Crossposted from my EchoDitto blog.
To say that blogging involves an inordinate amount of navel gazing would be something of an understatement. However, such contemplation does occasionally yield useful information. Case in point, the new report on the emergence of the progressive blogosphere, put together by Chris Bowers of MyDD and Matt Stoller of BOPNews. The first "self-referential" study of the progressive blogosphere, it holds some encouraging statistics, some discouraging ones, and some recommendations for encouraging growth and stronger networking between progressive blogs.
First, the good news. Since the first report on the blogosphere, back in 2003, the progressive blogosphere has grown to nearly double the size of the conservative blogosphere. The biggest of them all, no surprise, is DailyKos which, as of July 2005, gets four times the monthly visits of leading conservative blogs, Instapundit. In fact, the readership of the top 1000 political blogs has grown from 500,000 unique visits per day, to 3,000,000. That’s a lot of blog-reading.
Now for the bad news. If your blog isn’t in the top ten of its ideological category, then chances most of those of those blog readers aren’t visiting it, and won’t unless they happen across a link on one of the blogs they do read. According to the report, 54.6% of conservative traffic and 69% of progressive traffic went to the top ten blogs representing their respective ideologies. If you’ve got a smaller blog — say, somewhere in the bottom 14,199,900 of the 14.2 million blogs in existence — and you’re looking to break into the broader discourse, you’ll need perseverance and a bit of luck. Occasional links from folks in the top 100 doesn’t hurt either. (See appendix 3 for that list.) And if I haven’t quite made it clear enough, here’s the most succinct summation I’ve heard yet.
Clearly, blogging is a world with a handful of haves, and a nearly uncountable number of have‐nots. There are likely a few hundred thousand blogs in this country that talk about politics, but less than one‐tenth of one percent of them account for more than 99% of all political blogging traffic. [emphasis added]
In the second appendix Bowers and Stoller cite "meritocracy" as one the advantages of the progressive blogosphere, pointing out that half of the highest-trafficked progressive blogs were started in the last 18 months. But, given that it’s a relatively young medium, and that the old school is still just learning about it, it remains to be seen how much the list of top blogs will change, if at all. Chances are some of those at the peak aren’t going to fall off anytime soon, unless they stop blogging altogether; or all together.
However, there’s hope. According to the study, there’s an opening for progressive bloggers in the less rarefied layers of the blogosphere to make big splashes in smaller pools. According to Bowers and Stoller, progressive blogs are growing in overall traffic, but conservative blogs are outdoing them in local involvement.
While progressives may have a marked advantage in overall blogosphere discourse, it could also be argued that conservatives are taking a decisive lead in the sort of targeted blogging that will provide them with real,tangible benefits in the 2005‐2006 elections and beyond.
…To a certain extent, this is likely the result of several large progressive blogs offering quick and easy ways to take part in large communities, a phenomenon that is not found nearly as often in the conservative online world. Whatever the cause, though, this is a serious problem that progressives must confront. If they do not invest time, energy and resources building a local blog infrastructure superior to that currently possessed by conservatives, the comparative advantage of progressives’ overall traffic lead will be significantly reduced.
The idea is to borrow a page from Tip O’Neill’s book, and remember that "all politics is local." To that end, Bowers and Stoller use the report’s first appendix to give pointers to campaigns on how to engage local and state bloggers. State and local campaigns would do well check out the the state lists at the American Street and BlogPac. Bloggers looking to network instead of waiting for a campaign to come knocking might do the same, and start reading and linking to state and local blogs. The takeaway seems to be that the progressive blogosphere is growing, and making its presence and power felt in a number of ways, but that there are potential pitfalls if bloggers and political movers focus on the "top" lists at the expense of building and encouraging local blogging networks.
Not a bad idea. It might be interesting to see what happens if we all widened our focus beyond some perceived apex of blogging. It leaves me wondering about something, though. It’s kind of a take off the old "if a tree falls in the forest and nobody’s there to hear it" question. If we all stop paying attention to the "top" list, will it still exist? And, more importantly, what will those folks at the peak be doing while we’re all looking elsewhere?