November 17, 2004

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Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality "Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality" is a great read for bloggers, but it has some interesting points more generally. In systems where many people are free to choose between many options, a small subset of the whole will get a disproportionate amount of traffic (or attention, or income), even if no members of the system actively work towards such an outcome. This has nothing to do with moral weakness, selling out, or any other psychological explanation. The very act of choosing, spread widely enough and freely enough, creates a power law distribution. And of course, this will apply to school choice. I think that's what some opponents fear -- that the very act of choosing will create an undeserved perception of quality for some schools. Here's how Mr. Shirky explains it for weblogs: Given the ubiquity of power law distributions, asking whether there is inequality in the weblog world (or indeed almost any social system) is the wrong question, since the answer will always be yes. The question to ask is "Is the inequality fair?" He suggests fairness in the world of weblogs is established by the low barriers to entry, the lack of inertia ("A-list" bloggers must keep blogging or lose their audience), the fact that the "stars" are created by hundreds (thousands?) of choices rather than by the actions of a small group, and by the fact there is no discontinuity in the curve. (Note that this issue of fairness has come up in the liberal/conservative discussion. Dr....

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