Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Power of the Individual Blogger

A friend of mine gave me the November 14, 2005 issue of Forbes magazine and asked my opinion about an article called "Attack of the Blogs" by Daniel Lyons. There's a lot to this article, and many bloggers have already effectively covered many of the issues discussed. Reading the magazine cover phrase "They destroy brands and wreck lives", I decided to try and analyze just how much an individual blogger can really affect the blogosphere.

To illustrate how much influence typical bloggers really have, let's look at my Corporate Alien Blog. I started blogging about three months ago, so I'm relatively new to the blogosphere. Currently the largest blog directory is called the Technorati and claims to list 21.5 million blogs. The Technorati rate a blog with a number that gives you an idea of how influential the blog is. The smaller the number the more powerful the blog. At the time of this writing my blog's Technorati rank was approximately 500,000. (It fluctuates a little from day to day but does not change drastically unless your blog picks up or loses high ranking links.) I monitor how many visitors I get per day. That's approximately 30 per day or 900 per month. Since many of my hits come from blog traffic exchanges like Blogexplosion, I guess that at most only 25% of the people actually stop and read the blog. That's only 7 visitors. That translates to around 210 people who read my blog per month. This number drops some more when you consider that some of these people may be repeat visitors. Let's assume that my unique visitor count is 200.

So what's the point of this analysis? It shows that I'm getting roughly 200 readers per month and maybe only half of them agree with me. That leaves 100 readers. What the Technorati rank means is that I rank 500,000 out of 21.5 million blogs, and therefore 499,999 blogs have more influence while 21 million have less. So, although the majority of bloggers interact with the entire blogosphere, they get less than 200 people per month that actually read their blog.

The powerful blogs that have many readers get their readers, and consequently, their power from the entire blogosphere, which includes the 21 million less influential bloggers. The powerful bloggers start campaigns in which they try to involve all their readers. For example, even if you're politically non partisan, let's say you oppose the war in Iraq. You see a powerful left wing blog that asks you to place an "Impeach Bush" icon on your site. You do this. Even though you only have a small amount of readers, you encourage your readers to get an "Impeach Bush" icon. Some of them do, and they encourage their readers to get the icon and so on. Because the powerful left wing blog has many readers, a huge number of these icons wind up on many sites. This has actually happened. I'm sure that you have seen numerous "Impeach Bush" icons scattered throughout the blogosphere.

You may be asking yourself if a blogger with a small readership could initiate such a campaign and have it explode throughout the blogosphere. To tell you the truth, I've tried. In my October 31st post, I started a campaign against credit card companies polluting the mail with their credit offers. I told bloggers to print a pdf letter that I wrote, and send it back in the post-paid envelopes provided by the credit card companies. At last count, I counted 72 views of my credit card letter, and since this post is over three weeks old, the hits to this letter have already ceased. So my campaign has ended. Needless to say, I expected a much better reaction. Everybody seems to hear how all kinds of rumors spread throughout the internet like a nuclear chain reaction.

I'm pretty sure that we can liken a blog chain reaction to a nuclear fission chain reaction. The same statistical rules that govern the chain reaction when the atom is split, also govern blog campaigns. In order for fission to occur you have enough material to react. Physicists call this the critical mass. In order to have a blog chain reaction occur the blog must have enough readers, I call this the critical traffic. When a nuclear chain reaction occurs, you have an atomic explosion. When a blog chain reaction occurs you have a blog explosion in which your campaign traffic grows exponentially.

Not all nuclear material can undergo fission. The same is true about blog content. My guess is that my material could have undergone a blog explosion if my blog had exceeded the required critical traffic. I'm pretty sure that if you reach a Technorati number that is low enough, you can have a campaign that starts picking up an exponential amount of hits. What is the Technorati number needed to create a chain reaction? It probably depends on the blogger interest in the content of the campaign, and how well it is presented. But no matter how popular the crusade is, I don't think it will explode unless the blog gets enough traffic to cause the chain reaction.

Because of what I deduced from my blog, I believe that the majority of bloggers can obtain only limited results from the campaigns they initiate. Any blogger's campaign can be extremely successful if he/she can get a very powerful blogger to join the crusade. If a powerful blogger posts your cause on his/her site, you will get the critical traffic you need and a chain reaction will occur. Look at it this way. The majority of bloggers are similar to reporters working for their local neighborhood newspapers. Local newspapers do not get world press. Power bloggers are like reporters that work for the Washington Post or the New York Times. If the New York Times picks up your article, you're bound to get noticed. But unfortunately, that rarely happens.

What do you have to do to get a lower Technorati number, or improved rank? From what I've read and deduced, there are several factors that influence your ranking.

  1. Time - The longer your blog has been around, the more readership and quality links you can pick up.
  2. Hard Work - Write interesting content and submit some of your original works to ezines. Join traffic exchanges, and link exchanges. Get listed in blog and web directories. Advertise. Use different types of web gimmicks to get an audience.
  3. Luck - If your content is interesting enough some powerful blogs or websites may link to your work. The more good links you have the more visitors you get and the better your rank.

