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August 26, 2004

taking stock of blogs (2004)

Blogs are clearly the hot medium. They have scale: Technorati is tracking 3.6 million of them, and there may be many more. No one knows the size of the audience, but the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 3% of Americans with Internet access read someone elses web log or blog on a typical day, and 17 percent have ever done so. (These survey figures were collected in February.) Since more than 60% of American adults have Internet access, that translates into roughly 3.6 million daily viewers in the United States.

(Its just a coincidence that the best count of the world's blogs, 3.6 million, currently equals the number of US daily viewers, but this does suggest something important about the medium. It's "many-to-many." In contrast, the number of TV viewers is enormously larger than the number of TV channels.)

Blogs have impact. Its hard to measure their effect on the real world, but (just for example) many believe that Trent Lott fell because of commentary in the blogosphere. We do not live in a time of very impressive social movements (at least in the US), but the ones weve gotamong them, rigorous libertarianism, anti-globalization, and Christian Conservatismhave made effective use of blogs.

Blogs have limitations, too. They do not generate new information or policy ideas so much as they comment on the raw material generated originally by reporters, TV news crews, government agencies, advocacy groups, think tanks, and academics. The political blogs are mostly concerned with national and international issues, even though many important decisions are made at the local and state levels. Blogs may strengthen or even create networks within national and international affinity groups, but I do not know of cases in which blogs have enhanced social capital at a neighborhood, municipal, or regional scale.

Blogs are not institutionalized in conventional ways. There is no business plan that allows them to generate enough revenue to pay salaries. Some organizations have created blogs (notably, newspapers, magazines, and political campaigns), but these groups obtain their revenues from other sources.

The lack of institutionalization could mean that blogs will turn out to be something of a fad or bubble. Im sure some form of regular self-publishing will persist, but 3.6 million blogs could turn out to be the high water mark. Bloggers are competing for a fairly small number of eyeballs right now and have to deal with unpleasant phenomena like comment spam. The word blogwhich is exceptionally uglymay fade and begin to connote a fashion of the early 2000s.

I can also imagine that blogs will be institutionalized, and the most influential ones will have their own salaried writers, support staffs, and stable audiences. Or, finally, I can imagine that blogs will persist and flourish without institutionalization, as purely voluntary and individual projects. That would prove that the Internet really is different: more of a large-scale voluntary commons than anything we have ever seen before.

August 26, 2004 10:56 AM | category: Internet and public issues | Comments


Here's hoping that last image actually transpires.

Excellent thoughts here. I look forward to frequent returns.

August 27, 2004 3:53 AM | Comments (1) | posted by oyster

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