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Power-law distributions on the web

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Power-law distributions on the web2002-11-30 23:59
picture by Flemming Funch

Jon Udell is talking about 'power law distributions', in part in reference to the book 'Linked' by Albert-László Barabási. 'Power-law distribution' is a condition that means essentially that small occurrences are extremely common, whereas large instances are extremely rare. Or, if we're talking about the Internet - there are a lot of sparsely connected sites and a very small number of highly connected sites.

The way that websites or in particular weblogs are inter-connected and referring to each other is working like the 6-degrees of separation model between people. Except for that on the web in general, studies have shown that webpages are an average of 19 clicks away from each other. And weblogs are an average of 4 clicks from each other.

So, you can get from one person or one weblog to any other in very few jumps, but you'll probably go through certain core nodes or core people that 'everybody' is linking to. That is useful, but there is also something unequal and possibly unfair about that. There's a 'rich-get-richer' pattern of clustering going on, in that people tend to go and link up with the people who are already most linked-up with everybody. The networking isn't entirely free-flowing.

I've certainly noticed that in any setting where you provide a list of people, sites or whatever, in order of popularity by some measure. Most people will concentrate on what they see at the top, and those people or sites get much more attention than they necessarily would deserve if the playing field were completely even.

Personally I would intuitively find it quite natural that a smaller number of sites are more connected than any other. But it bothers me if the system would be weighted in favor of reinforcing the sites that already are getting the most attention, rather than the ones that are of the highest quality.

Other good links on this:
Internet navigators think small,
Self-organized networks, Notre Dame University,
Clay Shirky

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