Britt Blaser has a remarkable post on power laws and social networks that lays out where real power lies in the Web. Britt starts with five principles (although some might consider that word too strong):
- The size of your audience confers limited power
- A network's value is the square of its nodes (Metcalfe)
- Network nodes are significant only when they're verbose
- Most conversation is among nearby nodes
- Only interactions count, and the richest count most
This is a good starting place and Britt takes it to a great conclusion. The basic issue is the many misunderstandings about the longtail and what it means. As Dave Weinberger states in a post about Britt's views:
Usually the first economic argument presented for the importance of the Long Tail is that the area underneath the tail is far greater than the area underneath the Short Head. And since that area represents people with whom the point on the curve communicates, the Long Tail represents a far greater economic opportunity. But, that argument thinks of the points as mini-broadcasters and markets as homogeneous aggregations of consumers. Such a simplistic vew misses the knotty nature of the Long Tail. The points are engaged with one another and with their readers (as Chris Anderson makes clear in his nuanced book, The Long Tail). Yes, Long Tails are conversations, too.
Britt supports each of these principles with reasoned argument. I love the F2F curve from Kathy Sierra which diagrams how face-to-face conversation does something that email, IM, chat, phone, and even video conferencing can't.
Britt's conclusion? Interactions are what count and that can happen anywhere. He says "So let's put that silly Power Law to rest at last: it's a monument to outmoded metrics. The People Law is the one we've been conforming to all our lives: Where there's folk, there's fire."