Saturday, March 12, 2005

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What to read on the blogosphere

In honor of my trip to New Orleans to talk about blogs at the Public Choice Society meetings, here's what I'm going to be thinking about for the next 24 hours:

1) Gallup has a new poll on blog readership entitled, "Blogs Not Yet in the Media Big Leagues." It opens:

Three-quarters of the U.S. public uses the Internet at work, school, or home, but only one in four Americans are either very familiar or somewhat familiar with blogs (the shortened form of the original "Web logs"). More than half, 56%, have no knowledge of them. Even among Internet users, only 32% are very or somewhat familiar with blogs.

More to the point, fewer than one in six Americans (15%) read blogs regularly (at least a few times a month). Just 12% of Americans read blogs dealing specifically with politics this often. Among Internet users, the numbers are similarly low: 19% and 15%, respectively....

According to a December 2004 Gallup Poll, the percentage of Americans getting their news on a daily basis from the mainstream media is 51% for local television news, 44% for local newspapers, 39% for cable news networks, 36% for the nightly broadcast network news, and 21% for radio talk shows. By contrast, only 3% of Americans say they read Internet blogs every day, and just 2% read politics-focused blogs daily.

Mystery Pollster deconstructs the poll, pointing out:

No, the collective reach of blogs is nowhere near that of television or print media, but focusing on the relatively small percentages misses the rapidly growing influence of the blog readership in absolute terms. The 12% that say they read political blogs at least a few times a month amount to roughly 26 million Americans. That may not make blogs a "dominant" news source, but one American in ten ads up to a lot of influence.

It's also worth comparing and contrasting the Gallup poll with the BlogAds survey.

2) Lada Adamic and Natalie Glance, "The Political Blogosphere and the 2004 U.S. Election: Divided They Blog." The abstract:

In this paper, we study the linking patterns and discussion topics of political bloggers. Our aim is to measure the degree of interaction between liberal and conservative blogs, and to uncover any differences in the structure of the two communities. Specifically, we analyze the posts of 40 “A-list” blogs over the period of two months preceding the U.S. Presidential Election of 2004, to study how often they referred to one another and to quantify the overlap in the topics they discussed, both within the liberal and conservative communities, and also across communities. We also study a single day snapshot of over 1,000 political blogs. This snapshot captures blogrolls (the list of links to other blogs frequently found in sidebars), and presents a more static picture of a broader blogosphere. Most significantly, we find differences in the behavior of liberal and conservative blogs, with conservative blogs linking to each other more frequently and in a denser pattern.

Jerome Armstrong takes this information and concludes, "there's just a lot more coordination through linking among Republican than there has been with Democratic bloggers, at least on the surface of particular URL's." Which suggests to me he didn't actually read the paper, since on p. 10 the authors reject this hypothesis:

Once we remove from our analysis all URLs pointing to political blogs, the liberal and conservative blogs both had an average similarity of 0.083 and 0.087, a difference that is not statistically significant. These results suggest that Although conservative bloggers tend to more actively comment on one another’s posts, this behavior is not accompanied by a greater uniformity in other online content they link to....

Conservative television programs and conservative talk radio have sometimes been perceived to be acting as an echo chamber for Republican talking points. However, we did not find evidence for this in conservative blogs.

Kevin Drum has a better summary, and highlights this interesting finding:

Notice the overall pattern: Democrats are the ones more often cited by right-leaning bloggers, while Republicans are more often mentioned by left-leaning bloggers....These statistics indicate that our A-list political bloggers, like mainstream journalists (and like most of us) support their positions by criticizing those of the political figures they dislike.

[So does this mean that Cass Sunstein's thesis about cyberbalkanization is correct?--ed. Not necessarily, for a couple of reasons. First, the authors admit that, "we did not gather the URLs of libertarian, independent, or moderate blogs," though admittedly they are smaller in number. More importantly, the authors collected this data in the run-up to the 2004 election -- an easy case for partisanship if there ever was one.

Oh, and a quick tip of the cap to Adamic and Glance for the citation to Drezner and Farrell.

3) As evidence against cyberbalkanization, click over to this petition from bloggers to the Federal Elections Commission. For even better evidence, go sign it.

posted by Dan on 03.12.05 at 12:45 AM


Is twelve percent of Americans being frequent readers of blogs dealing with politics a large or a small number?

What percentage of Americans reads the editorial and op-ed pages of a newspaper? Is it really larger than 12 percent? I doubt it.

posted by: Linc Wolverton on 03.12.05 at 12:45 AM [permalink]

There is an aspect to this matter of who blogs and who reads blogs--an elephant in the room nobody seems to want to mention. That is the geography of it all. Instapundit teaches law at University of Tennessee; the Power Line people are in Minneapolis-St. Paul; Daniel Drezner teaches at University of Chicago, and used to teach in Denver, Colorado; Patterico is a Los Angeles man, as is Roger L. Simon. A long list of greats could be adduced without reference to either New York or Boston. Ladies and gentlemen, the colonized areas of North America are coming un-colonized.

Now if we could just get a few publishing houses started, so that high quality material from Montana does not end up enriching the Atlantic Monthly (see the current issue), and if musicians of quality had some outlet other than NPR (what earthly claim does Ken Burns & Co have on jazz, fer godsake?), we'd have taken another turn to our own good.

Long may it wave.

posted by: Thomas Drew on 03.12.05 at 12:45 AM [permalink]

Dan, your recalling Cass Sunstein's cyberbalkanization thesis of a few years back is very welcome. I hope you, or Sunstein himself, or somebody, will follow up on that more systematically.

Sunstein caught a good bit of grief in the (at that time rudimentary) blogosphere for his dystopian prediction. I agreed with his critics because blogs were young, and it did look as though everybody would be reading and commenting on and linking to everyone else, not just people they already agreed with. In my case at least, the 'net has continued to broaden rather than narrow the ideas I expose myself to. But some of the Adamic and Glance data on linking patterns may add a bit of weight to Sunstein's thesis. It's hard to know.

Can you wander over to the law school and ask Sunstein what he thinks now?

posted by: Richard Riley on 03.12.05 at 12:45 AM [permalink]

Also, WHO are reading blogs? I'd bet the demographics tend towards the better educated, more affluent, most curious, knowledge-hungry savages in our society. I remember Sullivan reporting some data frmo his blog that supported such a generalization. Blog readers probably tend to be hubs--as oppossed to nubs--in social networks. They actively spread ideas through those networks, not merely consume it. Theoretically, their influence is greater than raw consumption data can capture.

posted by: Eric Anderson on 03.12.05 at 12:45 AM [permalink]

I agree. I would like to see readership statistics for specific groups of people like journalists, Congressional staffers, political consultants etc. I suspect that they are quite high and that the influence of the blogosphere goes beyond what the general readership number indicates.

The comparison with op-ed pages is apt; not that many people read the op-ed pages of the big dailies but they still have a big influence on public life.

posted by: Strategist on 03.12.05 at 12:45 AM [permalink]

Last I checked 800lb. blogrilla Josh Marshall writes from New York.

But Thomas, if you want to embrace the rural hinterlands of...uhh...Chicago and Los Angeles, like they say in Minneapolis, go crazy.

Dan, if you get a chance in NO take the St.Charles streetcar line out to Igor's for a beer. It's tons of fun and worth a trip beyond the French Quarter.

posted by: joejoejoe on 03.12.05 at 12:45 AM [permalink]

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