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Politics: Web 2.0 – Visibility Reach, Participation, & Peer Production

(cross posted at

Micah Sifry is busy covering the session focused almost entirely on the 2004 Dean campaign, so I decided to pop into a session focused, at least in theory, on analyses of practical applications of technology.

Sandra Gonzalez-Bailon explored the ways in which web sites – primarily blogs in her analysis – draw an audience and gain importance. She starts with the assumption that the wealth of information creates a commodification of attention forcing people to choose between competing sources of information (something most agree happens). Further, she looks at the visibility of a site as an indicator of which sites are more likely to be chosen.

The presentation really seems to take a contrary view of the Long Tail with the argument that sites with small audiences have little impact and a difficult road to gain an audience. Bailon analyzed traffic drivers as a function of five factors:

  • Reciprocity
  • Homophily
  • Budget
  • Visibility News Media
  • Age

She finds that two factors have the most influence on reach and visibility – budget and recognition by traditional media. She sems to argue for a self-sustaining cycle where news media mentions drive visitors and incoming links which drive more visitors which build site reputation and drive recognition by the news media.

She acknowledges that the more links a site receives, the more attention it gets from search engines, but argues the traditional media is a bigger driver. She also argues there is no democratization of sites without visibility, and visibility is a scarce resource not distributed evenly.

I’m not sure that I agree with her research (which seemed to be primarily anecdotal) as it tends to ignore factors like the Long Tail as well as the role of influentials. It’s possible to have a site with less traffic viewed by a relatively influential audience.

Take, for instance, TechPresident. While it’s traffic is not great, and its budget is certainly not large, the unique perspective it applies to a specific realm of content has earned it a lot of recognition, and notice by the media. It achieved success as an outlet purely through content. That’s not a factor in Bailon’s research.

Also on the agenda is Jonah Bossewitch and the Zyprexa Kills campaign.

By way of background Jonah introduces Zyprexa, and the basic communications tool kit of blogs, wikis, e-mail lists, etc.

A doctor who discovered internal Lily memos indicating some cover-up of medical problems and marketing tactics surrounding the anti-psychotic drug contacted a journalist. The journalist directed the doctor to a lawyer who won legal release of the documents and distributed them to the media. An ad hoc community of contributors created a common tag (ZyprexaKills) and used wikis, blogs, Tor, BitTorrent, freenet and UseNet to disseminate the documents.

Efforts by Lily to get the documents back led to EFF’s first wiki case and lawyer Fred Von Lohmann making the argument that enjoining pbwiki would be an attempt to effectively enjoin the world.

The Internet won, but for the wrong reasons. The case was not on its merits but rather because the information had become so widely be distributed that it was simply not possible to unring the bell.

The dissemination of the content led to ongoing Investigations by 10 attorneys general, the FDA, and a Congressional Oversight Committee.

He makes few claims regarding the reasons for the success if this effort other than to say that without the effort it is possible the injunction on the information would have prevented the public from knowing the truth.

He also indicates that the real story is how the ad hoc community came together and acted in unison to distribute the information.

Written by Michael Turk