Drafting on bloggers

The word drafting has many meanings but the one I’m interested in here comes from bicycling. When you ride closely behind another rider, you’re drafting. The leader pushes the headwinds out of the way, and the follower doesn’t have to push so hard.

Blogging can work that way too. I thought of this when I reallized that one of the benefits of subscribing to James Fallows is that I’m drafting on his interest in the fledgling air taxi industry. My interest in that topic is more than casual. I’ve interviewed DayJet founder Ed Iacobucci, for example. But James Fallows is way more deeply invested than I am, having written the seminal book on the topic, Free Flight.

I can do a pretty good job of tracking developments on that front by scanning the news, or better yet by subscribing to searches for terms like DayJet and Eclipse 500. But the best way is to draft on a blogger who is authoritative on the topic.

I don’t need to see every news story about DayJet, and pushing them all out of the way in order to focus on the ones that really matter is like pushing a headwind. But James Fallows is already motivated to push that headwind, so I can just draft on him. That way I get just the right air taxi newsfeed, with a dollop of expert analysis on top.

Happily, the analogy breaks down in a couple of ways. A cyclist can only draft on one other cyclist, and it’s a one-way relationship. The follower can’t simultaneously lead. With blogging, I can draft on many peoples’ interests, and many people can draft on mine, and sometimes the leader/follower relationship is reciprocal — I draft on you for topic A, and you draft on me for topic B.

For our purposes here, we can define blogging broadly to include the conventional format, but also microblogging formats like del.icio.us crumbtrails and Twitter tweets. Drafting, in the sense I mean here, can happen in any publish/subscribe medium.

12 Comments

  1. BRILLIANT analogy, as I prepare for a two-day, 200-mile ride with friends.

    One thing that might (or might not) extend the metaphor: when you’re riding in a group, the best way to get somewhere is to rotate the lead. When everyone takes a turn pulling, everyone benefits from the draft and the average speed goes up.

    It is a wondrous thing to do on a bike. But in order to use the paceline well, you have to ride close, and to do that, you have to trust your fellow riders. If they move erratically, don’t know what they’re doing, etc., you can all go down in a tangle of bent wheels, raw flesh, and concussions.

  2. Great analogy, Jon. And I must emphasize the point that it is MUCH easier to draft an authoritative blogger than to try and subscribe to news searches, filter aggregators, etc. on a subject…it goes back to your earlier curation metaphor. An interested subject matter expert is almost always preferable to simply a keyword search (which they probably use as one of many tools to develop their collection of information).

    I presently am in the process of actively winnowing most aggregation feeds and high-traffic sites from my RSS reader. In their place, I pick and choose the really high-quality individuals that they have brought to my attention. For most topics, I find this to give me by far the best signal-to-noise ratio. Of course, for very general-interest type subjects, sometimes the popular sources are worthwhile. But as a rule, I find I’m much more satisfied with links directly “to the source”.

  3. A post after my own heart, and another example of how a community (of riders or bloggers) is stronger than the person by themselves. I now get to have the image of riding in my head when I read Bloglines!

  4. > When everyone takes a turn pulling,
    > everyone benefits from the draft and
    > the average speed goes up.

    Good point. It’s not simultaneous, but it is reciprocal.

  5. It is a wondrous thing to do on a bike. But in order to use the paceline well, you have to ride close, and to do that, you have to trust your fellow riders. If they move erratically, don’t know what they’re doing, etc., you can all go down in a tangle of bent wheels, raw flesh, and concussions

  6. A post after my own heart, and another example of how a community (of riders or bloggers) is stronger than the person by themselves.

  7. Google just announced Google App Engine, and certainly (driven by Robert Scoble) that has been running like wildfire around the blogosphere. It solves some very interesting problems, and does it in a slick way, but it also creates some questions….

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