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Blogs to Riches

The very subject of the A-list is so toxic that Denton refused to be interviewed for this story and told his bloggers to refuse interviews, too. (Calacanis also refused.) For her part, Spiers argues that Gawker is now so well entrenched that it is virtually unmovable.

“You’d have be a total fuckup to ruin that site right now,” she says. “It’s got so many links, you’re just going to have a positive growth rate.”

If the star system rankles the C-listers, it is partly because they have such a weirdly submissive relationship with A-listers. They envy them, but they need them, too, because one of the quickest ways for an unknown blog to acquire traffic is to feed scoops to an A-lister, in the hopes that the editors there will use the tip and include a thank-you link pointing back to the tipster. Even better is becoming so well loved that an A-lister puts you on his “blogroll,” a permanent list of favorite sites—the blog equivalent of Best Friends Forever. Over at Blogebrity, the gossip blog born out of the original A-/B-/C-list joke site, the writer Nick Douglas told me he’d often used another common trick: posting things about an A-lister—Gawker—to try and catch the editors’ attention.

“Any time I run something on Gawker, even if it’s a little mean, they’ll link to it and send me some traffic. They’re watching. All these bloggers are watching each other.” He laughs. “It’s a tricky balance there, because you’re trying to get a high-profile link but not be seen as a sellout. I get accused of sucking up.” (Indeed, Denton just hired Douglas to edit his new tech-gossip blog, Valleywag.) Less-sophisticated supplicants will simply e-mail an A-lister, begging to be linked to, a technique that’s about as successful as wearing a will you be my friend? T-shirt. “I’ll get these guys who start a blog and e-mail me like every single new post they put up, hoping I’ll link to it,” says Rojas. “It’s not polite! I’m like, ‘Dude, if you send me a really cool news item, I’ll totally link to you. But don’t spam me.’ ”

Yet one can understand why the tiny blogs are so hungry for approval. A single mention from an A-lister can provoke “firehoses of traffic”—as John Battelle describes it—that can help pluck a neophyte blog out of obscurity. (This has even happened to me. I run a small science blog—avowedly C-list, a pure vanity project—and the times that Boing Boing or Gizmodo have linked to me, my traffic has exploded.) When Gawker linked recently to a posting at Blogebrity, it nearly tripled the smaller site’s traffic, from 1,200 visitors a day to 3,500. Even a link from a smaller, B-list blog can help a struggling newcomer. In his first two years blogging, Trent Vanegas—the 31-year-old creator of the gossip site Pink Is the New Blog—barely rated 200 visitors a day. Then in January 2005, a few medium-size New York blogs—including Ultragrrl and Thighswideshut—gave him a shout-out, and his traffic doubled. The virtuous cycle began, and today he has 1 million page views a month, VH1 is calling to use him as a commentator, and he’s fielding job offers from E! and Bravo.

“It’s crazy,” he says, laughing. “After a point, you’re like, Where are all these people coming from?

Regularity and relentlessness,” says Arianna Huffington. “That’s how you break through the static of the 5,000-channel universe.”

In May 2005, Huffington, the political columnist and sometime candidate for California governor, started the Huffington Post, a blog where her celebrity friends post their rants about politics and culture. By the end of the year, it was clocking 18 million page views a month and had become the fifth-most-linked-to blog in the world. Its ad rates are at the top of its class, about $10 to $30 for every thousand views. With financing from a slate of investors including Ken Lerer, former executive vice-president at AOL Time Warner, the Huffington Post launched with a full-time staff of four and an office in Manhattan—and the ability to post around the clock.

Huffington also neatly intuited the importance of linking, putting scores of A-list bloggers on her blogroll, realizing they would probably return the compliment. But even more important was the sheer force of the site’s famous names—not just Huffington but the spectacle of her friends Nora Ephron and Norman Mailer blogging merrily away on her site. Mainstream media lavished attention on the site’s every move, giving ever more publicity to the venture.

Huffington showed that it was still possible to quickly move up to the top of the charts. “You think the A-list is the A-list is the A-list,” says David Sifry, the CEO of Technorati. “But I’m telling you, boy, does it shift—and does it shift fast.” Cultural winds can drive blogs in and out of favor: When Sifry founded Technorati in 2002, many of the bloggers on his top-100-most-linked list were computer geeks, such as journalist Doc Searls and programmer Dave Winer. But as blogging grew to encompass politics and pop culture, Searls dropped to No. 96 and Winer to No. 126.