I'm waiting for an anthropologist to disquire (I've deduced that that's the verb for "disquisition") on the culture of this strange archipelago, the blogosphere. I'll bet somewhere in academia, one or more are at it already. The 'sphere will have its Margaret Mead, who visits different island societies floating in the virtual sea and documents how, in isolation from one another, they diverge and develop strikingly different subcultures -- the armed and hostile headhunters, the gentle agrarians -- and then how the occasional winged seed cross-fertilizes and revitalizes. (I like to think that we centrist bloggers are the canoe-borne traders, or even the hardy wind-borne pests, that keep the left and right island chains from becoming too inbred and vitiated.)
However, we're still relatively close to the Big Bang of the blogosphere's origin. As a relative newcomer I'm surprised (though I shouldn't be) that it has such a distinct and consistent culture, and also surprised by my own urge to fall in with it. Blogging is an individualistic activity, and people could just do it any old way they wanted, so why do we all say "Hat tip" when we want to acknowledge whoever pointed us in a cool direction, and "Heh" when something merits a snarky snicker? (I must be in the "Why?" stage -- a toddler blogger.) Who started those customs, anyway? Our anthropologist will no doubt find that the blogosphere has its own ethics and etiquette, and perhaps that the courteous exchange of links and invitations, and the ritualized acknowledgements and expressions of gratitude, conform to the lineaments of gift exchange described by seminal French ethnologist Marcel-Israël Mauss (1872-1950), nephew of Emile Durkheim:
Mauss's most influential work is his Essay sur le don (1923–24; English translation: The Gift. Forms and functions of exchange in archaic societies, 1954), a comparative essay on gift-giving and exchange in "primitive" societies. On the basis of empirical examples from a wide range of societies, Mauss describes the obligations attendent on gift-giving: the obligation to give gifts (by giving, one shows oneself as generous, and thus as deserving of respect), the obligation to receive them (by receiving the gift, one shows respect to the giver, and concommittantly proves one's own generocity), and the obligation to return the gift (thus demonstrating that one's honor is - at least - equivalent to that of the original giver). Gift-giving is thus steeped in morality, and by giving, receiving and returning gifts, a moral bond between the persons exchanging gifts. At the same time, Mauss emphasizes the competitive and strategic aspect of gift-giving: by giving more than one's competitors, one lays claim to greater respect than them, and gift-giving contests (such as the famous North-West Coast Native American potlatch), are thus common in the ethnographic record. . . .
The objects and services exchanged in "primitive" gift-giving are, as Mauss points out, thus laden with "power" (the Polynesian words mana and hau are used to refer to this "power in the gift"). Though a similar "power" is present to a certain extent in modern gifts as well, Mauss shows that gifts in traditional societies are more complex and multivalent than anything we know from modern society. The gift, as Mauss sees it, is more than a simple commodity or memento changing hands - it is a "total prestation" (préstation totale), which metonymically (as part for whole) stands for every aspect of the society it is part of. The gift is economic, political, kinship-oriented, legal, mythological, religious, magical, practical, personal and social. By moving such an object through the social landscape, the gift-giver so to speak rearranges the fabric of sociality - and it is this that forms the basis of the gift's power.
Let's try a simple substitution: "The link is economic, political, kinship-oriented, legal, mythological, religious, magical, practical, personal and social. By moving such an object through the virtual landscape, the link-giver so to speak rearranges the fabric of sociality - and it is this that forms the basis of the link's power."
There you have the beginnings of an anthropology of the blogosphere.
UPDATE: The "Carnival of the Vanities," the brainstorm of Bigwig at Silflay Hraka -- for which I have a special affection, as the first blog I ever linked to and the ritual bestower of my first link -- and all its Carnival offspring are nothing other than potlatches: big link giveaways that bloggers vie to host, for all those reasons -- the prestige, the exposure, the friendship, the curiosity, the pleasure, in no particular order.