Authority Always Wins

I fight authority, authority always wins
I fight authority, authority always wins
I been doing it, since I was a young kid
I’ve come out grinnin
I fight authority, authority always wins

-John Mellencamp

God willing, I’m through talking about the whole Gatekeeper thing. As John Perry Barlow wrote in the song I named my oldest daughter after, “let the words be yours, I’m done with mine.”

But at the risk of stumbling a little close to the cliff, I was interested in Steve Rubel’s post today about authority.

Steve says that the concept of links as a measure of authority turns the quest for blogging success into nothing more than a popularity contest. Sure it does, but there’s more to it than that.

He asks “does this mean Britney Spears is an authority too just because she’s popular?” Well, she’s clearly not an authority on car seats for babies, but let’s say you do a search for, I don’t know, whatever Britney is- maybe “good looking women who claim to be singers but are really only creations of the old media.” And then let’s say your search results (generally determined by links) indicate that she is the person most people link to when talking about that sort of person. Does that make her popular? Not really. Does it indicate that she might be the best example of that sort of person, certainly. So links are about more than just popularity. They are evidence of the collective determination of the linking population.

Do a Google search for “founder of RSS” and you get a link to a story about Dave Winer, certainly nobody’s Sandra Bullock.

Steve quotes the Oxford Dictionary, but I’m a working man so I’m going to quote the American Heritage Dictionary and put forth the definition that Steve omitted- the one that is the closest to the meaning of the word authority as used in this context:

“An accepted source of expert information or advice.”

There are two important words there:

accepted, which implies consensus, which is demonstrated on the blogosphere by links, perhaps partly out of necessity, but there is certainly some correlation there; and

source, which requires a least some method of quotation, again done in the blogosphere largely via links.

There’s some logic in Steve’s argument, but the fact remains that authority in the blogosphere is measured by links. Always has been, and probably always will be.

It almost makes me want to look noisily at Scoble and scream brrreeeport!