One of the most popular memes amongst proponents of blogging is that the majority of posts are entirely new, having nothing to do with issues or pages from mainstream media. Last year, Chris Anderson attempted to put this point across when opposing what he called “The Derivative Myth”:
“This is the Derivative Myth. It usually goes like this (and again, I don’t mean to pick on Malcolm, who didn’t say the following and no doubt meant his comment above to be at least partly tongue in cheek): Blogs, which are mostly written by amateurs, couldn’t possibly do what We Do. Instead, they mostly just comment on what we do, supplying low-value-add chatter about our stories that must not be confused with Proper Journalism or other Quality Content from us Professionals.”
However, Chris claimed, if you looked at links on Technorati, this was demonstrably false:
“Let’s look at some numbers. Technorati shows that there are currently 555,000 posts linking to the New York Times. Nearly 800,000 posts mention the Times in one way or another. Sounds like a lot? Not if you pull back and look at the entire blogosphere. Technorati is currently tracking 2.7 billion links.”
Chris went on to include a list of the most-referenced mainstream media sites, which showed that even the BBC – top of the list – had only 0.3% of the links on Technorati. Thus, he claimed, people simply weren’t talking about things they read in the media.
There’s only one problem with this thesis: as I pointed out in a comment at the time, Technorati tracks only first-order links, which means that any post which references another blog post which references a mainstream media story doesn’t get counted towards mainstream media’s total.
Here’s a simple example. This morning, I checked my news feeds and looked through Scoble’s link blog, finding a link to an interesting-sounding story about how women are now buying more technology than men. Scoble’s link led me to a blog post on The Raw Feed. This, though, was just a small post linking to the original story, which, you’ve guessed it, originated in the mainstream media (in this case, a story on The Independent’s site).
Technorati would have given The Indie a single inbound link for this, compared to probably tens for The Raw Feed and hundreds to Scoble. This is one of the ways in which the echo chamber can occasionally work to amplify a story by piling links on a popular site, rather than the original source. Those who only read Scoble’s link blog might never have known that the original source was mainstream media. Only by clicking through a chain of links does the heritage of a piece of information become clear.