In case you didn’t know, muscle-car lovers have a thriving Internet community. Twitter users like @HookupMyRide and @CorvetteBlogger are among the chattiest sports-car enthusiasts, tweeting links and striking up conversations with other fans of fast cars. The influential drivers of the muscle-car blogosphere stick to what they like; they mostly share links and thoughts about cars. For that reason, it’s unlikely that they’d ever interact with Twitter users who focus on environmental issues – in fact, the two groups live in entirely separate neighborhoods of the Internet.
That may seem like a strange metaphor for the non-physical space of the Internet, but to John Kelly, the chief scientist at Morningside Analytics, it's quite apt. He spends his days mapping the "cyber-social geography" of the Internet, anlayzing who is talking to whom and what they’re talking about. While many web analytics companies focus on the users who are most influential across the entire Internet, Kelly said, his data show who’s influential in small, specific communities. This helps uncover a few interesting trends about who really gets heard in the public sphere of the Internet.
First, like the muscle-car lovers, people with shared interests often create isolated communities, talking among themselves about a limited set of topics. That means that people who share certain interests or viewpoints are less likely to interact with people who have different and possibly opposing priorities – for example, car lovers and environmental activists.
But Kelly’s maps also suggest two different models for becoming influential in the digital public sphere: Be like Oprah, who reaches lots of different people on many subjects, or be like the president of a very committed bowling club, who reaches a limited audience that probably cares a lot about that specific topic. The question is, are the "bowling club presidents" of the Internet really regular people who happen to love a certain topic? Data suggest that “traditional” influencers like companies and news organizations still have a lot of power, even in niche digital spheres.