Blogging in Perspective

A useful discussion at Catallaxy on the value of blogging versus the mainstream media has inadvertently illustrated the echo chamber effect, by which lots of bloggers think that everyone reads blogs because all their friends do.

Blogging is immensely valuable, enjoyable, and will doubtless grow over time. But in the 2004 Australian Election Study, 12% said they’d used the Internet to get election news, while just 0.7% said they’d seen a blog during the election campaign.* Indeed, one suspects that if the survey had pressed them further, some might have admitted that they’d noticed one in their bathroom, but managed to clean it off.

* The fraction getting election news from other media was newspapers 57%, radio 44%, TV 69%.

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15 Responses to Blogging in Perspective

  1. John Quiggin says:

    Of course, as your last sentence implies, quite a few people might have seen a blog without knowing it. It was only after I started blogging myself that I realised Brad DeLong’s SemiDaily Journal was a blog.

    And I’m not sure how your echo chamber argument works. My friends may not be a random sample of the Australian population, but they are a reasonable sample of the urban, educated middle class . I didn’t make friends with them because they were bloggers or because they read my blog.

  2. Steve Edney says:

    I agree with John. Many people I think may have seen info on Blogs with out realising what they were, at least at first. Certainly that is how I found them, although I had heard of the concept before.

    The other point is that Blogs are a more fertile ground to generate ideas and exchange opinions which can then flow back through the other media to a wider community. Of course what is in blogs is also influenced by what appears in the media but other media don’t allow the level of feedback nor the variety of opinion that blogs do.

  3. Don says:

    I think Steve’s right. I tend to think of a post as successful if its ideas, information, or style are picked up by the media or wider community

    I’ve always been fascinated by academics whose name shows up in the acknowledgements of other people’s books but who never published one of their own. And by musicians who are constantly cited on album covers but whose music you never hear on the radio.

    It’s not necessarily the size of the audience that’s important. It’s who they are.

    It might be possible to create a moderately influential blog if you set out to do it deliberately. Who knows, the small readership could even give it an air of exclusivity.

  4. Thanks for putting some facts into the debate Andrew – I’ve been coping a hiding over at Mark Bahnisch’s blog.

    The blogging culture reminds me of when I was into spoken word in Melbourne. It was the centre of my universe – spoken word artists were all waiting for spoken word to be the next stand up comedy – but at the end of the day the real world wasn’t interested. Only a hundred odd people that turned up to a regular event on a Wednesday.

    Blogs feel the same. Sure, it is a global audience – but that audience has to find you…somehow.

    When you start following the comment boxes, it is the same people, over and over…

    I don’t deny blogging may have potential. But, the current MSM vs blog debate is way out of proportion. The internet is a cruel beast – and who isn’t to say there will not be something greater than blogs that will capture our imagination in the next year or two.

  5. The Washington Post has a weekday circulation of about 750,000. One of the biggest blog sites in the US (for the democratic audience) is dailykos. It has a daily circulation of about 400,000. Dont know what level of hits some other big US political sites get.

    It would be interesting to know what level of daily hits sites like quiggin, troppo and backpages get/got. Wouldnt be surprised if they challenge the SMH for circulation (IIRC the SMH has a circulation of about 250,000 on a weekday)

    Politics is only starting to establish itself on the web. Tech sites like slashdot get a million hits a day. If a link is posted to the slashdot front page it will get about 400,000 hits as people click through it. Hence the term “slashdotting”. There are other terms like that for sites that have a big readership, “farked”, “k5ed” etc etc.

    Site with WaPo circulation : http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/05/02/AR2005050201457.html

    Site with dailykos hits: http://www.sitemeter.com/default.asp?action=stats&site=sm8dailykos

  6. Don says:

    Why write for newspapers when you can appear on Big Brother?

  7. John Quiggin says:

    Cam, I average about 3000 sessions a day (I assume a session is a visit in which one or more pages is viewed). That’s a long way short of the SMH, but still an audience large enough to be worth writing for.

    I think the most relevant comparison at present is with magazines like Quadrant. I think blogs have already surpassed the reach and influence of these magazines.

  8. Andrew Leigh says:

    Don, I really like your comment about academics who constantly show up in the acks. Reminds me of the people Malcolm Gladwell’s calls “connectors” in his book “The Tipping Point”. Bloggers are probably particularly good connectors, and maybe that’s how we serve our purpose.

    Cameron, those DailyKos stats are mighty impressive, but it’s still 0.14% of the US population. Add in all the other blogs, and we might get to 1-1.5% of the US population that reads a blog daily. Still, it made me wonder how many hits Quiggin gets each day. John, are you willing to share this with us?

  9. Andrew Leigh says:

    Daniel, that’s a deeply nasty discussion over at Mark Bahnisch’s blog. I guess you touched some nerves, but I’m sorry for all the abuse you copped.

