The connections themselves are often struck up naturally enough [though the socializing of real estate agents and insurance salesmen is a suspect thing to me]. Many connections are markers of a natural and not so unfair relationship: shared values , shared interests, old friendships forged in youth or a religious setting. All that really makes "well connected" dubious is how the connection is used in relation to power in public. Where one person is entrusted with power to differentially dispense opportunities and resources not personally his wealth to give out, all seekers should appeal purely on their merits. We know this standard has been broadly ignored in the Bush administration.
I am going to try to contrast this with the social obligation of maintaining links and blogrolls. The essence of the ethical improvement that web connection offers over conventional social ties is that even the greatest blogger or web personality has no power to do more than suggest. You can do little to promote junk because each visitor who clicks is a judge in their own right, and your own judgment in linking or recommending is itself on trial. Some domains may be excluded but income, race and other such matters are never a factor unless we want them to be. The segregation is mostly self imposed: progressives don't link conservatives very often and vice versa. The power we have over each other in connecting is therefore fundamentally more democratic than conventional old boy networks. But it does have a downside: the harm is to NOT connect the worthy and thus not to build up by word-of-link the renown some, probably many, deserve. Google will not rescue them.
Like desert societies learning where to find and how to share water, we whose egos or wallets live on the precious coin of hit traffic choose our link etiquette and blogroll partnerships much less casually then is generally mentioned...or at least we should.
I, for example, have a far too static set of links and no current associated guidance or categorization. This makes ET less useful to the random reader and ultimately has a slight negative impact on my own traffic.
That observation leads me to append to my new years resolution: I will blog more AND I will try to make my list of links more fun, more varied and more of a meritocractic nexus. No one can just RSS feed the whole blogosphere into their browser unless they trust, say, Techonrati to do the filtering. And yet, no fixed set of links stays fresh for long or is responsive to every user's surfing objectives. Unfortunately, I don't think I will be able to build a tool quite as powerful as this, but hopefully get something a bit less random.
News explorer instructions: You will need Flash 7...to apply the tool to other names in the news, just append "emm news explorer", including the quotes, to your google search terms. You will probably only get two hits and the secondary one [deeper hit] with the longer URL should have a funny looking graphic, actually a link to the animated web of connections for your topic person. Quite the little time waster really! The result linked above was found with this set of google terms:
"Michael Brown" katrina FEMA "emm news explorer"and the Icon to click through to the web graphic will look like this: