How News Travels on the Internet

I read the Wired article Warning: Blogs Can Be Infectious, and thought it was informative. But it seemed to be lacking the big picture view of how the news travels. The Blog Epidemic Analyzer was also amusing and showed how attribution is underrated, but it too seemed sorely lacking cohesion, nor was it a very new topic. So I thought to myself: “Hey this isn’t all that complicated, I should make a visual diagram to illustrate this”. And this infographic was born.

Here’s how I see news travel, I think it’s a pretty self-explanatory graphic, plus I’m too lazy to do a proper write up. Infer as you wish, maybe I will become the “source” one of these days.

how news travels on the internet infographic

Miscellaneous links to sites listed:

  • Dark Matter
    • Glenn Reynolds called email “the dark matter of the blogosphere” in a Wired interview. Naturally I extended this phrase to IM (Instant Messaging) , IRC (Internet Relay Chat) and forums. (link via
  • MetaNews (I wasn’t sure what else to call it, it’s like collaborative blogging, except Google News)
    • Fark – users post news and comments, which are hand-picked by admins, TotalFark (a listing of everything submitted, huge list) is a sort of “dark matter” as well.
    • Slashdot – the grandaddy of the genre. More technically oriented.
    • MeFi – shorthand for MetaFilter, blogging on crack (all users can post?). Not accepting accounts.
    • BoingBoing – similar to MetaFilter, more blogging on crack.
    • Google News – through the magic of Google… the news. Limited sources.
  • Greater Blogosphere – basically just a high traffic blog, sometimes the lines blur between this and MetaNews
    • Instapundit – Glenn Reynolds again, probably the most read blog on the Internet.
    • – A high traffic blog that has a lot of offbeat news. Made the “StarWars Kid” popular.
  • Lesser Blogosphere – me, basically… we’re all lowly citizens waiting for our 15 minutes, just like Bob’s Qveere Eye parody (yes, it was me who posted it to Fark). While we wait, we link and blab.
  • Blog Indexing – these are services that show what’s popular based on how many people link to it in a certain period.
  • Traditional “Big” Online Media – once they pick up a story, it can become a story again, how’s that for echo chambers?
  • Offline Media – hey what the… I can’t link to them :)

Update: Fark picked up this story, I get to play the role of “source”, so let’s see how far it goes. I’ll track this as well as I can and see if I can build a case study from this. Thanks Drew!

Update2: There is now an interim article on my initial observations after being linked from all over. Also, apologies for the site going down for a while there, the database was being moved and server upgraded.

Stephen VanDyke

I've published HoT along with about 300+ friends since 2002. We're all Americans who are snarky and love our country. I'm a libertarian that registered Republican because I like to win elections. That's pretty much it.

  1. I’d like to know more about big media! Seems like anything “multi-sourced” can become news. Google for the fake (but now not) ceramic body modifications… that became big news, but they were not cosmetic implants. Also, the whole thing with that CIA agent exposed was in a round about way to dispell how the US gets their intelligence… they are not well sourced.

  2. It’s an entertaining chart. However, while it’s true that those dashed lines are rarely attributed, you seem to be implying that that is a bad thing. Well, I’m one of the (apparently many) people who think, “who cares?”

    Suppose I pass along a link to a new web page to my readers, because I think it’s funny, or clever, or whatever. What’s the important information here? It’s the link itself. Who gives a rat’s ass how I found it? Of what possible consequence is it to anyone that I found it from BoingBoing who found it from Memepool who found it from Slashdot who found it from Anonymous Coward who got it in email? The ultimate web page itself is the only attribution that matters. If you were writing a bibliography, that whole chain of discovery wouldn’t go in it: only the primary sources. Documenting only the last link in the chain is only good for ego gratification of people who (like me) waste most their day dredging the net. The first link in the chain is the one that is the actual creative act.

  3. Jamie, I agree in full with what you say, and I wasn’t knocking people who link without attributing. One thing you mentioned was referencing the last person in the chain, which is exactly what I had in mind, but I also noted that attributions of this manner can also be wrong: they may link to the main page instead of to where it was actually found. Sometimes it’s impossible to do it any other way of course.

    Another important factor is information hoarding–never linking to sources–under the guise that readers don’t care. They may very well not care, but it smacks of egoism, as if that site is only place the secret link to the cool website/news could be found, or that it’s a blog scoop (it may very well be).

    I’ve been compiling data from the amount of traffic generated from this and I’ll definitely be doing a followup.

  4. Stephen, your graph definitely makes it easier to see the flow of information from source to blogs to media outlets and so on. But what I found interesting about the Blog Epidemic Analyzer and the related research at HP Labs was that they had come up with a way to infer where information came from even when there was no attribution. (See, the point is not that people are “stealing” info when they don’t provide attribution, but rather that it’s much more difficult to track the flow of ideas when there are no explicit links back to the source.) Sounds like your visualization technique and HP Labs’s inference technology could be a good complement. (I authored the Wired News piece.)

  5. I use two layers of linkage at max, eg, if I see an article on the CNN site that is actually an AP story I just make the link (CNN/AP)with the link directed to the CNN site. If the original source is being passed through a smaller blog I usually link to both the original source and the secondary site seperately with a phrase such “from [orig source] via [small blog]”. I do that because I believe its important to drive traffic to the small blog for three reasons, the first being simple courtesy, the second to effect a “democratizing of the info” (which can lessen the burden on the original sources servers), and lastly the slant of commentary found at the smaller blog may be even more important than the original article itself.

  6. Screw the article, look at the robot in the suit in the upper right corner and read the accompaning text. That is great!

  7. Would you put things like LiveJournal and Diaryland in the “lesser blogosphere”?

  8. Hi Ele, It would depend on the blog/journal of course. I know that LJ and DL both have lots of members and some of them could be “greater blogosphere”. My distinction between “greater” and “lesser blogosphere” has more to do with link influence (or how many people will reblog that content) than with visitors. I need to clarify that in a follow-up, but the assumption is more visitors = more news propogation. I was trying to draw a corollary between propogating and visits without really stating it in so many words.

  9. I’d actually say Livejournal is mostly Dark Matter. The rebloggability of purely personal rants isn’t that huge, and the friends-only features of Livejournal means that a lot of it can’t even be read by the public.

  10. one reason to include the attribution is that it allows centralization of discussions/comments for links that don’t themselves support such (eg newspaper articles). without that, every leafnode blogger has perhaps a couple comments, but there’s no ‘discussion’ per se

  11. Your graphic and your post regarding “how news travels on the interenet” is interesting, but I disagree with the positioning of meta news services. Slashdot is listed in this group, and I feel that a significant percentage of the articles on that site link to big media rather than the other way around. I feel that this is typical of meta news services, especially since they primarily depend on reader submissions. I would imagine the majority of readers who submit newsworthy items most likely found those items through either a big media, meta news, or darkmatter that came from one of those two. Some submitters short-circuit the submission, linking directly to the news source while others give credit to a big media or meta news. In my vision of the diagram, there would be self-referential green links for meta-services, and there would be some way of indicating the greater likely-hood of a news source being filtered through a big media before hitting the center maelstrom.

  12. C’mon, this is a post Einstein world, you got to have Time in there somewhere. Adding that dimension would also highlight what is the interesting aspect of this phenomenon, which is how long and what kind of stories “bubble up” to the mainstream. Tracking exposure at each level (perhaps correlated to volume of viewers for the circular size of each “site” and thickness of lines connecting them representing directed traffic) and how long it takes a story to go from obscure to front page.

    Oh, and mixing trackbacks and comments is muy muy confusing. Kinda kills any chance for meaningful discussion.

  13. Funny thing is, I think the reverse scheme can be just as common. Big media comes up with a story…bloggers tear it to shreads, share it around, debate it, debase it, elevate it (as their political purpose requires), and it takes on a life on it’s own as the shrapnel bounces eventually through IM and email.

    Face it. We are all of us information scavengers. Suggesting that it’s purely a case of bloggers synthesizing the great “out there” for big media to steal without credit is only half the story.

  14. My comments from DoWire:

    A good diagram at:

    I think it inflates the value of blogs versus the “dark matter” of which private e-mail networks among friends have the most power (IMHO). I would say however, that the national/global? level key blogs are much more visible and therefore have gained more credibility from folks making TV- related news decisions. In terms of local online agenda setting, I’ve only heard a few accounts about critical mass local blogging.

    When I first discovered the New York Times as a small town teen, I remember being amazed that what was “new and big” in that paper ended up on the national television news that night (until then I thought TV led the way like most people today believe). Most Americans read wire copy a day later on national news item in their smaller daily newspapers. Now blogs are moving into the agenda-setting territory with a direct line to cable news channels and the Sunday morning talk shows.

    Also, for quick links to all the “nice” things folks are saying in “dark matter,” see the bottom right links: Also:

    Steven Clift
    Democracies Online

  15. Why was my Drudge comment deleted? Was it not a valid point?

    It was probably lost when the database was moved. I’m not going to censor anyone.

  16. Although there are some passing references to RSS in the comments, the graphic doesn’t do RSS/Atom justice in how news travels around the ‘net. My $0.02.

  17. For Blog indexing services, don’t forget Feedster ( and PubSub ( which don’t get the PR of Technorati but are just as cool and just as useful. In fact, many times they are more useful since they both offer RSS feeds of their searches for free!

    I have no interest in either Feedster or PubSub; I’m just a happy user!

  18. Somewhere between the source and the traditional news outlets, but bigger than FArk etc. is Drudge.

  19. Oh how the mighty have fallen. There’s two huge “networks” out there you don’t even list. They’re low-tech, all text-based, and older than the Internet… but they’ve been travelling over the Internet for the past 15 or so years, and with the Internet underneath them they’re probably the fastest communication channels of all.

    One, you kind of touch on, when you talk about email on “dark matter”. But mailing lists are still a lot bigger and more pervasive than person-person email, and a lot of them are not all that dark. There are mailing list archives going back to the late ’70s.

    The other is about as un-dark as you can get, and thanks to Google it’s eminently trackable from the web… and that’s Usenet. This goes back almost as far as mailing lists and it’s far better archived, cross-referenced, and like mailing lists it’s “push” technology: it reaches out and touches people rather than waiting for them to come and find it.

  20. Will begin running this by a group of screenagers in grades 5 through 8…of course they know more than the teacher. March 23 and 24…will see what they say. Several of them have been into for a while, but for the rest of this stuff…

  21. Axons becoming dendrites or tendrils – this comes in from one of my screenagers from National Geographic (10/03) “The Glow-in-the-Dark Brain” by Joel Achenbach. Article states that the questions raised “will likely take years of research to answer.” Should they begin blogging about Stephen’s infographic with enthusiasm? Early response looks good…still working on the body-state-metaphor as well.