How The Blogosphere Really Works -- And What It Means For Education Blogs

This week's New York magazine has a cover package about, among other things, the powerful impact of being "first to market" when it comes to how much readership blogs get and how many people link to them.

There's lots for education blogs to learn from this -- and I think I've figured out at least a couple of the most obvious lessons. You may not like them.


The first and most obvious lesson from the article is one that many may have already figured out on their own: Sites like JoanneJacobs' site are more popular to some substantial degree because they got there first.*

It may cost nothing to start a blog and post your thoughts, but the blogosphere is not purely a meritocracy. Sure, Joanne is smart and posts interesting things in an easily accessible way. But so does nearly everyone else -- and some sites are arguably better than hers. She's not necessarily the first to notice something, and doesn't necessarily find things that others haven't already found. Nor does she usually do more than recap the article she's found, which some like me think is an important addition.

But you know all this already -- and none of it really matters, apparently. Joanne was among the first to start an education blog, and, as the New York article explains, this makes all the difference and always will. She's first into the education space, she's at the very least decent at what she does, and so everyone puts her on their blogroll just like hotels used to put Gideon bibles in bedside drawers. A link from her means lots of hits, theoretically, so everyone's nice to her (it's not hard she's actually very nice). The only ways to break through the ceiling set by the early arrivals, according to the article, is to post more and better than they do, earlier in the day, and to bring in celebrity bloggers and a PR department (like the Huffington Post).

Even more important, however, the article highlights the possibility that none of the current batch of education blogs are doing what more and more successful blogs have done: attaching themselves to larger media organizations (Mickey Kaus and Slate, AndrewSullivan and Time), networking blogs together to hit different areas of interest (Nick Denton), or -- my favorite -- bridging the gap between MSM and blogs to create sites that combine speed and commentary with original reporting and research. That's where I'm headed.

There's lots more there, but I've already held this post a day and can't wait any longer for other bloggers' thoughts. I wonder if they'll link to me if they post on this?

*I don't have stats on which education sites get the most readers or the most inbound links and don't even know how I'd research them if I had the time -- do you?


Blogger KC said...

Without spending the time to read the NY magazine article...

I think the world of ed blogs is very different from the normal blogosphere for a whole lot of reasons. And I question how true, and how applicalble, the CW about blog hierarchies is for ed blogs.

Stepping back a bit, the supposed network effect and first-mover advantage appears to be over-blown for all blogs. Looks at this years bloggies and notice that in every category new blogs have risen to the top. First shaker status sure does help. But only if you deliver the goods. Overall, the blog world continues to grow and new voices continue to rise.

I don't think there is a network effect for ed blogs. We are way out of the mainstream chasing a fairly select demographic. Since the demographic is so disperse, the network effect is that much weaker. Not nil, but not that big either.

Our demographic is not the most techno savy and not the kind of early adopter that will flock to the latest thing. Hell, most of the folks I deal with are still learning email. Forget IM. Blogs are either unheard of or not part of their web habits. The notion that user prefernces have been set, or some status quo established is pretty dubious. The field is still wide open. This may be less true for higer ed, but it is way true for the K-12 world.

And in my opinion, the ed blog world is ripe for the taking if the purveyors of email news lists like edupage or PEN. If they would wake up and venture into blogs, they would bring with them larger audiences than the biggest of the current ed blogs. They own the mindshare now. If they clink to their '90s tools we may steal it from them. But if they want the market, they already own it.

6:03 PM  

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