Whuffie and the snowball

Doc Searls blogs about how these days he prefers to roll snowballs downhill instead of pushing rocks uphill:

Tell ya what. I’m fifty-seven years old, and I’ve been pushing large rocks for short distances up a lot of hills, for a long time. Now, with blogging, I get to roll snowballs down hills. Some don’t go very far. But some get pretty big once they start rolling.

See, each snowball grows as others link to the original idea, and add their own thoughts and ideas. By the time the snowball gets big enough to have some impact, it really isn’t my idea any more.

Anyway, at this point in my life I’d rather roll snowballs than push rocks.

He then quotes Steve Gillmor and Jay Rosen about getting ideas moving, and concludes:

I think Big Challenges start with conclusion, with finished opinions. That’s what makes them sysiphean. They are bodies at rest that are hard to put into motion, especially in an uphill direction.

But if you start with an idea, whether partly formed or whole, whether yours or somebody else’s, and push it in the downhill direction that all blogging (thanks to links and RSS) essentially goes, it’s bound to have some impact once it grows large enough. And as long as it keeps going.

The problem I have with Doc’s post is this – in order to get ideas rolling downhill, you need to already be uphill, you need whuffie. Firstly you need people to be reading your ideas, secondly they need to want to do something with your ideas (there’s always extra kudos and therefore motivation in doing something with the ideas of someone who’s got a bit of whuffie), and thirdly they need to tell people that they got their idea off you (so that your whuffie builds).

People like Searls, Gillmor and Rosen have whuffie in spades, and this is why they can start snowballs rolling downhill and why those snowballs grow as they go. If you have no whuffie, your snowball will just melt – no whuffie means few readers, no one gaining kudos off developing your idea, no whuffie coming back to you for having had it. The idea goes nowhere.

It’d be nice to think that it’s the quality of the idea that gets the snowball moving, but more often than not, that has nothing to do with it. Hugh Macleod, for example, has so much whuffie that all he has to do is fart and the trackbacks start rolling in.

I saw exactly the same thing when I worked as a music hack – it’s not the bands with the best music or the journalists with the best writing skills that make it, it’s the ones with the whuffie. Same in the film industry – doesn’t matter how good your script is, if you have no whuffie you aren’t going anywhere.

It’s no surprise that it’s the same in the blogosphere, after all, we all know that we have a small minority of bloggers who have all the whuffie. They stand at the top of the mountain, from where it’s easy to start an avalanche. Those of us in the foothills can throw snowballs all we like, but it’s not going to have the same effect.

The trouble is that there are a couple of whuffie Catch-22s going on: firstly, those who have whuffie get more whuffie and those with none find it hard to build up. Secondly, my own personal whuffie Catch-22 and one common to all those in the whuffie-dependant industries, is that I need to blog to gain whuffie so that I can get more work, but the things that pay the bills take me away from blogging thus preventing me from gaining more whuffie in order to obtain more work. That’s basis of the feast-or-famine self-employed life.

The answer? Find a ski-lift.

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