Monkeys Online

I’ve mentioned a few times that the online world tends to follow a power law. High profile people like Neil, Cory and Scalzi have vast numbers of readers. Lesser celebs (in our corner of the world) such as Jay Lake and Elizabeth Bear have very many readers. Minor names such as myself may have a few hundred, and the vast majority of people have only a few. But there are other interesting aspects of online behavior as well.

One is the degree to which people will credit sources. I see this quite a bit. One of the reasons I really like Neil is that he always credits the little people. You’ll often see people talk about a Gaiman spike when he sends traffic to their blogs, and that’s great, but the main point is that he does it. A lot of other high profile people don’t. As someone who produces a fair amount of content, I see this fairly often.

And it isn’t only high profile people who ignore sources. I’m sure I forget sometimes. SFAW also provides useful data. I see people who will take a story from SFAW and not credit us, but if they take a similar story from Locus they will credit them. With breaking news, such as yesterday’s sad announcement about Philip José Farmer, people will tend to credit seeing that news from a high profile source even if they see it elsewhere first.

Part of that, of course, is that everyone sees way too much information. They may follow minor people like me, but they don’t actually bother to read what I post – they save those valuable attention cycles for more high profile people. Part of it is also a question of authority. People are likely to say “as seen on Locus” as an indication that what they have written is authoritative. “As seen on SFAW” doesn’t have the same cachet.

However, I’d also like to offer another explanation. This article in today’s Economist reminds us that we are all primates and we still have a tendency to act in primate-like ways. People who study primate behavior apparently recognize a lot of what happens in social networks as “grooming”. And you know, that makes a lot of sense. Link love is essentially a grooming activity. Us low-status monkeys indulge in mutual grooming with people we think of as allies, and we groom high-status monkeys whom we admire and whose troop we wish to belong to. High status monkeys don’t need to groom others, but may do so to reward their followers.

And some high status monkeys are just plain nice people.

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