extension of a person’s imagination. The interactions were great fun, sometimes disturbing, and always way more than I ever imagined we’d see on a computer network way back when I first learned to program computers in high school in the early 1970s.
Of course, today we have gone way beyond the MOOs and MUDs of yesteryear to places like SecondLife, which purports to be a parallel life online. (I haven’t visited it, not sure if I really have time), and forums like BadAstronomy (where all of us astronomy- and science-minded folk can talk about our mutual interests). But, it may well turn out to be not terribly different from the MOOs and MUDs, forums and BlogShares—online places where humans can network in yet another way, among the endless varieties of networks we already have. And, as it does, it will go into competition for that most valuable of resource: user time, sucking it in according to the power law that states that the most popular ones will end up taking the most attention from users. An interesting experiment, indeed!