    John, thanks for sharing your stats. As you say, that’s ahead of probably every other ideas magazine in Australia. (The Quarterly Essay probably does the best, and I think it sells c.15,000 copies.)

  10. Andrew, Even so, the Washington Post is a nationally influential newspaper, and dailykos has half its circulation. That is just one site, too, that doesnt include the right leaning sites like freerepublic. The US political blog/community/discussion sites are “rabidly” factional and polarising to read or write for. The Australian sites by comparison are for more moderate and reasonable in comparison. I do think it would be a shame to give up the quality of discussion the Australian sites are conducting if becoming rabid means more hits (audience).

    Australia tends to be a bit behind the US in many trends, simply because our population is smaller. I expect that a “dailykos” and a “freerepublic” will appear in the Au political scene eventually. The interesting thing about the US sites is that they raise money for political causes and election races. So they have greater influence there.

    I have also noticed that the traffic the American political sites get is large enough that elected (and aspiring) public officials cannot ignore it. Several have posted on sites such as that. The day will come when there will be an Australian political site that will have elected representatives join voluntarily to the site and write for it.

    Interesting that Au internet community appears to be at the stage of consuming the ideas magazines, wonder what innovation the Au scene will come up with that displaces the SMH.

  11. Don says:

    Andrew,

    Yes! Bloggers as ‘connectors’.

    I almost named my first blog ‘The Structural Hole’ for exactly that reason.

    Just say you are going to compare blog readerships with newspapers I wonder what the most valid comparison would be.

    With hard copy newspapers you usually stick to one paper at a time. You flick through it and pick out the bits you want to read (which might well be the TV guide or classifieds). There’s no guarantee you’ll read a particular column or feature just because it’s in a paper you bought.

    When you read blogs you probably spend a similar amount of time on each blog as you do with an op ed piece. Then you’ll click through to something else – it’s almost like turning the page. The difference is you’re sort of assembling your own newspaper as you go.

    So with blogs what’s the equivalent of the newspaper? Surely it’s not an individual blog. It must be some linked-together subset of the internet. Just as you’d read Gittins and then the funnies you might read Quiggin’s latest and then click through to Evil Pundit.

    But there are so many differences and complications I’m not sure how you’d compare the two. Is blogging on an article like writing a letter to the ed? Or is the equivalent of a letter a comment on a blog entry? Who can say?

  12. Andrew Norton says:

    I stopped writing letters to the editor after I became a regular blogger. And my reading of the letters pages is now just skimming them to see if anyone I know has written in. So blogs have replaced my previous letters to the editor production and consumption. But with the web, my consumption of newspaper-sourced information and opinion generally has increased rather than decreased.

  13. David Raftery says:

    This is one of the more interesting conversations on the IA blog in recent times.

    I think Don’s comments about the credits in album liner notes touches on a really important point – the qualitative impact that communication (of all sorts) can, or cannot, have.

    In one sense, the numbers of ‘hits’ don’t really matter. If that ‘connection’ is made with someone at strong level, if the inchoate ideas or proposals promoted by a blogger allow another frustrated activist/aesthete/organiser to make their next step.

    It can take one contact gleaned from a blog site, a few references from a linked electronic paper, or the support of a blog site in terms of public endorsement that can move someone to keep on with their project. Blogs didn’t create these projects, but blogs, with all of the of the human activity that are manifested in them, can qualitatively move people and ideas to where they can make a little more sense of what’s going on.

    But, of course, it all comes back to quality, and the dynamic of the blog. There will never be as many blog devotees (spectators or only occasional posters) as there are writers, just as there will be only be few musicians out of many music enthusiasts. As much as writing and research is supposedly collaborative, it remains largely solitary in reality. Don’t worry about getting hits, just focus on the quality and encouraging a healthy dynamic. Blog sites will come and go, whereas the more enduring objectificatons of thinking and research will hang around longer and more potently. That will be the legacy of many blogs, even if there masters/mistresses don’t realise it.

    And keep them free. I wouldn’t look at them (I only look at IA and On Line opinion) if they cost me. I do, however, subscribe to Quarterly Essay.

  14. Andrew Leigh says:

    David, I think you’re definitely right on quality of readership. One of the things I’ve occasionally done is to shamelessly freeload off the expertise of readers, by asking people for relevant data sources when I can’t find them myself. I feel very lucky being able to tap into the experts of the blogosphere.

  15. Andrew, the SMH, Age and theAustralian being on the web has been awesome for folks in the Australian Diaspora. I check them every day, it keeps me up to date with what is happening in Australia. My online-newspaper consumption has increased. But I dont read the op-eds or as you mentioned, the letters to the editor anymore. The blogosphere has replaced those components for me. If I want magazine style articles I also use the web for that too.

    If some online new service appears that lets me customise what news I want to read, in what syle and in what format – I will be dropping the SMH etc like a hot potato. I dislike how shrill their headlines constantly are. If someone supplies the same style of regional news service without the shrillness, celebrity culture and titillation – they will get a subscriber in me.

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