Staring at the Blogosphere for too long can make you blind. Blind, that is, to what people are really doing on the internet.
Here are some fascinating statistics that suggest that the hype generated by technology evangelist bloggers can be profoundly misleading. Even more intriguingly, mainstream media who rely on the blog 'buzz' for clues are guilty of magnifying, rather than correcting, the distortion. And the more they rely on the tech evangelist buzz, the greater the distortion.
HitWise Inc. has conducted a survey of popular photo sharing sites and finds that Photobucket rules the roost - with 43 per cent market share - two and half times that of the nearest rival, Yahoo! Photos. Stalwarts such as Kodak follow. But where is the "Web 2.0" darling, which we're told is revolutionizing how people use the internet?
Er, it's crawling along in sixth place, with 5.95 per cent market share. For every Flickr photo linked to from MySpace, there are 70 downstream Photobucket links.
But this isn't reflected in the blogosphere's 'zeitgeist', where Flickr was crowned long ago as defining the category of new photo sharing services.
Let's see how the mainstream press covered the story. In the London Times, Flickr is mentioned in nine stories - the Photobucket phemonenon doesn't get a mention. The Daily Telegraph it's 5:0 to Flickr. The Independent carries 11 Flickr references to Photobucket's one. At the Washington Post it's 6:0 to Flickr.
And the harder publications try to cover the web, the greater the distortion - presumably because they're listening for "Web 2.0" chatter. At BBC News Online it's 72 to Flickr, 1 to Photobucket. At the Houston Chronicle, it's 31 to 0 for Flickr - almost identical to the New York Times, at 30:0 in Flickr's favour. And at the desperately self-conscious Badger Week, it's 131 to 5. Over at The Guardian, Flickr is mentioned in 117 stories, and Photobucket just once. Hype paradise CNET manages four entries for Photobucket and an astonishing 67 for Flickr. That's a Lexus® High-Impact disparity.
But Flickr isn't taking over the world. Or the Web. And it isn't even where people go when they want to share photos on the web. The dangers of cupping one's ear to the "Blogosphere" and mistaking it for the world at large have been written about many times before - we even coined a word for it, "GoogleWash". The press has always hunted as a pack - which isn't new. But why, when it's so easy to find out what people are really doing on the web, does it keep happening?
Principally, it's because the internet is an echo chamber. If publications convince themselves that there's a phenomenon called 'Web 2.0', they need the evidence to back it up. And being lazy, look no further than the tech evangelist bloggers.
Over at TechCrunch, Marshall Kirkpatrick noted, "This was a big surprise for parts of the blogosphere where Flickr is a hot topic", and goes on to demonstrate how much.
But nepotism is also a contributory factor to the skew.
"High-authority bloggers appear to write about Flickr about 3 times as often as they (we) write about Photobucket," notes Marshall, even though a wider sampling of weblogs shows an inverse ratio, with Photobucket mentioned three times as often as Flickr. The 'high authority' bloggers tend to inhabit the same social mileau as the Web 2.0 obscuros, and are only too happy to give their friends a plug.
Or as a Reg correspondent pointed out after looking at the numbers -
"Photobucket is all over Myspace and LiveJournal, and it gets the hits, but the San Francisco myopia only sees their web 2.0 darlings." ®