There is a quick way to get a blog to be highly influential. Powerful corporations and political parties already have websites with millions of readers. If they start a blog, all they have to do is post a link to it from one or more of their high ranking websites and they get instant traffic and instant influence. These types of blogs can be specifically designed to run smear campaigns that attack their competitors or political enemies.

If there were no blogs, they would use other forms of media to attain their goals. I'm sure we've all seen how the candidates attack each other on television during a typical election campaign. Expect to see political parties use such smear tactics and dirty tricks in the blogosphere during the next major election.

To see an example of how powerful political blogs affected the blogosphere, do a Google search for the words "miserable failure". Currently the first item on the resulting list is President Bush's website; the next item is Michael Moore's website. From this it can be deduced that there are more powerful left wing bloggers than right wing bloggers, but the right wingers are gaining momentum.

The Forbes article assumes that if you want to harm your enemies, all you have to do is start a blog and then you can spread a campaign of lies and your target has very little recourse. Before any smear campaign will work, your blog has to have a critical amount of readers. The attacker must also convince his readers that the attack is worthwhile. The examples Daniel Lyons gives about blogger attacks, are only possible if they were initiated from powerful websites or blogs. This is not the case with over 99% of bloggers. Without the endorsement of high traffic bloggers or websites, their campaigns yield insignificant results.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Chicago Smoking Ban

There has been a big media push in the last couple of weeks for the city of Chicago to ban smoking in all restaurants and bars. I feel that passing this law or similar laws is not only a big mistake, but is another step in government's interference with individual rights. Such laws are not about protecting the population as they claim, but they're actually another means of putting control into the hands of the corporate aliens that run our local governments.

Let's look at the proposed smoking ban. First let me tell you that I'm not a smoker. I've quit 35 years ago and have not touched a single cigarette since. I don't particularly like secondhand smoke but I dislike stupid laws even more. Most of the restaurants and bars involved are not owned by the city. Essentially, they are privately owned places with public access. That being the case, the restaurant or bar owner should be the only one to say whether or not to allow smoking on his/her premises. You, as a consumer, don't have to frequent a restaurant if you're against its smoking policy. The restaurant or bar owner is in a better position to make this decision than some politician who has no idea of the conditions and clientele of the establishment. For example, a restaurant owner can allow smoking but use one or more ionic air purifiers to filter the air in the smoking section. In such a case it is possible that the air in the smoking section would be cleaner than polluted city air outside. Under these circumstances, it would be hard to evoke the secondhand smoke argument.

I sometimes go out with friends who smoke and sit in a restaurant's smoking section. Most of the restaurants I've been to have large rooms allotted for their smokers, so I hardly even smell the secondhand smoke. I doubt very strongly that sitting in a restaurant's smoking section for one hour every two or three months is going to be a significant threat to my health. In fact, it could be that small amounts of toxin from the secondhand smoke may help improve my immune system against cigarette pollutants. Then I could argue that a smoking ban would be detrimental to my immune system and would actually be increasing my chances of getting cigarette related diseases.

Ten years ago I worked for a large insurance company. They decided not to let employees smoke in their building. This is as it should be. It's their building and if you want to work for them, you should either give up smoking or smoke outside. In my opinion, this is the only way smoking issues should be resolved: by the property owner and not the government. This was ten years ago. By now the owners of Chicago's public places should have already made up their minds about how to handle smoking in their establishments.

Even if secondhand smoke is as deadly as they claim, which I seriously doubt, it can't hurt you if you stay away from the places that allow smoking. You're only exposed if you want to be. So why a new law? The more laws the more federal and local governments can exert control over our lives. The more frustrated we become. They are conquering us one issue at a time. Practically any law can be passed in the name of public safety. Tomorrow they could be banning french fries because they contain too much saturated fat that causes a significantly elevated risk for heart attack.

The next step in the smoking battle will be to make cigarettes illegal. They've just about went as far as they can raising cigarette taxes. Now when they ban cigarettes, we'll see a resurgence of street gangs shooting each other trying to gain control of the lucrative underground cigarette racket.

If you think that Chicago politicians know what they're doing, let me relate what happened a little over ten years ago. Because there were some deaths due to carbon monoxide poisoning, the politicians, in their infinite wisdom, passed a law mandating every home to have a carbon monoxide detector by October 1st, 1994. Maybe this law was passed in a genuine effort to save lives or it could have been the result of some deal made with the First Alert Company. In any case, the carbon monoxide detectors were new technology and quite error prone. Because of threats of fines, many people complied with the law. Then a funny thing happened. By December 20, 1994, the Chicago fire department had logged some 8,500 calls from carbon monoxide detector alarms, and found that 86% of them turned out to be false alarms! Then, on December 21, 1994, Chicago experienced a temperature inversion which led to a smog problem. All hell broke loose: more than 1,800 calls were made to "911" within 24 hours, almost all of which turned out to be false alarms. Since then, even though the law may still be on the books, no one mentions it or tries to enforce it. Carbon monoxide detectors work much better now. I don't think too many people have them for fear of false alarms.

I have come to believe the word "politician" is synonymous with "dumb ass". If we continue to let them try to save us from the hazards of the world around us, all our remaining freedoms will surely be lost.