Saturday, March 12, 2005

On Blogs

The mainstream media has recently woken up to the existence of blogs and so have many corporations. The business now is to decide where to slot the blogs and how to exploit them best for money. The media also often wants to silence all blogs, if possible, or at least make them look ridiculous and unprofessional. Blogs are a new form of competition for traditional media and some bloggers attack journalists nonstop. Just remember the Dan Rather scandal.

Many blogs are ridiculous and unprofessional, but so are some media columnists I could mention. Now, I have the utmost respect for the skills and experience that good journalism requires and I know that bloggers are not doing journalism in that sense, not to mention that few bloggers have the resources to send correspondents to the hot spots of this world. What bloggers do is commenting and if they have any power at all it is in pointing out obvious mistakes and in bringing up topics that the mainstream media chooses to ignore for all sorts of reasons, some good and many bad.

The other extreme view about blogging argues that blogs are the new democracy and that in the cacophony of all these voices everybody gets to have their say. I don't quite agree with this one, either, because though it is true that anyone can set up a blog with practically no money it is not true that having lots and lots of voices out there increases democracy if nobody hears them. The real impact that blogs have had has come from concerted action via a few large blogs or coalitions of blogs all saying the same thing at the same time.

This is democracy in action in some ways, but it is not the kind of democracy the idealized version of blogs has in mind. It is better than nothing, for sure, but it is not a new powerful voice in the public debate. For that one needs a distribution system like the television stations have or the kind of reader numbers that only a handful of the largest blogs attract.

Which brings me to the study comparing wingnut and liberal blogs. It has some interesting findings:

"The primary finding of the study (or at least the finding I think is the most interesting) is that conservative blogs have a stronger sense of community than liberal blogs -- a quality that I often wish liberals could emulate. Here's what Adamic and Glance found:

"Conservatives link to other conservative blogs at a much higher rate than liberals link to other liberals: .20 links per post compared to .12 links per post.

"Conservative bloggers have a more 'uniform voice' than liberal bloggers, as measured by what they link to. If you count only links to blogs, not media reports, the difference in uniformity is even greater. (However, on another measure, the 'echo chamber' quality of liberal and conservative blogs is about the same.)

"Liberal bloggers tend to link to a fairly small subset of other liberals. Conservatives spread the link love around. The study also found (unsurprisingly) that blogs are primarily a medium based on criticism, not support:

"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.

That the wingnuts march in goose-step is not surprising and neither is the emphasis on criticizing the opposition. I am not sure if the tendency of liberal blogs to link to a small group of other blogs is bad or good. On the one hand this serves to make the liberal side of the blogosphere more unified in what is talked about and thus more audible in the public debate. On the other hand it may serve to keep the lefty blogosphere smaller and less bonded.

This study and my post treat all blogs like they were political blogs. Of course most blogs are not political and very little is known right now about the influence of nonpolitical blogs on public opinion and similar things. Will these other blogs serve as competition for magazines and newspapers, too? We will find out in the future.

To be realistic, most blogs have as much influence as I have when I mutter aloud to my snakes at night which is none at all. Which makes me wonder if we bloggers are all crazy. I could use this time making money or shoveling snow or training Hank to be a more obedient dog (no, scratch that one), and the world would go on as it always does.

Maybe it's not a good thing to try to analyze blogging so much. Maybe I analyze everything far too much instead of just enjoying the absurdities of this life.