The blogosphere: a kosmos

Last week I wrote about how the blogosphere is a free market anarchy - a system without any top-down command authority, where property rights are fully secured, coercion is nowhere to be found, and all relations are voluntary. At first blush, if you did not know I was taking about the blogosphere, a picture of an entropic free-for-all would have likely entired your mind upon reading everything after the hyphen in the previous sentence. No leader? Pandemonium! No design? Chaos! No control? Bedlam!

filaments.jpgYet, as any denizen of the blogosphere knows, it is not chaotic. Why not?

People like this guy. David Sifry maintains Technorati, one of the most useful tools for the blogger and the blog reader. If you are unfamiliar with Technorati, it is a site that among other things, creates a 'link cosmos' of various links in the blogosphere. In other words, you can paste a url into a window and it will show you all the blogs that have referred to that link. I use it to see which blogs have linked to something on Catallarchy. I also use it to see what other bloggers are saying about various stories in the news. And that is only one aspect of its usefulness. It also has a search engine for blogs, blog rankings by referrals, a newcomers list, and blog watchlists. And Technorati's performance is not shabby at all according to a recent update.

Allow me to give you some growth statistics: One year ago, when I started Technorati on a single server in my basement, we were adding between 2,000-3,000 new weblogs each day, not counting the people who were updating sites we were already tracking. In March of this year, when we switched over to a 5 server cluster, we were keeping up with about 4,000-5,000 new weblogs each day. Right now, we're adding 8,000-9,000 new weblogs every day, not counting the 1.2 Million weblogs we already are tracking. That means that on average, a brand new weblog is created every 11 seconds. We're also seeing about 100,000 weblogs update every day as well, which means that on average, a weblog is updated every 0.86 seconds.

One of the things that undoubtedly adds to Technorati's success is that Sifry knows blogging. He runs a blog himself. He has likely had to spend a late night tinkering with Movable Type. At one time or another, he probably has wanted to know who is reading his blog, or has wanted a way to search other blogs. He has, in the words of Friedrich A. Hayek, "the knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place".

What inventions like Technorati do is give structure to the blogosphere. And Technorati is not the only tool that does this. The Truth Laid Bear Blog Ecosystem acts as a filtering mechanism to display the blogs that are most frequently linked by other blogs. Blogrolling can create a useful, easily manipulated directory of blogs to visit regularly. The Trackback feature in Movable Type and Typepad has made it easier to see which other bloggers are commenting on your posts on their own blogs. The comments feature allows interactive discussion to take place without interfering with the media look of a blog. Archiving by category, date, and author allows readers easy ways of browsing the past material. RSS feeds allow delivery of blog content to newsreaders so that readers can organize their favorite blogs in a single window.

Each of these implementations were created by different individuals, such as Sifry, pursuing their own ends. There was no central authority barking out orders or making grand designs. The inception of a solid anatomy to the blogosphere was an entirely peripheral phenomenon.

Hayek described this bottom-up organization as a kosmos in Law, Legistation, and Liberty.

Living as members of society and dependent for the satisfaction of most of our needs on various forms of co-operation with others, we depend for the effective pursuit of our aims clearly on the correspondence concerning the actions of others on which our plans are based with what they will really do. This matching of the intentions and expectations that determine the actions of different individuals is the form in which order manifests itself in social life; and it will be the question of how such an order does come about that will be our immediate concern. The first answer to which our anthromorphic habits of thought almost inevitably lead us is that it must be due to the design of some thinking mind. And because order has been generally interpreted as such a deliberate arrangement by somebody, the concept has become unpopular among most friends of liberty and has been favoured mainly by authoritarians. According to this interpretation order in society must rest on a relation of command and obedience, or a hierarchical structure of the whole of society in which the will of superiors, and ultimately some single supreme authority, determines what each individual must do.

This authoritarian connotation of the concept of order derives, however, entirely from the belief that order can be created only by forces outside the system (or 'exogenously'). It does not apply to an equilibrium set up from within (or 'endogenously') such as that which they general theory of the market endeavours to explain. A spontaneous order of this kind has in many respects properties different from those of a made order.

One of the biggest obstacles to overcome in convincing authoritarians about the benefits of a free society is their inability to accept the fact that order can can be an emergent property of individual action. For them, all facets of life have to have some sort of grand blueprint implemented by expert soverigns. The cannot conceive of the economy, culture, infrastructure, morality, or society itself as a bottom-up result of billions of autonomous individual actions. Yet, the blogosphere is a vivid example of how wrong they are.

They each had knowledge of their particular time and their particular place - David Sifry, the programmers at Movable Type, N. Z. Bear, Jason DeFilippo - and in pursuit of their own ends, they took action that resulted in complex, mostly unintended, morphological properties of the blogosphere. Even without a central command apparatus, the blogosphere, rather than being chaotic, is a dynamic, living, breathing, adapting, and most of all, structured organism.

In short, the blogosphere is a kosmos.

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Excellent essay--and

Excellent essay--and accurate. Well done.

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