Thursday, October 11, 2007

Peacock Feathers

Why is The Drudge Report so popular that journalists might actively seek to get links from it?

I suspect it has something to do with why peacocks have such enormous tail feathers.

As a question of pure survivability, male peacocks are disadvantaged by having to drag around these enormous feathers. They certainly make it harder to get away from predators. So why do it? Because it's what attracts females. But why does it attract females? What about such a huge display makes a female go "oooooh! I want some of that!"?

The answer becomes clearer when you think that the primary goal of a female peacock is to propagate their genes as much as possible. That means they have to have sons that are good at propagating their genes. And how do you do that? By producing sons that emphasize those things that females find attractive.

A large tail feather display is attractive to females because they are attractive to females. As long as the net benefit of increasing attractiveness is not outweighed by increased vulnerability to predatory attack, the elaborate displays will continue.

(Hat tip to Richard Dawkins and "The Selfish Gene" which I just happen to be reading right now. I hope I have given his thoughts a just summary.)

So, how does this explain the popularity of Drudge?

As I suggested before, a lot of mainstream journalists may be actively seeking links from Drudge because doing so increases their hit count and thus makes them look good in the eyes of their wagemasters. But why do they seek those links? Because Drudge is popular. But why is he popular? Because so many are paying attention to what he is linking to in order to find out what attracts his links.

Drudge has reached that magical point where his success is self-sustaining (so long as he doesn't do something stupid that drives people away).

There's a lesson here for liberal and progressives who want the media to give their causes a fair shake. That will happen when the journalists begin to value the links that liberals and progressives can give them. When they do, they will begin "Atrios Trolling" and "Kos Trolling" and "Media Matters Trolling".

To a certain extent this is happening already. A link from Atrios is a valuable commodity in certain circles, so there is an incentive to write something that he will approve of. (Ironically, this may also have the perverse incentive of encouraging certain journalists to troll for Wanker-Of-The-Day. A hits a hit regardless of the sentiment behind the hit.)

Humans are such crazy buggers. It's why I love them so much.

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