Blog Campaigning: 3.2 The blogosphere

3.2 The blogosphere Simmons (2005, p. 4) argues that the dynamics of the blogosphere can best be understood through “an estimation of the number of blogs as well as an analysis of the factors that influence a blog’s popularity and interactions between blogs”. This chapter will therefore present a brief history of the creation and expansion of blogs, and review the internal structures that define power relations within the blogosphere. Drezner and Farrell (2004, p. 5) are far from exaggerating when they claim that “the blogosphere has grown at an astronomical rate”. When Jorn Barger in 1997 coined the term ‘blog’ on his Robot Wisdom website only a handful of the kind were known to exist (Blood 2000). One and a half years later, in the beginning of 1999, only 23 blogs were known to be in existence (Blood 2000). A few months later the numbers started increasing rapidly.

“This rapid growth continued steadily until July 1999 when Pitas, the first free build-your-own-weblog tool launched, and suddenly there were hundreds. In August, Pyra released Blogger, and Groksoup launched, and with the ease that these web-based tools provided, the bandwagon-jumping turned into an explosion” (Blood 2000).

A heavy growth has continued ever since.

The medium’s popularity today can be reflected in Technorati’s latest state of blogging report. Technorati is according to Simmons (2005, p. 4) “the self-proclaimed ‘authority on what’s going on in the world of weblogs’”. The report, released in October 2006, states that the number of blogs had increased from less than 200,000 in March 2003 to over 57 million by October 2006 (Sifry 2006). Technorati’s founder and CEO David Sifry (in Johnson 2006) reported the same month that 175,000 blogs were created every single day - “about two every second of every day”. Three months later, by January 2, 2007, Technorati pegged the number of active blogs at around 63.2 million (Dalton 2007). The numbers had again grown to approximately 70 million by April 2007 (Sifry 2007) when the current study was about to be completed.

“Technorati is now tracking over 70 million weblogs, and we're seeing about 120,000 new weblogs being created worldwide each day. That's about 1.4 blogs created every second of every day” (Sifry 2007).

So what do these numbers tell us about the impact blogs have on politics and the possibility politicians have to influence bloggers?

Lawson-Border and Kirk (2005, p. 549) argue that the sheer number of blog sites is a measurement of the blogosphere’s importance. The current study on the other hand argues that this is not necessarily so. With the size of the blogosphere it is obvious that all blogs are not equally active nor are they equally valued as authorities. Weighing up the blogosphere’s importance in light of its scale might therefore portray a misleading image of its effective size. A survey conducted by the Perseus Development Company in 2003 found that 2.72 million blogs, 66.0 percent of all 4.12 million surveyed blogs, had not been updated in two months and were therefore considered “abandoned” (Henning 2003). Of these 2.72 million abandoned blogs, 1.09 million had been posted on only once and had not been touched since (Henning 2003). Similar, a study by Gartner Inc “calculated the total number of abandoned blogs at more than 200 million” (Dalton 2007) by the end of 2006. It might therefore be plausible to assume that the number of dying blogs will continue to grow in the future. Gartner Inc forecasted in their study that “the total number of active blogs would peak at 100 million in 2007 before dropping back and levelling off at around 30 million” (Dalton 2007). How then do we know which of the active blogs are perceived to have an influence on other blogs and the political environment outside the blogosphere?

An obvious approach to the question would be to examine how different directories and search engines rank blog authority – by authority meaning influence and popularity. Some sites measure authority by traffic, like, “which monitors the hit rate of all blogs that subscribe to it” (Stanyer 2006, p. 409). Other sites count the number of blogs that link back to a specific blog. There are two ways of doing this; one, used by sites like Technorati, is to count the number of any incoming links that a blog receives from other blogs (Gill 2004, Drezner & Farrell 2004, p. 8); another is to count only links from blogs that are constant - links that do not appear in an entry, but are constantly viewable on a blogroll. Some would argue that constant links are more important than links found within daily entries “as they may lead to a quite significant increase in readership” (Drezner & Farrell 2004, p. 8). However, there are several complications with all the measurement methods. Erin Simmons (2005, p. 5) points out some of these complications in her Senior Honour thesis:

“Measuring the daily traffic of a blog offers one measure of its popularity but alone may be too crude to understand the dynamics of the system. Additionally, measures of traffic do not distinguish users so one user may visit the same site ten times or ten users might visit the site once and the effect would appear the same. If we measure the number of unique inbound links to a particular blog, we may be able to ascertain the popularity of the blog relative to other blogs. More inbound links implies greater popularity in the blogosphere. But this measure is also imperfect as it implies that all links are equal when they are clearly not. For example, if I have a weblog and and my next-door neighbor both link to my weblog, it would be wrong to assume that both links are equally important. Links from more popular sites will bring more traffic to my blog” (Simmons 2005, p. 5).

Simmons (2005, p. 5) therefore argues that a blog’s authority can best be measured through a combination of the different methods.

However, despite the complications surrounding the different measuring methods, studies have found that in general the blogosphere can be seen as “an iceberg”, where a small group of blogs receive the vast amount of readership and incoming links (Drezner & Farrell 2004, Gill 2004, Herring et al. 2004). “The skewed distribution of weblog influence makes it easy for observers to extract information or analysis from blogs”, claim Drezner and Farrell (2004, p. 4), but it also makes it hard for newly established blogs to achieve authority on a topic or within a community where other blogs already have established a hierarchy: “Political parties, therefore, are competing to dominate in their narrow sphere of blog interest” argues Jackson (2006, p. 295). This might limit their political influence and potential outreach.

In summation, the paper has so far explored the key characteristics that make a blog an interesting tool for political parties and candidates to utilize for electioneering purposes, reviewed the structures of the medium that make up the universe of blogs that political parties and candidates now strived to reach, and identified power relations within the blogosphere. Before moving on to discuss how politicians actually use blogs and the effects they have on campaigns and elections, the paper will take a brief halt to look at how blogs attracted the attention of political campaign strategists, how bloggers have changed campaign communication, and what types of blogs we find in a political campaign today.