Stroking the Middle of the Blogosphere

It’s been a while since I did one of my “blogging about blogging” posts, partly because the whole “A-List” discussion thread was getting kinda tiresome, but also because I just hadn’t felt like it. Maybe I just haven’t cared as much lately.

So, Even when part one and part two of Dave Sifry’s latest “State of the Blogosphere” landed in my NetNewsWire feeds, I flagged them for later reading and moved on. When I read both Sifry’s post this morning, I had to sit back for a moment as a wave of vindication washed over me. Reading about stuff that I said months ago, in one form or another, tends to have that effect — especially coming from someone like Sifry.

The first part of Sifry’s report goes through the usual stuff about how quickly the blogosphere is growing (currently at 27.2 million, doubling every 5.5 months, 75,000 news ones per day), and how many people are regular bloggers (13.7 million still posting after 3 months, 2.7 million updating at least weekly). But it gets interesting when he starts touting the fluidity of the “A-List”.

With so may blogs and bloggers out there, one might think that it is a lost cause for new bloggers to achieve any significant audience, that the power curve means that there’s no more room left at the top of the “A-List”.

Fortunately, the data shows that this isn’t the case.

Thanks to the Wayback machine, here’s a look at the Technorati Top 100 as it appeared on November 26, 2002 (bear with me if the wayback machine is slow). Then look at it as it appeared on December 5, 2003. And again on November 30, 2004. And again on April 1, 2005. And now look at it today.

Let’s take a few examples. Have a look at PostSecret. It is the #3 site on the Technorati Top 100 today, with over 12,000 sites that have linked to it in the last 180 days. It didn’t even exist on the chart in April of 2005. Or look at The Huffington Post. It is #5 on the Top 100. It too, didn’t exist on the chart in April of 2005. Or look at the #47 blog in April, 2005 Baghdad Burning. This blog still is regularly posting, but has fallen to #304.

But, before anyone gets too happy, there’s a clarifying disclaimer acknowledging that “network effects” and “a power law relationship” is still a reality in the blogosphere, which also serves as a sequeway into the next subject, in which Sifry strokes the “Magic Middle” (his term, not mine) of the blogosphere.

This realm of publishing, which I call “The Magic Middle” of the attention curve, highlights some of the most interesting and influential bloggers and publishers that are often writing about topics that are topical or niche…

… At Technorati, we define this to be the bloggers who have from 20-1000 other people linking to them. As the chart above shows, there are about 155,000 people who fit in this group. And what is so interesting to me is how interesting, exciting, informative, and witty these blogs often are.

At this point, I have to backtrack to Sifry’s section on the “long tail” of the blogosphere, because it reminded me of a post I read more than a year ago, that basically said the same thing that Sifry’s saying, though about a different kind of “attention curve” than I think he’s talking about.

But a quick look at some A-list bloggers showed their average readers hang around for only 40 seconds per page view. So last night I dug into the SiteMeter data in a little more detail. I discovered that the attention deficit I had noted for A-listers is even worse than I thought: There is an inverse relationship among A-listers between number of page views and average time spent per page view. Example: readers of Daily Kos, Little Green Footballs, Gawker and Atrios averaged only 3-6 seconds per page view.

… What this suggests is that online advertisers looking for a bargain might be better off investing in a bundle of B-list bloggers, those 2,000 bloggers who each get 1/4 the reader attention of the average A-lister, an average of 60 hours/day of attentive eyeballs.

It also suggests that Shirky’s Power Law tends to exaggerate the importance and influence of the A-listers, whose aggregate reader attention is only 25,000 hours per day compared to the 120,000 hours per day of B-listers and 230,000 hours per day of C-listers. In fact, the attention curve above isn’t a Power curve at all — just a simple logarithmic curve with — you guessed it — a long and unexpectedly powerful tail. If I’d plotted the whole 5 million active blogs on the chart above it would be 620 feet (200 metres) wide.

The basic gist is something I posted in references to Dave Pollard’s post above.

Pollard takes a look at blog rankings based on inbound links and traffic, and focuses on reader attention (average user session length) to construct a somewhat different chart suggesting that lower-ranked blogs — in terms of sheer numbers of readers and links — actually outpace higher-ranked blogs in terms of reader hours/attention.

In other words, lower-ranked blogs may have more dedicated readerships and stronger relationships with their readers.

In other words, fewer eyes on the page, but for a longer time. Sifry, as usual includes a pretty chart that makes essentially the same point and also confirms my guess about my spot somewhere at the base of the long tail, somewhere bewteen the tip of the tial and what Sifry calls “the Big Head” of the blog beast.

All in all, not a bad place to be. And when I look at my Technorati profile, I’m somewhat surprised to find myself near the top of Technorati’s list of “authorities” on some of the topics I chose when I “claimed” my blog on the site. Granted I’m way down on the list when it comes to politics — which is top-heavy with “heavy hitters” — but further up when it comes to blogging about gay issues, adoption, books, parenting, and ADD.

But what’s interesting to me about the emphasis on the importance of the “magic middle” — besides the implicit acknowledgement that the “A-List” exists and that, while it isn’t entirely static, it’s not likely to change quickly or often — are the political implications. It’s more interesting when I consider it along side Stirling’s recent post about the need for “new ideas in the liberal blogosphere. And there’s an even more recent post on MyDD, about organizing a 50-state network of progressive blogs.

As Chris pointed out in his “I’m Not Going To Blogroll You” post, linking to a site will produce only a small amount of traffic. But that’s not the point. By keeping a 50 state blogroll, MyDD will hopefully help people find their state blog and get involved, and also spur the creation of good statewide blogs in places where they don’t exist now.

Bowers was one of the authors of the Progressive Blog Report, which concludes by emphasizing the importance of establishing a state-level progressive blogosphere.

Put the three or four posts together and what you get — or at least — what I get (and I have a gift for looking for more than what’s obvious) is an overall message about the blogosphere that I’ll paraphrase here. There is still room at the top, but only little, and the top isn’t really important anyway. (Is it?) There’s more room in the middle, and the middle is becoming increasingly important.

At least that’s what I take away from it all, and being “in the middle” myself probably makes me inclined to read it that way, because it feels good to think of oneself as an actor in an increasingly important segment of this still rather new medium. Who doesn’t like being stroked once in a while? Of course, if I think about it a minute, it can also be read as “grow where you’re planted” or — more bluntly “stay where you are.” 

All in all, when I look around and see where I am, that’s fine with me too. I can do more where I am, and there’s probably not enough oxygen up there anyway.

About Terrance

Black. Gay. Father. Buddhist. Vegetarian. Liberal.
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One Response to Stroking the Middle of the Blogosphere

  1. barb says:

    Wow, T. thanks for passing that on.   I didn’t follow the whole A-list discussion you mentioned but this was interesting.  It reaffirms for me why I started blogging.  To flesh out my ideas.  To connect with like-minded people.  To get writing.  Sometimes I forget that and get concerned with how many people have visited and how many comments I’m getting.  That’s really encouraging.  It’s about quality not quantity.  I need to remember this more often.

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