beyond power laws

There’s been an awful lot of talk about power laws and weblogs recently, complete with charts and graphs, and, if I’m not mistaken, some sort of calculus is involved.

Well, that’s all well and good. But really the question that motivates everyone to read and write about such things is, "How can my site (and therefore, I) become more popular?" Though many have masked it with lots of "inverse distribution of multivariate indices" blah blah blah, that’s the heart of this thing. Well, I think I can shed some light on this, given the fact that I get more weblog traffic than you do.

Oh, wait. I’m not supposed to mention that. It’s mostly true, though. There are about six billion humans and only a couple of dozen weblogs that get more traffic than me. So it’s a pretty safe bet that your weblog isn’t as popular as mine. Nothing personal, mind you, just an observation.

So why is that true? Well, basically, it’s because I’m smarter than you, I work harder than you, and I’m more attractive than you are. (BlogSpot and LiveJournal users, I’m looking at you…) I put my heart and soul into making sure that entries are posted on my site as frequently as twice a week. In between those little meaningless posts, I document my aimless web surfing by throwing links up willy-nilly on my sidebar there. And what have you been doing? Working? Having sex? Well, it’s that lack of dedication to your weblog that causes you to have to labor in my shadow.

Sure, sure, you could credit the fact that I had the dumb luck to stumble into this weblog thing pretty early, or that I go through insincere and transparent publicity stunts like picking fights and pissing people off. But the real trick to rising to the top of this meaningless heap is sexiness. Plain old sexiness.

The problem with owning up to the dirty little secret that, well, people read my site is that it pisses off people who actually care about such things. I know it’s hard to believe, but there are people who really truly care how many people read their weblog. That’s why they carefully study the charts and graphs that go around. I’m not trying to be ungrateful, mind you, my weblog has brought me many great things. But I’d say it’s mostly because I don’t particularly assign it any value. Those of you who’ve read regularly over the past few months might have noticed that updates are much less frequent, but that I somehow don’t say "no updates for a while, I’m busy shining my shoes".

This is because I pay for the hosting on this site. It’s a temple to my ego, and I know that. That’s not to say that I’m not curious about network effects and the collective value of weblogs as a medium. But the joke is that even the most popular weblogs’ traffic is dwarfed by, say, a random MSN story on Fred Durst. Not polite to say, but it’s true.

I talk to Jeff Jarvis sometimes about his incessant "Vlog" cheerleading, and though I admire his enthusiasm, I marvel at his excitement level because the entire population of people who read, write, and care about weblogs is probably dwarfed by the readership for one issue of Entertainment Weekly, the magazine he created. Granted, everything has to start small and there’s nowhere to go but up, but some perspective is probably in order.

The conclusion? Well, if you’re interested in having a very popular weblog, try these tips:

  • Consider having started your site in 1998 or 1999
  • Know a whole lot of people and consider becoming real-life friends with people who have popular sites or are involved in the media
  • Get on TV and in newspapers as frequently as possible to promote your site, because those really help drive traffic
  • Make sure to insist that you are smart and attractive if you can’t actually demonstrate those traits through your site
  • BlogSpot? Just say no. LiveJournal? Well, you’re clearly not worried about traffic anyway.
  • If all else fails, try to make sure you’re already a celebrity. That’s a sure-fire way to drive site traffic. Great webloggers like Moby, Prince, and Wil Wheaton have found this invaluable.

Well, that’s all the advice I have from what I’ve learned so far. Good luck!