I've been writing for some time that blogs are just tools. Their value is in allowing conversations to scale, allowing people to have the kind of conversations they might have over a backyard fence with people all over the world who.
I've also written about how different the new social media dialog is from the monologues of big media and marketing programs, how much healthier, more productive and more effective having conversations with customers and peers is to delivering messages contrived in marketing departments. I've argues that social media empowers friends and passionate customers to influence what we buy, watch, listen to and even how we vote, more than the celebrities, sports heroes, billboards and slogans of yore.
I still believe that this is true.
But there is a gathering trend that has been disturbing me for quite some time and that is the blogosphere is moving from the flat, equanimous peer-to-peer network shapelessness into more of an hierarchy. There is a top-down structure in which some bloggers have become more influential than others. This is obvious to some degree. Some bloggers, like Arrington, Scoble and Om Malik have earned the right to be popular. They have written more, given more, observed more, helped millions of people find valuable or interesting information.
What concerns me is that as they grow in size, the old media model may be starting to be the new media model. Companies and publicists now queue up pitch their wares to this new super tier. In certain circles, coverage in these few blogs is perceived in the same way as coverage in the NYTimes, Washington Post or Time magazine of 20 years ago was perceived. What is written on those blogs is a "media hit." Where comments and links and tweets are supposed to create a conversation, they may be stating to be little more in potency than yesterday's Letter to the Editor.
Media hits may not be so bad. But they are not a conversation.
If the influence of a few simply dwarfs the voices of the many, social media a few years from today may not look that different from the old media. There was a time when the new media was broadcast television and the great promise for education an understanding was eschewed in a great many places. One of it's early champions, Newton Minnow would end up after years in championing it, concluding that it had become a "vast wasteland."
Is that what will happen to social media? Is the incredible promise of this new conversational revolution destined to become tomorrow's vast wasteland?
I certainly hope not. But as the ponderous New York Times editorial writer would conclude: "It remains to be seen."