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Visualizing the Spread of News Across the Internet

Stephen VanDyke’s Hammer of Truth article, “How News Travels on the Internet” is a great visual look at how news may travel around the Internet. While this was published early in 2004, and there are plenty of new sources for news today, the point of how news travels on the Internet still holds.

His visual chart shows the source of news, initiated by traditional media resources, and its spread around the Internet. The spreaders of news includes:

Dark Matter: According to VanDyke, the Dark Matter of the Internet represents resources which use the Internet but do not generate a web page such as email, chats, IRC, newsgroups, and forums. I would have classified this group as the “word of mouth” team which is still, even today with so much technology involved in our communications methods, the most important and powerful group around. Ah, the power of gossip.

MetaNews: VanDyke called this “collaborative blogging” but I think that title should be applied to “social bookmarking”, which he covers as “blog indexing” below. In this group, he references blog sites which display “news” from traditional and untraditional resources as news. I would call these sites a form of e-zine, an online magazine that uses the news from other sources as their content, including reviews and commentary on the news, such as and . Readers discover news from these resources instead of only traditional news sources.

Greater Blogosphere: The Greater Blogosphere is very similar, in my opinion, to MetaNews, which VanDyke admits, too. These are high traffic blogs that showcases news from other resources. Again, this group takes news and adds to it, gathering it together in a single resource for a specific type of news. For example, , which blogs about the latest, hottest technology based upon press releases and tech news, and , reporting and reviewing the news and newsworthy sites.

Lesser Blogosphere: I felt a little uncomfortable with his description, as VanDyke describes this group as “we’re all lowly citizens waiting for our 15 minutes”. Okay, so he classifies the Lesser Blogosphere as the rest of us who blog about the news we find, without the joy of high traffic and a huge audience base. Still, who knows at which moment a lower blogger will suddenly attract 15 minutes of fame and become another Slashdot? After getting his visual graphic of how news spreads on the Internet tagged by tons of blogs, he got his 15 minutes of fame. Did he hang onto it enough to rise up into the Greater Blogosphere? You’ll have to ask him. ;-) Still, we lower class bloggers do a good job spreading the news, so I guess we are our own kind of group.

Blog Indexing: “Collaborative blogging” or Blog Indexing has become what is known as social bookmarking or tagging over the past year. This is the next step in word-of-mouth promotion and closely related to his first category, Dark Matter. Not only do blogs give mention to the news source, social tagging and bookmarking services like and give others a chance to judge the news in a form of popularity contest. Other blog indexing services judge a blog and blog post by traffic. The more traffic, the more popular. All are still popularity contests where bloggers compete to come up with original top 10 list ideas to move up the chart, and others push and shove over the sale table over which is the best post that others should know about. The interactive contribution Internet readers can make, sharing opinions, likes, and dislikes with others over blog posts, is one of the hottest tickets on the Internet today.

Traditional “Big” Online Media: I found this category interesting. VanDyke calls this the “echo chambers” of traveling news. A story is released by the traditional media, then picked up and spread around by the blogosphere, and when the topic becomes hot on the web, it reappears back on the traditional news through online channels. Thus, the echo effect. One recent example was the story of Jeremy Hermanns and his blogged incident of his flight on Alaska Airlines and the repercussions of blogging about the event. The news was released of the incident, a non-event event, but because Hermanns blogged about it, with photos, and the comments went out of control, it is news again.

VanDyke’s post was so popular, he wrote about his observations and lessons learned from being a “source” of news.

I would have probably designed the chart to be more representative of the ripple effect of water. Drop a little pebble in a pool of water and it will make ripples that are first huge and then shrinks down, unless there is a current or wind which gets behind the ripple to turn it into a wave. A little difficult to graphically capture, but that’s what I visualize when I think of the news spreading across the Internet. I had such a hard time helping others visualize how the web even works, I wrote Can You Visualize the Web?, showcasing many methods how how people have tried to graphically display what the Internet would look like if we could see it.

So which group are you in? When it comes to finding stories for your blog, are you a generator of news, trawler of news, or a bottom feeder of other second and third hand news resources, or a popularity contest promoter? I think those are better descriptions, don’t you? ;-)


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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen

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