June 06, 2003
Microjournalism: How Stories Propagate

There’s been some very interesting work going on over at Microdoc News investigating how stories spread through the blogosphere.

First, they posted a theoretical model to describe how stories spread across the network, and what types of interactions can speed up or slow down that spread.

Then, as a kind of experiment, they used tools like Daypop and Popdex to follow one such story — a humorous blog item about a fictitious conference for Nigerian E-mail scammers — from birth to ubiquity.

There are some key ideas that they take away from the whole process:

  • One’s not enough — one blogger almost never can start a meme spreading on their own; the meme needs a group, even a small one, to bounce between in order to reach escape velocity.
  • Human interest rules — Ideas from niche-oriented, subject-specific blogs don’t become global memes as often as do memes that have a universal appeal, such as humor or human interest.

It’s very interesting stuff. I would, however, push back on them on that second point. It’s probably true that human interest stories get broader circulation than do more technical or esoteric stories; but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re more influential. Those niche blogs don’t measure the success of a meme by how many people pick it up, they measure it by whether the right people pick it up. For example, I don’t expect a story here on Ant’s Eye View to ever be water-cooler conversation across America, but when I get linked to by someone like Marc Canter, that’s a great sign, since it means my ideas are being listened to by at least some of the Social Software crowd — people who are working on exactly the same sorts of ideas I am. In cases like these, simple volume of chatter about the post isn’t nearly the best metric of success.

That noted, though, Microdoc has done a lot of hard work on this and produced a great starting point for future explorations of the dynamics of microjournalism, a subject that I predict will be getting a lot more research over the next few years. Good work!

Posted by Jason Lefkowitz at June 06, 2003
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