We’ve been reading the interesting and insightful book Linked by physicist Albert-László Barabási. It’s taking us some time to get through it because every few pages there’s something new to ponder.
Take page 56 for example. What Barabási found in his maps of the Web was that pages are not randomly linked. While cyberspace appears to embody the ultimate freedom of speech and expression, it has emerged as something less than fair to a surprising degree. In fact, by Barabási’s measure, the Web shows a complete absence of democracy.
The number of incoming links to your Web page is a measure of how visible it is in the network. As many as 90 percent of Web pages have 10 or fewer links pointing to them, while a few hubs, such as Yahoo or Amazon, have millions. If the Web were truly equal, each page would be visible to every other page. While this scenario is highly unlikely, the existence of such massive hubs shows how just far the Web has to go to reach greater equivalence.
The key question, continues Barabási, is no longer whether your views can be published. They can. But will anyone notice?
It seems obvious that news sites could play a greater role in encouraging democracy on the Web by making numerous conversations more visible. To date, most news sites suffer a fear of linkimacy, driven more by economic concerns rather than democratic ones.
This Washington Post story (screenshot) about AOL is typical. It has about 31 related links associated with it. All of them point to other Washington Post pages. More than half (18) are too general to make any mention of AOL at all.
Meanwhile, The Waypath Project shows more than 50 conversations taking place in the blogosphere about this story subject. While it’s results are not perfect, you can see the diversity of opinions arising out of the Web. (Using a keyword search on Waypath brings additional pertinent results.)
Since there is little evidence showing a cul-de-sac strategy generates greater revenues, why do it? Ignoring the rest of the Web clearly does not make a news site a more reliable resource on a particular topic.
Which major news organization will be the first to assert its democratic stewardship and acknowledge there’s more to the Web than just their site?